Take a Chainsaw to Speed Barriers

Take a Chainsaw to Speed Barriers

“You own the accelerator for the speed of your own work and the work of those that you lead.”   — Immutable Law of Speed #1 From “Lead With Speed”

There was a tree down across the road. Speed limits were suddenly irrelevant. The engine power of any of the cars waiting had also been made irrelevant.

We have had many storms in the area recently, and trees down across trails and roads have been a more frequent experience than usual. Road workers have become the leaders who own the number one key to speed in this situation. They have chainsaws.

Over the years, and especially recently, I have worked with numerous leaders who encountered various types of metaphorical storms that put multiple barriers in the way of speed. These barriers have ranged from the impacts of the pandemic to events like significant changes in tools that affect everyone’s workflow.

The best leaders I work with are on the constant watch for anything from a speed bump to a roadblock impacting their teams. These leaders walk around with their own ‘chainsaws’ to clear those barriers. They do and say things that are different from those said by less attuned leaders. For example, these exceptional leaders say things like:

  • “Put in a purchase request for the things you need.  I will ensure they are funded.”
  • “I see what the technical issue is.  I don’t know how to fix it, but I know who can.  I will ask person X, and you will be flying again.”
  • “I understand the policy I put in place is negatively impacting your ability to get things done. I will modify it to address your issues.”

The most extraordinary thing great leaders do is give people their own chainsaws and teach them how to use them. 

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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Do You Need Noise Canceling Headphones to Work?

Do You Need Noise Canceling Headphones to Work?

“All that noise! Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!”— Dr. Seuss, The Grinch

I just went three days (long weekend) without reading most of my emails and now have 312 waiting for me.  (Wait, now it’s 318 and growing.)  This is not unusual for me and most likely not for you.

Just walking into a grocery superstore provides an abundance of visual noise. Walking down the aisles, it seems there is an infinite number of choices all calling for my attention.

Meanwhile, Netflix has an array of distracting choices, all just a click away.  And Netflix is just one in an abundance of streaming services to choose from.

You get my point. There are many, many things vying for our attention. Some of them are contained in the vast amount of external pressures, such as those 323 (current count) work emails waiting to be sorted and addressed. Some of the distractions are self-created as you are tempted to watch the latest videos your friend sends you or yearning to read the last few chapters of that book you started.

Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!

But there is hope.

In chaotically loud environments, noise-canceling headphones reduce ambient noise so the listener can focus on the soundscape of their choice, and there are similar mitigations for metaphorical noise.

The following are noise-canceling strategies to help you focus on your goals and lower the distraction factor of all that other noise.

Start your week with a clear set of focused goals.
Without a clear target for the week,  it is easy to be trapped into reacting to everything that occurs and ending the day with the question, “Now, which way was I actually going?”

Focus not on the tasks you do but the value you provide.
Your task list itself can be noisy if you allow the list to dictate to you. Instead, focus on the value and impact you are working to provide. With that focus, you’ll find simple, fast ways to accomplish the value the task list aimed to achieve.

If you can’t say no, say later.
We often have a strong desire to be helpful. When distractions come up, it is often that others have requested help from you. Yet, we need to remain focused on the long-term greater good for the organization and our clients.  Practice saying no, or at the very least later.

Practice “noise prevention”.
There are some types of noisy problems that come up over and over again. If this is the case, find the source of those noises and seek to resolve them.

Optimize for joy. 
Do the activities you engage in increase your joy? The best noise cancellation technique is to identify what is noise to you. If the activity you engage in increases your feeling of joy and worth in the world, it is like pure music.

The more you can focus on these types of tasks; the more noise disappears into the distant background.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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Without Data, Talk About Quality Is Just Talk

Without Data, Talk About Quality Is Just Talk

Immutable Law of Speed #4:
The higher the cost of rework, the slower you are going.— From Alan Willett’s book, Lead with Speed

This old picture I found well represents what I am talking about today. That broken axel has disrupted everyone’s workday. This disruption removes everyone involved from any creative work they were doing to advance the goals of their organizations.

