Lead the Journey, Not Just the Project

Lead the Journey, Not Just the Project

“Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.”— Vincent Van Gogh

Our walk started with rain and ended with sunshine. We were exploring a new hike that had many small delightful surprises. The picture this week shows the point of the hike where the trail ended at some small waterfalls.

Thinking of the hike later, I realized that too often, leaders in the workplace are more focused on the climactic moment of delivery than they are on the journey.  It is easy to fall into that mentality as there is such pressure to finish the journey and finish it quickly.  Too often, leaders treat the work journey as a forced-trudge.  

However, leaders that focus on the quality of the journey quickly discover there are significant advantages over just focusing on the end result.

  • The quality journey is more likely to result in a quality finish. Rushing through the early stages often results in twisted ankles and slow walks back. It also results in major rework at other project stages and delays to that awaited delivery point.
  • If you are not paying attention to your surroundings, you will miss unexpected delights. As a leader, I am delighted when I find skills among team members I did not know they possessed. We often find new ideas for new products or new approaches.  The leader-in-a-rush often misses these things and is sometimes even annoyed by a falsely perceived delay.
  • The journey is to create and to build skills. Hikes may result in seeing a magnificent waterfall at the end. They also improve our stamina and flexibility. In taking on projects, take on ones that challenge. Use the project to develop your skills.
  • The joy in the journey leads to more projects.  I see some organizations with too much attrition. This problem is often related to the feeling that the project journey is a trudge.  Alternatively, when we lead projects with joy, when people find that the work builds their skills, when people reach milestones with pride, you have not just finished the project you are leading, you have created the loyalty and energy for many more projects to follow.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett
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Making a Risk Rating More Tangible

Making a Risk Rating More Tangible

“It’s a lack of clarity that creates chaos and frustration.”
— Steve Mariboli

When working on high-importance projects, I often have people tell me about various risks. I ask about the severity of the risk and I generally get answers such as “high impact”. I do have people translate that risk into more specifics such as “how many schedule weeks will the project be impacted?”

We can do better than that.

Sitting in a doctor’s office waiting for an appointment is an unusual place to be inspired but as time ticked on I became bored and was reading the walls.

Up there next to the ‘Name That Rash’ poster was the most useful Pain Assessment Guide I have seen.  Instead of just “it hurts a lot” or degrees of frowny faces, there was a scale with tangible descriptions. It ranged from no pain to things like “the pain interferes with concentration” and all the way up to “bed rest is required.”

This led me to start to develop a project risk scale so I can have more tangible discussions with project leaders.  

Here is my first pass of Alan’s Project Risk Scale.

  1. Very low impact:
    If we have the wrong approach, one person can fix it in a couple of days.
  2. Low impact: 
    If we have the wrong approach, it will take a few of us less than a week to fix.
  3. Medium impact:
    If we have the wrong approach, it means a big redesign, and likely significant delay to schedule.
  4. High impact:
    This might not work the way we want ever.We may have to change customer expectations of what they can get.
  5. Very high impact:
    There is a significant safety risk with this approach.

Would this kind of scale help you with getting the language or risk be more tangible?  Let me know at [email protected] 

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett
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Learn to Cherish the Tough Spots

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”— John Muir

There are times of the year when our walks inevitably encounter deep, unavoidable mud.  That mud used to ruin the mood of my walk. I soon realized that it really was all about my own attitude.

I had to accept that there will be mud.

As leaders, you will find that leading projects of any worth also have hard parts that are like difficult slogs through the mud.

As the leader, you have the ability to set the attitude of yourself in a way that influences of all those that follow you through the muddy patches.

You can pick to hesitate.  You can even try to avoid the muddy patch.

You can try and tiptoe through that muddy patch.

You can apologize to everyone with the belief that somehow you are personally responsible for getting everyone muddy.

Or you can leap in and splash through that mud with joy.

Who would you choose to follow?

