How to Spend a Snow Day

How to Spend a Snow Day

“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”— Scott Adams

When I was in school in western New York, occasionally the schools would close because of excessive cold and snow. This was good because my parents really needed all of us to be available to keep the farm going! While the whole area was being shut down, we were out there taking care of cows, making sure the pipes didn’t freeze and finding that all the usual chores took hours longer than usual. We had to keep everything going when the power went out, which it did in almost every blizzard.

I’m remembering that this morning as I am watching the reports of the intense snowstorm descending on our area.

Working in the world of technology has changed how a storm affects me. My work does continue despite snow and ice. With my cellphone providing a hotspot, I can even work through power outages. The difference is that I can stay warm and comfortable while working and enjoy watching the snowfall.

I think it is important to remember all the people for whom blizzards mean extra work, including my sister, who is still out there farming. Stay warm Sis! Stay safe everyone!

During this winter storm, I will be doing my usual work. I will also be out there shoveling and helping my neighbors. I will be sure to call my sister. I hope I remember to be extra kind to all the workers who have to negotiate the weather to get to their jobs at hospitals and everywhere else they are required.

I’ll also make sure I get out there and commit some “random acts of snowmen”.

Whether you live in a snow belt or not, I’m guessing there are some days when nature adds extra challenges. What do you do on your ‘snow days’?

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by Alan Willett

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Anchor Your Efforts on the Value Of What You Provide

Anchor Your Efforts on the Value Of What You Provide

Most people overestimate what tasks they can do in one week. Those same people often underestimate what value they can achieve in a decade.

Many of my clients often feel like the figure in the image on the left (of the double image to the right). They are struggling through a list of tasks that they can never accomplish in that week.

Many of those tasks were given to them. Many of those tasks they self-created. And many of them likely have some significant importance for the next week or two. Some are even important for the long term.

How does one turn their inner music of feeling buried in pebbles to feeling the confidence and pride of one’s longer-term achievements?

First, I encourage people to follow my three-step reality management process.

  1. See reality.  If you are a person focused on achieving big things, you will always find your plate overflowing.  People often tell me their weeks are unpredictable. Every week, they have a constant barrage of interrupts. The key is ‘every week.’ This means that there is a predictability to that unpredictability.  Track your week. See the patterns.
  2. Accept reality.  It isn’t enough to see what your own data is telling you. I have had many clients do data analysis to see that they would have to work 180 hours a week to recover a project.  Yet, they do not accept the data.  The reason for the denial is fear of the next step.
  3. Deal with reality.  This is usually the hardest step. You have to tell people that you are behind.  You may have to say no to certain tasks.  You may have to skip those meetings you have been going to that people really want you to attend. 

People often find this process hard until they implement the key point of this short newsletter.   Work on answering this question:  what is the long-term value and impact of all those hours of your work?

Here are some ideas of how to get to your own answer.

  • Who benefits? Who are the primary people that will benefit from your work?  How will they benefit?  What is the value and impact for them?
  • Think big about the possible benefits.  Over the long term, think beyond one year, how much more could your work have a positive impact?
  • Engage those around you.  Bringing in others on a longer-term positive vision is motivating for you and them. 
  • Anchor your efforts today on the long term impact you will make.  The reality management steps get much easier when one focuses on the distant horizon. You will need to make daily adjustments, but you must keep pointed towards the big value you can provide.

There are not one-time steps.  I encourage you to refresh periodically. If you need help getting your vision clear, reach out to others. I love helping with this.

The better you get at focusing on the value you provide, the more fun every week becomes.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Images created by Megan Pugh at Blink Digitial

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Design for Speed

Design for Speed

“I have the need…the need for speed!”— Quote From the movie Top Gun

Last week’s newsletter about the need for “DESIGN” generated lots of questions, most of them nicely phrased.

The big summary of the questions was simply this. “We are supposed to be doing Agile. Even if we agree with you, ‘design’ is not acceptable in the Agile world.”

I encourage everyone that has this question to read the original agile manifesto.

You will not see anywhere that it says don’t design. Or that design is not important. In the “principles behind the Agile Manifesto,” design is called out twice as a key principle.

Yet, many people think that design and Agile don’t mix well.

I also understand why some people have negative feelings about design. Too many organizations treat the design process as an opportunity to produce large, cumbersome, useless documents. They add no value and slow you down.

I have also seen the design phase result in “analysis paralysis.”

Neither of those is a problem with the design process. The problem lies in some people’s understanding of a good design process.

When I talk about design, I am talking about ensuring that multiple ideas are debated to approach a problem. When I talk about design thinking, I am talking about the urgency to make sure our solutions are created on a solid foundation. When I am talking about design, I am talking about prototypes’ need to explore alternative approaches to the problem both from a technical perspective and from a user’s workflow perspective.

When I talk about design, I am talking about resilient eloquent solutions that enable new features to be easily added.

I have worked with multiple clients who have adopted various Agile methodologies, including Scrum, XP, and Rapid Prototyping. They stopped doing significant design work. In many cases, they had accumulated a significant amount of technical debt, making them slower and slower. Initially, doing “2-week sprints” (a core of Scrum) made them feel faster. Now many of the teams were spending their sprint times doing rework. Rework is not faster. It makes the whole organization slower in achieving speed to value.

