Do you organize for the leading edge or the lagging tail?

Do you organize for the leading edge or the lagging tail?

Batman: What have I told you about trusting dangerous and obsessive criminal geniuses? Wonder Woman: To be fair, you tend to warn everyone about everything.  — Landry Q. Walker

I was in a room with one door leading in and out. The door locked with a deadbolt so it was impossible to open the door unless it was unlocked.  On the door was a large sign that said “Unlock Door Before Leaving”.

It made me wonder if someone had at some point found themselves trapped in this room and pounded until someone told them the secret to their great escape.

The reason signs like that fascinate me is that they are often an indicator of how organizations handle problems in the even more important areas, such as leading high-value projects.  I too often see organizations put lots of checks in place to make sure smart people are not doing stupid things.  

Some of these checks are extremely valuable. However, it is too often overdone.  When a stupid thing happens on a project, even though it is a one-time thing, there are updates made to the project review checklist.  The checklist keeps growing as the organization attempts to protect everyone from every mistake made.

If you do things like this, over time you will find your extremely talented people spending too much time being involved in reviews which amount to making sure they are “unlocking the deadbolt before exiting the room”. 

Some organizations focus on enabling the leading edge to run fast. They hire great people. They provide training. They provide coaching and mentors.  They ask questions such as “what will help you go faster to a higher value?”

Others put the focus on having lots of people and checks in place to make sure no one is locked in that room. 

Where is your organization focused?

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

The door had a deadbolt and was the only door in and out of the room. Hmmmm

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Vroom Into the New Year

Vroom Into the New Year

“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.”— Hal Borland

If you are like many of my best clients, you thoroughly enjoyed the holidays.  You may have done some work, but not as much as you may have intended.  

Now it is time to get started in the world of work again.  And you want to get started fast.

The most powerful way to do that is to immediately follow through on the most important items you left incomplete when the holidays started.  Here are three things to do to ensure your follow-through has the impact you desire.

Complete a big thing from last year and make it public.  One of my clients was working hard to complete a process for ensuring a healthy strategic roadmap for the whole organization. He completed it and made it public for everyone to see when they returned to work on January 6th.

Gather the people for a strong kick-off.  With three different clients, I have set up a kick-off meeting to ensure we start fast.  We will confirm our commitment to our biggest goals for the year. We will confirm it by committing to the key things we will get done this week, and the next week, and the week after that.

Follow through in person.  The “holiday-chasm” was significant for any projects that were building momentum.  The start of the year is the time to rebuild that momentum.  The final indispensable component is to make contact in person or by phone and talk to the key people who are doing things for your project.  

Re-connect.  Re-commit.  Re-energize!

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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It was startling, unexpected, and… great. I was rushing from one place to another thinking of the far too many things I had to accomplish.
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Create an Energizing Pause Between the Years

Create an Energizing Pause Between the Years

“Remember is the last month,’ said Festival.
‘Remember’s not a month.’

‘Of course it is,’ said Festival. ‘There are twelve months thirty days long and the five days at the end of the year that are left over are called Remember. It’s when we all remember what happened in the past year, all the people who were born and all the people who died. You have to have Remember, otherwise, you’d start the next year out of balance.”

— Colin Thompson

Seasons greetings to all my readers.

My wish for you is that the pause between years refreshes and energizes you for the challenges of a new decade.

Gratitude to those of you who are keeping things running through these holidays. 

Special thanks to my dairy farming family and friends. May your pipes not freeze, may the calving be easy, may your cows be happy.

See you in 2020!

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett
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Prepare for Your Decade Grand Tour!

Prepare for Your Decade Grand Tour!

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”— Audre Lorde

Today’s picture is one of many posters made available by NASA/JPL that show visions of the future. They also celebrate many of the missions already launched.

The Grand Tour poster celebrates the Voyager missions. These missions took advantage of a once-every-175-year alignment of the outer planets for a grand tour of the solar system. These spacecraft used Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune as a gravity assist to send them faster and faster onto their next destination. Voyager 1 has reached a speed of 38,610 mph!

The year 2020 is rapidly approaching.  Instead of a New Year’s resolution consider embarking on a Grand Tour of the Decade.  

Remember that it is easy to over-estimate what we can do in a day. Conversely, it is easy to under-estimate what we can achieve in a decade. Three tips to help you prepare your launch into a new decade:

Think big. Expanding your thinking to a decade can help remove barriers to boldness. By 2030 what would you like to have accomplished? What will you have contributed to doing good in the world?

Create gravity assist milestones. Voyager had meaningful places to visit with each of the planets. And each of those planets also propelled them faster to the next planets. What milestones can you create that build your momentum to the big visions?

Launch. In other words, get started.  The Voyager missions had to deal with the harsh reality of the laws of orbital physics. They needed a detailed plan from one milestone to the next. You just need a good plan for your first milestone.  Get started!

Voyager 1 is currently 13,200,000,000 miles away from the earth and continues to return valuable science from beyond our solar system.

How far can you reach by 2030?

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett
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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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Put Fun Into the Improvement Journey

Put Fun Into the Improvement Journey

“The job of feet is walking, but their hobby is dancing.”— Amit Kalantri

Sometimes the necessity of change can seem onerous. But you don’t need to see improvement as a chore!  The following steps can help make positive change happen and help you have fun while you’re at it.

Focus on the why. The first step is to find personal reasons within the business imperative. For example, if you are a software development organization, a goal to “improve quality” is insufficient. Take the time to say why this goal is essential to the company and individuals. Let’s improve quality, so we get fewer angry comments on our twitter feed. We need to improve quality so we can spend more time doing imaginative new designs instead of chasing strange problems in the middle of the night.

Avoid improvement traps. New improvement efforts can get bogged down in a number of different traps. One of the most insidious of these is the “methodology” trap. For example, a methodology like MBSE (Model-Based Systems Engineering) or Scrum might be part of your improvement effort. However, many organizational improvement efforts fail because they pursue the dogma of the methodology and miss the principles underlying it. Take the time to add your ideas to the methodologies so that it is customized to solve your challenges.

Involve others. Exceptional leadership involves others. You move faster when your energy and passion are amplified by those around you. When you bring in the right people, you can make a party out of the journey to improvement.

Be passionately persistent. Change does not have to be hard or complicated but it does require doing something differently. What you have been doing has most likely made you and your organization successful in the past. This means that change can be scary even when it is clearly needed. Be persistent about the “why”. Be persistent about trying the change.

Celebrate the learning hiding in the journey.  Success and failure are both valuable. Whether you improved in the way you wanted to or found an idea that didn’t work, you have learned. Keep a forward focus and celebrate the learning adventure.

Rinse and repeat. Exceptional leaders don’t just create change; they generate improvement engines that run on the power of passion.

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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"I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with. " — Sonia Sotomayor One of my best clients and I were enjoying the start of our day at a local coffee cafe. We covered a range of topics and one...

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