Experience Leads to Better Designs

Experience Leads to Better Designs

“I was startled to learn that I didn’t have 20 years of experience. I had one year of experience repeated 20 times.”— Anonymous

When I first started playing the beautiful strategy game of go, otherwise known as baduk, I was encouraged to play many games very fast.  My mentors wanted me to finish whole games with other students in fifteen minutes.  This was a high contrast to the master players I watched who took fifteen minutes for just the first ten moves of their games.

Understanding the difference between those stages of learning is critical to “leveling up” your wisdom at any difficult skill.

The masters of the game encouraged me to play many games fast, not just so I would lose many games fast, although that was part of it!  What they were really doing was putting together rapid feedback loops so I would start to see which moves led to problems and which moves led to better outcomes.

Indeed, by playing many games quickly, I began to get better. Those games helped improve my play a little bit at a time.

True learning came after the games were played. The key was the Go-Master taught me how to review my games lost and won and learn from them.  It was then that I learned that the opening of my games had such flaws that even if it looked like I was significantly ahead of my opponent at the start, things fell apart in the endgame.  The flawed foundation collapsed.  

The rapid learning loops needed the addition of analysis and expert guidance.  With that, I rapidly improved my game.

Often the engineers I work with have had the first part of the learning equation. They have done many engineering projects.  However, they have not been trained in the skills of how to learn from their experiences.   For example, when I look at some experienced people’s programs, they look the same as a beginner’s program.  No matter how many programs they do, they are repeating the same experience over and over again. 

I have two suggestions for those looking to improve their skills.

  • First, start by looking at the endgame results of your project and consider the early stages.  How did the early stages contribute to the results?  If the project is late, look back at the planning and consider what could have been done better.  If the project has quality issues, what was lacking in the design?
  • Second, learning on your own is much slower than learning with someone who is a master at not just the game itself but the learning process.  Find a master who can not just review your work but review your process.

Doing these things will lead to the rapid improvement you seek.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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Bring in the Team for Support

Bring in the Team for Support

“It is support that sustains us on the journey we started.”— Marci Shimoff

 A mini-drama was unfolding before me. It was a familiar scene, but I was noticing it in a new way.

We were at a baseball game for the first time in over a year, watching the home team the “Binghamton Rumble Ponies” play on a gorgeous Friday evening. It was a bit cloudy, there was a light breeze, and it was just the right temperature.

The home team’s pitcher was starting to struggle. The catcher stood up from behind the plate and let the umpire know he was taking a time-out. He walked out to the pitching mound to talk things over with the pitcher. Soon the rest of the team came in to join them on the mound for a mini-summit.  

The mound visit is a method used to clarify communications between pitcher, catcher, and the rest of the team.  It is also a way to support the pitcher and show that the whole team is rooting for his success.  

That need for support should be obvious because for any team to win, everyone has to work together for success. However, I have seen that in many of my clients’ teams the team doesn’t seem to realize the need to support each other.  In those situations, each team member is focused on their own “impossible” task. They don’t take their eyes off it to even notice if others are also struggling. Those teams, more often than not, fail.

Exceptional leaders create a culture where the metaphorical mound-visit happens without any intervention from the leader. When it is clear someone struggles with their part of the overall mission, the other team members will gather around. They will work together to figure out a strategy to help everyone be successful.  

In our game, the mound visit broke up after the umpire told them to get back to playing baseball.

The pitcher struck out the next batter. A little support goes a long way.

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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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Investments are Leaps of Faith

It always feels too soon to leap. But you have to. Because that’s the moment between you and remarkable.”— Seth Godin

Are you ready for a leap of faith?

That is the question any leader is answering when they choose to invest in something new. This question applies to training, coaching, new tools, or anything that costs time and money.

Do they trust that this investment will be worth it?

This newsletter continues the focus on ensuring your organization is making investments that return great value.  In the first newsletter, I proposed five key steps. This newsletter is an elaboration on step # 3, Ensure the investment is highly recommended.

The question almost always comes down to “How do I know the expert I am hiring is worth the investment?”   Even if you are buying new tools, you are putting your faith in the people who will train and support your use of those tools.

The number one way to discover this is to research the people who came before and found great value working with those experts.

When I say this out loud, everyone knows this. However, it is interesting how few people do the proper research. Here are three suggestions to get the information you need to make the leap of faith.

  1. Read the reviews. This one sounds easy, and most people do it.  However, bring your critical thinking skills to this step. Dig deeper to see what’s behind those reviews.
  2. Talk to those who are recommending this solution.  What value did they find?  How did they ensure that they received the best outcomes from their investment?
  3. Judge the quality of the expert and their solutions from the quality of their students.   When I see people being greatly successful, I often find a mentor in the shadows smiling at their success. 

I have followed these steps whenever I make a large investment. The third step has given me the greatest confidence to make the leap of faith and invest the money and time.

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.

Here is a quote from one of the heroes from the program.

“One of the mantras we discussed in depth in the Leadership Experience is that design rules. I couldn’t agree more. I now have much more influence on my teams and organization to ensure that great design powers our speed.”

—Dylan Greiner, Chief Product Architect, Team Leader

Contact [email protected] to learn more.

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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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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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