A Lesson, When In Doubt, Seek Input

A Lesson, When In Doubt, Seek Input

“We must learn what customers really want.”— Eric Ries, The Lean Startup

When looking at the starting line of a new year, I see lots of possibilities. Recently, the possibilities grew in number and delight.  

My doubt crept in as I realized I could not build all my ideas at once. That is when I realized I could model one of the lessons from Eric Ries’s teaching in his books. That is, to ask you what you think.

I’m going to be partnering with one of the leading nonprofit organizations in project management in a new initiative to develop online course offerings. The opportunity is exciting. But the question is, what should I build first? To answer this, I am seeking your input.

Please review the course offerings I am excited to build. 

How to Recover Project Disasters!
Consider that you are suddenly responsible for a project that is in grave jeopardy. It is certainly late. It is riddled with quality issues. How do you know how deep in trouble the plan is?  Will you deliver the bad news to those that really must know? Can you recover this project?  This course will review the cold hard truth of what you need to do to recover the project and finish with style.

Lead the Unleadable to Create Incredible Value
This course provides detailed guidance on how to unwrap the gifts of those very talented, but sometimes problematic people on your projects. We will cover how to set expectations of excellence that people will be inspired to reach for. We will provide the language of how to deliver messages that lead to a positive change of those going in the wrong direction. The course will help you develop your radar for trouble. You will learn how to determine when you remove versus when you improve the most troublesome. You will be able to detect it in the early stages and set things right before they become a challenge.

Start Projects Right so You Can Finish With Style
Too many projects finish in turmoil and exhaustion. In truth, some seem to never really quite cross the finish line. That finish line is there in sight – but as we get closer, it moves farther away. Often the trouble at the end was based on how the project started. This course will provide the ten critical things to ensure projects start right such that they can finish with style. We cover the key reasons that these ten things are rarely done. We will provide you with the courage, skills, and language to overcome the barriers and actively start your projects with speed and style.

How to Deal with Technical Debt
As a project leader, your job is to get the project done fast and with high quality. One of the most significant detriments to speed that most organizations have is an abundance of technical debt. This course will cover the seven typical types of technical and why knowing the differences between them is critical. You will know how to measure it, how to deal with it with surgical precision, and best yet, how to prevent it from occurring.

 ***

Now imagine you have $500 you want to invest in an online training experience that leads to immediate on-the-job improvements.

Pick one of the four that would be most interesting to you. Hit reply to [email protected] to let me know your choice.

You may provide write-in suggestions as well.

Thanks for your votes and ideas. Vote early and often!

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

 Alan Willett

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett
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The Big Ideas Summit

The Big Ideas Summit

“Knowledge is rarely enough to spark change; it takes emotion to bring knowledge to a boil.”— Chip Heath

I had the extraordinary experience last week of finding myself on “higher ground.”  I had a better view of the value-based consulting I have been doing.  More importantly, from this higher vantage point, I was able to visualize better how I can make more positive impacts in the years to come.

I sought this higher ground by attending Alan Weiss’s Thought Leadership Summit in West Palm Beach, Florida. I was there with the host Alan Weiss (author of over 50 books) and 15 other thought leaders in various fields.  The guest speaker Chip Heath, pictured with me, was very inspiring. Chip is the author of many influential books. 

The discussions we had and the work we did together were challenging and inspirational. 

3 Take-aways from Alan Weiss’s Thought Leadership Summit

Always start and end with a focus on high value for those that you serve. In other words, do not get lost in the methodology. Do not get caught up in the details of planning. Those are important, but they are useless without a complete focus on what you will achieve.

When you start to feel comfortable, it is time to seek higher ground. The stability of the plateau can be very enticing. However, there are cliffs on the edges. When feeling comfortable for too long, it is time to push your envelope to new ideas.

Do not sweat the small losses. They lead to big wins. When working on new ideas, there will be setbacks. There will be people ready and willing to criticize. The losses and the friction are all fodder you can use to build towards creating the best value for those that you lead.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett

Here I am with author and featured speaker, Chip Heath

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Details Make the Big Picture Real

“Your big picture will never be a masterpiece if you ignore the tiny brushstrokes.”— Andy Andrews

Details, Details, Why Do They Always Want Details?

I recently lead a three-day workshop where the key purpose was to define a new direction for a large organization. By the end of day 2, everyone agreed that a pivot point for the organization was being achieved. The participants were excited about the new direction in which they were heading.

The energy level was high, yet there was something missing.

When we went around the room at the close of the second day we asked two key questions. What was an example “aha moment” of your day? And what is a major wish for what we achieve on the final day?

The aha moments were quite diverse. The wish for the day was common across the majority of people. That wish is summed up with one person’s comment, “Alan, the big picture is great, but we need more details. How do we actually go in this new direction?”