Now consider some of the headlines I have collected about defects that escaped into the world, disrupting people and organizations.  

Two years ago:  Fiat Chrysler recalls 4.8 million US vehicles for a cruise control software defect.

Last year: GM is updating a brake controls recall they originally issued in December of 2019 because the first recall caused additional problems.

This year: Southwest Airlines cancels 500+ flights after a computer glitch grounds their fleet.

I have collected hundreds of headlines like these over the years. Each of these issues represents problems with customer loyalty. It cost hundreds, even thousands, of hours of lost productivity in the organization. Sometimes it even cost lives.

There is a problem I see consistently across many organizations. Quality is typically assumed. Leaders ask a lot of questions about dates. They want to know when the project will be done. They also have many requests for more features.  

However, there are typically few if any questions about quality. But those questions must be asked. And the answers to those questions must be based on data.

Here are a few examples.

  • Our quality levels in system test show 0.05 defects per thousand new lines of code compared to the average of 2 defects per thousand lines of code we found in our previous releases.
  • Our inspections had a defect removal efficiency of 42%.  58% of the defects escaped into testing or out to customers.
  • Our economics of quality numbers show that the defects captured in the system test are costing the organization an average of 125 hours per defect.  The smallest cost was 30 hours, and the greatest cost was over 1,000 hours.
  • Only 27% of product features were delivered to our customers within our criteria for high quality with no critical or level 1 defects. This is unacceptable. We are taking action to address the root causes.

You may not know what these data descriptions mean, but you should.

Claiming quality without knowing data like this is just talking.

And if it is just talking, the results you get will be talked about just like in the headlines I mentioned.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Find a list of quality questions you should ask in this free download.  100+ Questions That Lead Teams to Build Smart, Aggressive Project Plans.

Contact [email protected] to learn more.

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

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Heed the Evidence You See

Heed the Evidence You See

“Observation opens the windows of knowledge around us.”
— Sukant Ratnakar

While walking across a bridge in a local park, I noticed a bunch of mysterious items hanging on wires strung parallel to the bridge across the inlet’s waters. It took me a moment to recognize that fishing lures were dangling from the wires – many, many fishing lures.

There are quite a few very nice spots to fish along the inlet, and they are actually straightforward to get to. However, none are quite as convenient as standing on that bridge. The ample visible evidence of lost lines and lures is apparently not enough to dissuade many fishers.

It seems that too often, businesses, and many of us individually, are tempted by the convenient bridge where it looks like it is so easy to get quick benefits.

I have seen many teams skip the difficult design phase to see if they can quickly catch a fish. Likewise, I have seen many people skip inspections because they are boring, and it is another 200 paces to the fishing spots around the corner.

Then repeatedly, I see them have to spend hours and even weeks in rework. This is because their fishing line got caught on the same wires that caught so many fishing lines before them.

The warning signs are clear if you keep your eyes open and watch for them.

I encourage you to learn from those who came before. Walk the extra paces to the bank up river a little way. If you want to catch some big fish, invest in a boat to take you out farther.

Catching the big one is worth it.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Are you ready to do exceptional leadership in technology development?  Learn about the Exceptional Difference programs here.

Contact [email protected] to learn more.

The lost fishing lures perhaps should have been a warning.
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How Much Conviction Do You Have?

How Much Conviction Do You Have?

“Those who don’t jump will never fly.”— Leena Ahmad Almashat

The manager said, “I am sorry. I can’t support you going to that training at this time.”

Respond to this situation by showing your conviction.

This post continues the focus on ensuring your organization is making investments that return great value. In my first post, Why to Invest $ in Training, Coaching, & Making Leaders Better?, I proposed five key steps. This post is an elaboration on step #5, have conviction.