The dry land is not that far away.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett
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The Best Time to Plant a Tree is 20 Years Ago

“When a seed is sown into the ground, you cannot immediately see the plant.”— Mamata Banerjee

I was startled on our walk this evening.

I was taken aback by how tall the trees on our playground have grown. They are well over 60 feet tall. When they were planted there twenty years ago they were about as tall as me.

The work you are doing today is planting seeds for the potential of tomorrow.

The coaching you are giving to others is providing them nourishment and sustenance.

Your followup and optimism provide the sunshine needed for growth.

Twenty years ago is a fine time to plant a tree.

It is also best to keep on planting seeds of growth every day.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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Development Teams Should Not Waiver From Their Obligations

Development Teams Should Not Waiver From Their Obligations

“Being of no power to make his wishes good:
His promises fly so beyond his state that what he speaks is all in debt; He owes for every word.”

— William Shakespeare

Development teams responsible for creating new products and services are often under great pressure. This is understandable. The businesses they work for are also under great pressure.

Management often asks teams to do what is actually impossible to accomplish in the amount of time given. That is because they actually want to have the desired product or service ready tomorrow, or better yet, yesterday.

Under this pressure, the development teams must remember they always have four obligations from which they should never waver.

Obligation 1. Focus on Value to the Customers.
First and foremost focus on value to the customers. The development team has been hired to be the expert. Be the expert. Know the customer domain better than the customer. Ensure all actions are focused on delivering value to the customer.

Obligation 2. Deliver High-Quality Results.
Your customers expect a product that works. They want it to work the first time. Your internal testing should be a validation that your development process is working. Needing to do extensive rework in your testing is a flashing red indicator that your customer is at risk of bad quality. It is also saying loudly that your process must be improved.

Always remember that focusing on quality from the start is the key to speed for delivering customer value. Every bit of rework takes away time from creative work.

Obligation 3. Take Ownership of the Speed to Value.
The development teams are the experts. They must focus all actions on achieving the best speed to value. They must focus on getting the right people and the right skills on the job. They must constantly prioritize the most valuable work for the customer. They must get the right tools and the right training.

They should be turning over every rock for opportunities to go faster to high-quality value

Obligation 4. Make Commitments You Can Keep or Beat.
The leaders of the business want the product the team is building to be ready right now. Your obligation as a development team is to build a plan focused, yes on speed, but also on a commitment you can keep or beat. The business leaders need to know what it will really take to build the best product for the customers.

Use your engineering judgment. Use historical data. Consider the cost of rework. Know that the customer will be asking for more things.

Make a plan that you believe.

***

These obligations are not easy. That is why they must be kept in the forefront of your discussions with leadership and your customers.

The more you can deliver to these obligations, the more the business and their customers will trust you to create the highest value products.

You do not desire to be the person in William Shakespeare​’s quote that began this newsletter.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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“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.”

— Private Pilot’s Handbook of Weather,
by Lt. Col. Gene Guerny and Capt. Joseph A. Skiera,
published 1964

It is fascinating to find wisdom in places that are unexpected.

In our “free room” (where people leave things they no longer need) I found the Private Pilot’s Handbook of Weather. I opened it right to the quote I opened the newsletter with.

I read that and kept reading. Yes, it was about pilots and weather. I kept seeing guidelines for leaders.

Here are the four points for pilots that the booked opened with. (Note: This is slightly paraphrased and shortened for clarity.)

  1. 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.
  2. During the flight, the forecast for flight weather must be constantly checked against actual observations.
  3. When the forecast has gone wrong, a decision, based on an understanding of the weather patterns forming must be made.
  4. No general rule can be applied to the specific conditions that arise.
  5. The pilots must share what they learn with others currently in flight and for future learnings

 

These are all brilliant points of wisdom for any leader.   I am going to keep reading and learning about the weather.  And about leading.

I did notice one significant difference between pilots and organizational leaders.  

Organizational leaders actually can influence the weather.  They can cause storms. They can create conditions for projects to fly in blue skies.

Which leader do you strive to be?

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett
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