This question is a common one in this type of workshop. These workshops are designed to get everyone engaged and excited about defining their aspirational desired state. By its nature, a vision doesn’t contain the details of what most people really need to move forward. I have attended similar workshops where people leave excited, but on Monday they find they are back in the same job and not clear how to change things to match the new vision.

In contrast, I design this type of workshop to ensure that people walk out with a detailed plan and examples of what they need to do differently. I lead workshop participants through the design and plan of those details. I can and do help with providing some concrete examples. However, it is the participants of these workshops themselves who must execute the new direction. The real details must come from them.

The better they can envision the headwinds they will face in making the changes happen, the abler they will be to adjusting on the spot and keep making headway to the horizon of their choosing.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett
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Caution. Great Help Can Actually Be Anti-Help.

Caution. Great Help Can Actually Be Anti-Help.

“In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”— Maya Angelou

I was once coaching a leader whose team absolutely adored him.

He did a great job leading the team. He worked extra hours to make sure every team member was successful. Whenever a team member seemed to be struggling with a task, the leader just took care of the task himself.

I expect you can see the problem already. Even though the team liked the help their leader gave, he was actually giving the team a very subtle form of anti-help. He was denying the team its opportunities for growth.

The senior executives needed this leader to assume leadership of a number of larger teams and assume broader responsibility. Yet the executives knew that they had a problem. The leader’s current team was a critical part of a high technology project but the leader had not grown the skills of the team. There was no one on the team who could take on the upcoming challenges without his help.

The first step in the transformation of this team leader was difficult. I told him that for his team to grow, he had to allow them the opportunity to fail.

In response, he looked faint. He lowered his head below his knees and took a few minutes of silence. From that position, he said, “How big a failure?”

I told him that the potential failures could start small. After a minute he sat back up. “I can do that.”

He needed some more coaching on how to grow his team’s skills, but the transformation started with his letting go of providing too much help because it had become anti-help to his team’s growth.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett

 

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Be Neither the Giver or Receiver of Anti-help

Be Neither the Giver or Receiver of Anti-help

“Leadership is about vision and responsibility, not power.”
— Seth Berkley

There is a lesson about anti-help I learned early in my career. The project I was leading had some troubles as projects sometimes do. Unfortunately, I was not treating the project with the same level of importance as the executives were. Further, I had done a poor job of communicating my understanding of the problems and I had not made others aware of how I was addressing them. The executive team did not ask if I wanted help, they just sent in five people to “help”. Unfortunately, this led to significant delays in the project. My team had to stop the problem-fixing work we were already engaged in. Bringing these new people up to date on the situation took an inordinate amount of time. The project was eventually delivered and the executives were pleased with the help they provided to the project. However, team morale was lowered and the team members felt deprived of their ownership in the project’s success. Anti-help had been given and I had accepted it. From that experience, I learned how to ward off anti-help. The key is to provide crucial product stakeholders with the answers to these five questions on a regular basis. Do so even if these questions are never asked. Even when others around me were getting plenty of anti-help, my projects were now immune.
  1. What are the biggest problems with your project right now and what are you doing about them?
  2. What are the top risks to quality with your project and what are you doing about them?
  3. What are the top risks to schedule with your project and what are you doing about them?
  4. When is the most likely time your project will finish with high quality – and how do you know?
  5. What help can executives provide that will improve schedule and quality?

If you answer these questions well, you will have warded off anti-help.

As an executive, ask these questions.  Do not assume that help is not needed simply because you have heard no requests for help. If someone cannot answer these questions well, their immediate need is the help in finding the answers to the questions. When they do answer them well, you will know how to give the support the project needs.  

You will not be firing the anti-help torpedos. Your projects will thank you.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett

Sunrise in a city very near Death Valley in California

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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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When you are focused on speed, do you call for the help you need?

When you are focused on speed, do you call for the help you need?

“If you need help bark like a dog.” – Gendry.
“That’s stupid. If I need help I’ll shout help.” – Arya”

— George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

This is not just a picture of a fence overgrown with morning glories. This is a picture of a small portion of a fence that was completely repaired in an amazingly short amount of time. The fence goes around our entire yard. Since it’s been there for quite a few years, it needed fixing. There were a few posts that needed replacement as well as several parts of the lattice that needed repairs. A friend and I looked over what needed to be done and estimated it would take us at least two to three full days. I called in our local fence repair experts. They did a much better job than I ever could have. Instead of the repairs taking two to three days, the experts were finished in under two hours! Along with the speed and quality work, they were able to do the work without disturbing the garden. They even replaced portions of fencing covered by the morning glories without damaging them. How did they do that? This result reinforced to me why businesses should, and do, call on me and other experts like me to help them accelerate their progress. If you have the need for speed, call in the help you require.

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.

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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"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.