Anchor Your Efforts on the Value Of What You Provide

Anchor Your Efforts on the Value Of What You Provide

Most people overestimate what tasks they can do in one week. Those same people often underestimate what value they can achieve in a decade.

Many of my clients often feel like the figure in the image on the left (of the double image to the right). They are struggling through a list of tasks that they can never accomplish in that week.

Many of those tasks were given to them. Many of those tasks they self-created. And many of them likely have some significant importance for the next week or two. Some are even important for the long term.

How does one turn their inner music of feeling buried in pebbles to feeling the confidence and pride of one’s longer-term achievements?

First, I encourage people to follow my three-step reality management process.

  1. See reality.  If you are a person focused on achieving big things, you will always find your plate overflowing.  People often tell me their weeks are unpredictable. Every week, they have a constant barrage of interrupts. The key is ‘every week.’ This means that there is a predictability to that unpredictability.  Track your week. See the patterns.
  2. Accept reality.  It isn’t enough to see what your own data is telling you. I have had many clients do data analysis to see that they would have to work 180 hours a week to recover a project.  Yet, they do not accept the data.  The reason for the denial is fear of the next step.
  3. Deal with reality.  This is usually the hardest step. You have to tell people that you are behind.  You may have to say no to certain tasks.  You may have to skip those meetings you have been going to that people really want you to attend. 

People often find this process hard until they implement the key point of this short newsletter.   Work on answering this question:  what is the long-term value and impact of all those hours of your work?

Here are some ideas of how to get to your own answer.

  • Who benefits? Who are the primary people that will benefit from your work?  How will they benefit?  What is the value and impact for them?
  • Think big about the possible benefits.  Over the long term, think beyond one year, how much more could your work have a positive impact?
  • Engage those around you.  Bringing in others on a longer-term positive vision is motivating for you and them. 
  • Anchor your efforts today on the long term impact you will make.  The reality management steps get much easier when one focuses on the distant horizon. You will need to make daily adjustments, but you must keep pointed towards the big value you can provide.

There are not one-time steps.  I encourage you to refresh periodically. If you need help getting your vision clear, reach out to others. I love helping with this.

The better you get at focusing on the value you provide, the more fun every week becomes.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Images created by Megan Pugh at Blink Digitial

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Design for Speed

Design for Speed

“I have the need…the need for speed!”— Quote From the movie Top Gun

Last week’s newsletter about the need for “DESIGN” generated lots of questions, most of them nicely phrased.

The big summary of the questions was simply this. “We are supposed to be doing Agile. Even if we agree with you, ‘design’ is not acceptable in the Agile world.”

I encourage everyone that has this question to read the original agile manifesto.

You will not see anywhere that it says don’t design. Or that design is not important. In the “principles behind the Agile Manifesto,” design is called out twice as a key principle.

Yet, many people think that design and Agile don’t mix well.

I also understand why some people have negative feelings about design. Too many organizations treat the design process as an opportunity to produce large, cumbersome, useless documents. They add no value and slow you down.

I have also seen the design phase result in “analysis paralysis.”

Neither of those is a problem with the design process. The problem lies in some people’s understanding of a good design process.

When I talk about design, I am talking about ensuring that multiple ideas are debated to approach a problem. When I talk about design thinking, I am talking about the urgency to make sure our solutions are created on a solid foundation. When I am talking about design, I am talking about prototypes’ need to explore alternative approaches to the problem both from a technical perspective and from a user’s workflow perspective.

When I talk about design, I am talking about resilient eloquent solutions that enable new features to be easily added.

I have worked with multiple clients who have adopted various Agile methodologies, including Scrum, XP, and Rapid Prototyping. They stopped doing significant design work. In many cases, they had accumulated a significant amount of technical debt, making them slower and slower. Initially, doing “2-week sprints” (a core of Scrum) made them feel faster. Now many of the teams were spending their sprint times doing rework. Rework is not faster. It makes the whole organization slower in achieving speed to value.

I suggested to each of these teams is to claim ownership over whatever methodology they were using. I suggested customizing the methodology to fit their environment and their needs.

With my encouragement, each of those clients added design methods that worked for them.

With that addition, they got faster.

If you need speed, you have to design for speed.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by Sean Alabaster on Unsplash

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Plan for Failure: Always Have Alternative Routes in Mind

Plan for Failure: Always Have Alternative Routes in Mind

“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.”

— Wisdom gleaned from the “Private Pilot’s Handbook of Weather”

“Always know your escape routes” is a frequent mantra when I teach people to drive.

I then engage them in a discussion of all the surprises that can happen while driving. It ranges from unexpected moves by other drivers, deer leaping into the road, larger than expected potholes, and more.

So while driving, I keep asking whoever I am teaching, “Where is your escape route?” I train them to think about what they would do if something went wrong around them. Where would they go? On clear back roads, we practice emergency braking and evasive maneuvers.

The more subtle lesson is to also plan for unexpected events on long trips. If you know what time you want to get there, you need to plan for traffic, accidents, and more. What happens if you have a flat tire on a trip where the roads are busy, and it is snowing. Do you have a spare? Do you know how to change it, or do you have an emergency roadside service? Did you leave ample time for addressing changes in weather and other unforeseen problems?

