Be careful not to drown in a mirage.” — Terri Guillemets

Last week I wrote about denial as a potential cause of engineering failures. I have seen too often that otherwise rational people under great pressure come to irrational conclusions.

For example, I have worked with projects whose team members are under great pressure to meet a deadline. There is ample evidence that the team will not reach the deadline with all the content they have promised. Key suppliers have failed to provide the vital elements they need to complete the work. One of their key technologies has failed to achieve the performance desired. On top of all of that, they have an estimated 30 weeks of work to complete in 10 weeks.

I asked, “Will you be done on time? If yes, how do you know?”

They answer, “Yes, we will be done. We know we will be done because we know we have to be.”

I asked readers to write in about how to avoid becoming a sane person who comes to insane conclusions. Readers wrote in. Here are the top five answers merged with the advice I provide to my clients.

  1. Collect data that is meaningful and useful.  Focus on data that is predictive of outcomes.
  2. Believe your data. When your data says you are significantly behind schedule, do not ignore it. Accept it. When you feel that the technical risk is high and is likely to happen, believe it.
  3. Seek a trusted objective viewpoint. Your sense of time and space can be warped by the great pressure you are under. Seek the wisdom of someone you trust who is outside the pressure cooker. What do they think? Believe them.
  4. Listen to your body.  Ask yourself if the project is in trouble. If your words say that the project is fine, but your stomach is in a knot, your shoulders are tense, and your neck hurts, recognize the discordance within yourself. Listen to it.
  5. Speak up. Denial in these environments is practiced en masse. No one is saying anything because no one else is.  Speak up and watch the river of denial evaporate.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

You may also like:

Endurance Is Not Always a Virtue

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.

The Reader’s Edge

The exceptional leaders are voracious consumers of information. They listen to audio books, they read books, they seek out others to hear their stories. The things they read spans multiple genres, time periods, and cultures.

ANNIVERSARIES ARE IMPORTANT MARKERS

"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...

LEADERSHIP ON FATHER’S DAY

"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...

SUDS MAY SPILL, BEER SHOULD NOT

"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...

PERSISTENCE, PREY, AND IDEAS

"Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery. " — Mark Amidon The Washington DC zoo has this very interesting roulette-style wheel located just past the cheetah exhibit. You spin the wheel to find out if you caught your prey, your...

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...

PATIENCE, PASSION, PERSISTENCE, PROGRESS

"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...

Making the Leap

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.