“Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming.”— John Wooden

The question she asked was “How can I know I have done my best to achieve the result if the result was not fully achieved?”

This young engineer was quite disappointed that after diligent effort, there was an underlying flaw discovered in the software she created. She said, “I have failed!”

We walked through a few questions to understand what happened and to see if she had “failed” as she thought she did.

Alan: Did you do all the steps to fully understand what the software was supposed to do?

Engineer: Absolutely. We know exactly how the software is supposed to perform.

Alan: Did you examine the base of materials you were starting with to understand whether they were adequate?

Engineer: Yes. I personally reviewed the materials. I interviewed people who created them.

Alan: Did you create designs and code to your personal high standards of quality?

Engineer: I did, and I also reviewed parts I was unsure about with others.

Alan: How many defects escaped this process into testing?
Engineer: Only this one.

Alan: The root cause of this one defect was what?

Engineer: A defect that has been buried in the source code for years. This new situation revealed it.

Alan: So your work discovered a previously unknown design flaw that could affect other parts of the system?

Engineer: Um. Yes. So you’re saying I should examine this further to make sure other parts of the system are not negatively impacted by future changes

The conversation went on from there. We explored how this defect went undetected for so long as well as how to detect this type of defect earlier. Further, we explored how to ensure this defect was not impacting other parts of the system now and in the future. We determined how to make the overall system better.

It is not how hard you work that defines success. The effort is only a part of the overall definition.

Success is about results, but again that is only part of it. People get trapped in that one metric. This young engineer was distraught because of that simplistic, misleading, temporary metric.

 You have done your best if you can say with confidence these four things:

  1. I am working with the mindset to create excellent results.
  2. I have used a disciplined approach in executing the process I know produces good results.
  3. When results are not what I expected, I see what I can learn so that I improve my execution and results for the future.
  4. The results of one event are not the events of the long term. I use the knowledge I gain to improve my own process and the overall system.

At the end of the conversation, the engineer knew that she had been fully successful in the first three elements and now had a plan to ensure number 4 was also achieved.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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