Crossing the River of Denial Under Extreme Pressure

Crossing the River of Denial Under Extreme Pressure

Be careful not to drown in a mirage.” — Terri Guillemets

Last week I wrote about denial as a potential cause of engineering failures. I have seen too often that otherwise rational people under great pressure come to irrational conclusions.

For example, I have worked with projects whose team members are under great pressure to meet a deadline. There is ample evidence that the team will not reach the deadline with all the content they have promised. Key suppliers have failed to provide the vital elements they need to complete the work. One of their key technologies has failed to achieve the performance desired. On top of all of that, they have an estimated 30 weeks of work to complete in 10 weeks.

I asked, “Will you be done on time? If yes, how do you know?”

They answer, “Yes, we will be done. We know we will be done because we know we have to be.”

I asked readers to write in about how to avoid becoming a sane person who comes to insane conclusions. Readers wrote in. Here are the top five answers merged with the advice I provide to my clients.

  1. Collect data that is meaningful and useful.  Focus on data that is predictive of outcomes.
  2. Believe your data. When your data says you are significantly behind schedule, do not ignore it. Accept it. When you feel that the technical risk is high and is likely to happen, believe it.
  3. Seek a trusted objective viewpoint. Your sense of time and space can be warped by the great pressure you are under. Seek the wisdom of someone you trust who is outside the pressure cooker. What do they think? Believe them.
  4. Listen to your body.  Ask yourself if the project is in trouble. If your words say that the project is fine, but your stomach is in a knot, your shoulders are tense, and your neck hurts, recognize the discordance within yourself. Listen to it.
  5. Speak up. Denial in these environments is practiced en masse. No one is saying anything because no one else is.  Speak up and watch the river of denial evaporate.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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Keys to Getting Trusted Critics

Keys to Getting Trusted Critics

“I like constructive criticism from smart people..”― Prince

When creating something new, whether it be a book, a new marketing campaign, or a new software system, many people have a tendency to want to do it “all by themselves”.

There is a hesitation to engage others and get early feedback on unformed ideas or unpolished work. There is a belief that seeking criticism will sidetrack the process of creation and a reluctance to reveal a product that is in its working stages.

Perhaps people develop this aversion because of previous bad experiences.

I know that I personally have been in situations where I was required to have early-stage product reviews and then received a lot of useless feedback. The worst part was that, according to the process, I had to follow up on each useless item with each reviewer. I had to either make the change or justify why I was rejecting it.

I know others who have received significant feedback that was full of “judgment” which was difficult to recover from. They felt that the feedback they received was aimed at tearing down the product rather than giving them useful suggestions for improvement.

So I understand the aversion. Critics can create speed bumps or even roadblocks when their criticism isn’t contained within the boundaries of our real needs.

Yet how do you know if you are on target without this early feedback?

To get speed boosters that accelerate your path to true value, you need to have critics you can trust.

Here are three keys to finding trusted critics who will actually propel your ideas to the destination desired.

  • Let people know exactly the kind of feedback you need. Don’t allow people to give you grammar feedback when you are providing an outline of an idea.  You want feedback on the idea itself!
  • Seek people with the skills and experience to provide feedback appropriate for the current stage of the product. Some people are great at seeing the big picture of how your idea can be made stronger.  Others are great at polishing the final draft into publishable gold.
  • Build your group of trusted critics and treat them wonderfully.  As you find the critics that propel you to greatness, you will find that they will rely on you as well.  This is a life long source of wow.

Let the seeds of your ideas get the healthy rain of constructive criticism and watch them flourish and grow.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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Define the Finish Line

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” ― Neil Gaiman

Have you noticed that in running races, sometimes people look quite exhausted and then when they see the finish line they go faster? The data shows this is true. Most people do go faster as they approach the finish line. Thus, it is unfortunate that many projects start without a clear way for the team to know when they can claim a victory. They don’t know when they can sweep across the finish line amongst cheers and glory. This lack of clarity leads to unnecessary wandering. It also deprives the organization of the surge towards the end. I have two suggestions. Suggestion 1: for your most important projects, ask various team members some of the following questions.
  • What are the most important milestones for the project you are working on?
  • What is the definition of done for each of those milestones?
  • What is your, as a team member, most important contribution to reaching done?
Suggestion 2: Use the answers to shape a razor-sharp definition of the finish line. Be prepared to cheer them across that finish line. The thrill of crossing will get everyone excited for the next starting line!

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett
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Is It Time To Add Another Point?

Is It Time To Add Another Point?

“I can’t say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.” — Daniel Boone

I was using a phone app to measure an awkward shape. The app chided me to add a point. It needed new data to be able to better understand the task it was being asked to do.

I realized this was exactly what was missing in an earlier discussion I was having. We were working on developing a new approach to reaching one of the team goals. The team had been successful on the majority of their goals, however on this particular goal the team was stuck and not making progress.

Our discussion had wandered around the familiar. What we needed to do was add a point that was outside our current thinking. Once we did that we were able to draw new lines, create new possibilities, develop a new approach and put new energy into moving forward.

Since then, I have found that “adding a point” has been a useful tool in solving many challenges.

Discussing the current actions a non-profit team needed to take, we took a detour into discussing their organization’s vision and mission. The plan they were looking for quickly became clear.
Examining how to improve the quality of a product, we flipped the question over and did a thought experiment on how we could make the product worse. When we flipped the topic again, quality improvement solutions emerged.

Preparing to run a 1/2 marathon, I was worried about getting enough hours and miles in during the very busy next two months. Focusing on boosting the quality of my workouts and on making my running fun brought new energy and purpose to my strategizing.
What points can you add that help you draw the starting line of 2019 to be a refreshing horizon of possibility?

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

You may also like:

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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.

The Reader’s Edge

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ANNIVERSARIES ARE IMPORTANT MARKERS

"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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Thankful

Thankful

“Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.”— W.J. Cameron

I recently attended a meeting where the facilitator did an around the room check-in.  Most of the people described themselves as “overwhelmed.” The state of being overwhelmed comes from a keen awareness of all that one is doing, as well as all that one is not doing. Even more, each of us may be holding in our minds the things we absolutely need to do very soon now but have not yet made space for in our plans.

This time of year can be an intensely busy time. We feel our attention pulled in many directions. Taking time to refresh our perspectives can be a useful tool in accomplishing what is important.

For example, my wife and I went for a long walk through the deep snow that fell here this week. We paused and committed “Random Acts of Snowmen”, a simple whimsical action that connected us and perhaps brought a smile to others who walked the trail after us.

As leaders, one of our prime responsibilities is to lead people to a clarity of what can be done.  And better yet, we need to highlight those things that can be done with both joy and the thankfulness that we are making progress towards the good we desire to do in the world.

It is helpful to recognize what we have accomplished as individuals and in the work we do with others. We can pause and thank people for their achievements and for the effort and good heart they put into those accomplishments.

May you find moments to commit your own Random Acts of Snowmen.  Even more, may you find time to say “thank you!”

Thank you for your readership.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

You may also like:

Endurance Is Not Always a Virtue

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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"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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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...

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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.