I suggested to each of these teams is to claim ownership over whatever methodology they were using. I suggested customizing the methodology to fit their environment and their needs.

With my encouragement, each of those clients added design methods that worked for them.

With that addition, they got faster.

If you need speed, you have to design for speed.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by Sean Alabaster on Unsplash

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Design Is the Fuel of Long Term Speed

Design Is the Fuel of Long Term Speed

“If you think good design expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design.”— Ralf Speth

Great design is the foundation of speed to value for any organization.

Too often, the pressure is on people to hurry up and get something done. People attempt to do good work under that pressure. They quickly get something new created. They get it out in front of people, and it gets used. The team then iterates on that first product and incrementally improves it.

This is not bad, at first. But, sooner or later, the team will struggle. They will get slower and slower as they try to add more features to that initial design.

I have seen this happen to many good teams. Eventually, management thinks they are a failed team.

Exceptional leaders are masters at leading the design process.

  • They know when to do prototypes and why.
  • They hone the ability to switch gears from the prototyping sandbox to the production process.
  • The master the 7+ different types of technical debt.  They know what to do when they have technical debt. They know how to prevent technical debt.
  • They know that great design results in the best speed to customer value.
  • They know that design is where creativity lives.

I have coached multiple teams to make the mindset shift to be masters of design. They increased their speeds by 10x and more.

Becoming a master of design is a core part of the Exceptional Engineer (SM) Experience. You can see some more details here.

One of my mentors often talked about the importance of design. Her mantra was and is, “The key to great products is Design, Design, Design.”  I agree. What do you think?​

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by Tim Wildsmith on Unsplash

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I have seen leaders show great endurance in leading marathon projects. They are putting in marathon hours. The sweat sheen on them and their teams is obvious, even heroic.

Do You Need a Win?

A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

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"Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and our histories." — Miller Williams, Poet My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Even though real work of building a life together happens in the minutes and hours between...

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"Welcome to Sherwood!" — Robin Hood Father's Day was a delight for me. My family treated me a number of fun things. I was served breakfast in a hammock. I was treated to a delicious cold milkshake at a local ice-cream shop. My daughter and I have a plan to go buy some...

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Paradigm leaps take need, courage, and sweat. You will notice a different look and feel to the newsletter this week. Earlier this year, I became unsatisfied with a few key things and decided to make some changes.

Plan for Failure: Always Have Alternative Routes in Mind

Plan for Failure: Always Have Alternative Routes in Mind

“Before flights, pilots must get a picture of the weather that is expected over the whole area that may be covered during the proposed flight.”

— Wisdom gleaned from the “Private Pilot’s Handbook of Weather”

“Always know your escape routes” is a frequent mantra when I teach people to drive.

I then engage them in a discussion of all the surprises that can happen while driving. It ranges from unexpected moves by other drivers, deer leaping into the road, larger than expected potholes, and more.

So while driving, I keep asking whoever I am teaching, “Where is your escape route?” I train them to think about what they would do if something went wrong around them. Where would they go? On clear back roads, we practice emergency braking and evasive maneuvers.

The more subtle lesson is to also plan for unexpected events on long trips. If you know what time you want to get there, you need to plan for traffic, accidents, and more. What happens if you have a flat tire on a trip where the roads are busy, and it is snowing. Do you have a spare? Do you know how to change it, or do you have an emergency roadside service? Did you leave ample time for addressing changes in weather and other unforeseen problems?

The larger and more important the projects you tackle, the larger the unexpected events and risks your project faces.

That is why I say to people I am coaching on big work adventures, “If you want success, plan for failure. You are not planning to fail. You are planning on how to get around it, leap over it, or break right through.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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I have seen leaders show great endurance in leading marathon projects. They are putting in marathon hours. The sweat sheen on them and their teams is obvious, even heroic.

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A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

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"Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and our histories." — Miller Williams, Poet My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Even though real work of building a life together happens in the minutes and hours between...

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"Welcome to Sherwood!" — Robin Hood Father's Day was a delight for me. My family treated me a number of fun things. I was served breakfast in a hammock. I was treated to a delicious cold milkshake at a local ice-cream shop. My daughter and I have a plan to go buy some...

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"Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery. " — Mark Amidon The Washington DC zoo has this very interesting roulette-style wheel located just past the cheetah exhibit. You spin the wheel to find out if you caught your prey, your...

ANTICIPATE INFLECTION POINTS

"A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. that change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end." — Andrew Grover There are a wave of...

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"Even though it is not always easy… being a planetary scientist is one of the coolest jobs on the planet!" — Elizabeth (Zibi) Turtle   Imagine exploring Titan! And to be clear, I am not referring to the planet Titan of Thanos (Avengers), I am referring to a...

Making the Leap

Paradigm leaps take need, courage, and sweat. You will notice a different look and feel to the newsletter this week. Earlier this year, I became unsatisfied with a few key things and decided to make some changes.

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