In my experience, if the first four steps I outlined are done well, the outcome is most likely a yes.  If you understood the needs of the executive, and if you focused on value based on their needs, and if you researched to ensure that others had greatly benefited, and if you made a plan that showed your commitment, then it is likely they will say yes.

You still must be prepared for a “no.”  Here are four possible responses that demonstrate your conviction.  

  1. Ask, “What is the main barrier? If the main barrier is budget, you may find budget items in your personal control that can be sacrificed. You may have the ability to attract new clients to ease the budget concern. Having these discussions keeps the possibility open.
  2. Ask, “What can I do to make this possible now?”  This shows that you are ready to do more to make this investment a reality.
  3. Make an offer.  If you really believe that you want this to happen, be prepared to make an offer.  The offer could be unpaid overtime. The offer could be taking on an additional special project. 
  4. Pay for what you want yourself. This sounds extreme to some people, and I suppose it is. However, doing this shows you are convinced that this investment will benefit you and the organization.

I have had to use option 4 a couple of times.  Each time, management was quite startled but was quickly convinced of my conviction. I went to the training I believed in. I received the world-class coaching I wanted.  Each of these experiences was greatly beneficial to my organization and me.

The question is, how convinced are you of the value?  Show your conviction.  Today’s quote is correct. If you don’t jump, it’s hard to fly!

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Are you ready to do exceptional leadership in technology development?  Learn about the Exceptional Difference programs here.

Contact [email protected] to learn more.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

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Make a Plan to Ensure Investments are Useful and Used

Make a Plan to Ensure Investments are Useful and Used

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”— Dale Carnegie

Have you ever purchased something and never used it?  

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t done that. One of the key reasons people hesitate to invest in training, coaching, tools, etc., is that they have often seen the opportunity squandered. Even if they can’t articulate exactly why they are hesitating, this is often the hidden barrier to signing the check.

This post continues the focus on ensuring your organization is making investments that return great value. In my first post, Why to Invest $ in Training, Coaching, & Making Leaders Better?, I proposed five key steps. This post is an elaboration on step #4, show your commitment.

Before investing, you must have a realistic plan to ensure the investment will be useful to you and the organization. We discussed that in the previous newsletter on value. Before you write the check, ensure that the investment will be useful and used.

Before I make any significant investment, I do the following steps.

  1. Gut check on value. Am I confident in the value that this investment will provide?  If that is true, I need to make a plan to ensure I get the value.
  2. Start your project notebook now. A significant investment in training, coaching, or tools is akin to a project.  You expect value from a project. You expect a project will take time.  You expect a project will provide results. You expect a project to have a plan. Start the plan and the associated notes now before the check is written.
  3. Identify what is needed for success.  Any investment like this implies that there will be a change that has to be made to ensure the value is used and the value is realized.  Change implies that there will be barriers and enablers. Know what they are!   Note, once you get started, identifying the barriers and enablers will become even clearer. However, start with eyes open wide to the fact that the required change might not be easy.
  4. Plan how to be successful.  One of the key barriers is always habits or current practice. When people are under pressure, they will revert to whatever they have done previously. Have a plan to ensure that this new “thing” is actually used.  For example, with the previous example of training in Python, how will you make sure what is learned is used?  I encourage clients to do more than the training. They must also make some changes to how Python code is reviewed before being added to the system. When people take Exceptional Difference programs, they have expert guidance in immediately applying the learning from their assignments to their work environment.
  5. Make a plan to check on results.  When investing, positive results are expected. In previous newsletters, I strongly suggested that clear measures of success be identified. In this step, it is imperative you make a plan for when to check on the results and who will measure them.

When you are being challenged on whether to invest, the biggest barrier is fear that the investment will not be worthwhile.

Show your commitment by making a plan to ensure the investment is both useful and used. 

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Are you ready to do exceptional leadership in technology development?  Learn about the Exceptional Difference programs here.

Contact [email protected] to learn more.

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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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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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