The larger and more important the projects you tackle, the larger the unexpected events and risks your project faces.

That is why I say to people I am coaching on big work adventures, “If you want success, plan for failure. You are not planning to fail. You are planning on how to get around it, leap over it, or break right through.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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Strategy is More Than Choosing a Direction

Strategy is More Than Choosing a Direction

“Watch the blade, not the soldier, Madoc told me many times. Steel never deceives.”— Holly Black

“Alan, we could really use your help in running our upcoming strategy sessions,” sighed one of my long-time best clients.  This client does very well at many things, and I was thrilled to be able to help.  I said, “Certainly.  Can you provide me the results of any previous strategy sessions you have held?”

Over the next day, I received the results from the previous three strategy sessions.  As I read the documents, I was stunned.  Although the words were different, each of the strategy sessions said essentially the same thing.  The leadership knew very clearly where they wanted to take the organization.  Their vision had not wavered across the three years.  However, they had failed to make any progress on getting to that new paradigm.

I went back to the executive and explained that their problem was not setting a direction. Their problem was in getting there. We transformed the strategy event into a strategy and “move forward fast” event.  

The following are a few of the key decisions I had them make.

  • To achieve the new paradigm, what key things do each of you need to create and do?  
  • What expectations do you need to set for your suppliers, customers, and the people who work for you?
  • What training do you need to provide?
  • How much money and time do you need to invest in each of these things to happen?

With those established, I moved them to the two most critical questions:

  • What will you take out of your current schedules and current activities to make this new paradigm happen?
  • And the most important question of all:  What commitments can you accomplish in the next two weeks?

They each promised to each other as the leaders of this organization to make it happen.  They further committed to meet every two weeks to decide on the next steps to ensure success.

Another time an executive asked me for my definition of “strategy.” 

I said, “It is simple. Where do you put your time?”

She said, “Oh my. We have a strategy problem.”

The team I was working with was successful in changing where they put their time.

I have three questions for you.

  • What will you take out of your current schedules and current activities to make this new paradigm happen?
  • And the most important question of all:  What commitments can you accomplish in the next two weeks?

Yours in the pursuit of excellence,

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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The Year Ahead Will Have Unexpected Twists and Turns. Is That a Surprise?

The Year Ahead Will Have Unexpected Twists and Turns. Is That a Surprise?

“Adventure isn’t hanging off a rope on the side of a mountain. Adventure is an attitude we must apply to the day to day obstacles of life.”— John Amat

The temperature was below 30-degrees Fahrenheit. The winds were fast and sharp, filled with bits of icy rain. The lake was blown into nearly frozen whitecaps.

Those that know me to know that I much prefer the 80-degree Fahrenheit kind of weather. This was not that! But the cold did not stop me from having a spectacular energizing hike beside our local lake. 

Where I live, we don’t know precisely which days will bring challenging weather to our skies, but we do know those icy days will come. So we are prepared. We make the most of the experience.

Every year has unexpected twists and turns; last year more than any that I remember. This new year will also have its own complexities and revelations.  

As exceptional leaders, I suggest that we be prepared.  

Today I offer one exceptional leadership preparation rule:  embrace the adventure. 

We do our work not because it is easy, but because the work is important.  We do the work to help us hone our own skills.  We do the work because it is valuable to others who benefit from our sweat and expertise. 

Toward the end of our hike, we stood at the end of a pier stretching out into a sheltered cove. The ice had a perfect reflection of the sky. We went on that cold, icy hike to enjoy the experience. We were given a reward equal to the journey.

May everyone have a year with adventures that help your spirits soar accompanied by gratifying rewards throughout.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by Alan Willett

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Start Out Fast, Pick it Up in The Middle, Kick It In at the End

Start Out Fast, Pick it Up in The Middle, Kick It In at the End

You can get excited about the future. The past won’t mind.
— Hillary DePiano

All my clients and I seem to be engaged in the year-end rush.  There is so much we want to accomplish before the holidays begin.

As we do this, the speakers in the subways of London, England, start to echo in my ears.  “Mind the gap. Mind the gap.” 

And whether boarding a subway or jumping into a new year, that is excellent advice.  Generally, people want to come in the new year with renewed energy and ready to start fast.  The risk is that they forget what they were doing in the final rush before the holiday gap began.  And it takes a while to restart.

They tripped on the gap.  Which is dangerous on a subway and at the very least, an annoying way to start the new year.

My encouragement to everyone is to keep a calm center as we work to close the year-end.

Start setting up meetings for the first week of January that will energize the new year. If you are going to do any work over the holidays, make sure it is work that you love, work that gives more energy to you than it takes.

On your final day of official work before you start the holidays, send yourself an email that encourages you on the key things you want to remember.

I like to be able to start the new year ready to execute the advice my cross-country running coach gave me in college so many years ago.  He was mostly kidding because it is not an optimal running strategy, but I have always loved it.

So as he coached me so wisely, my wish for you is this:

Start out fast, pick it up in the middle, and coming flying into a wonderful finish for your year of 2021.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by Bruno Figueiredo on Unsplash

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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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"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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