“If you really want to be great at something you have to truly care about it. If you want to be great in a particular area, you have to obsess over it.”— Kobe Bryant

I have always enjoyed shooting free throws. It is immensely satisfying when the basketball goes swish through the hoop without touching the rim. 

However, there is another reason that free throws are rewarding. Shooting a sufficient number of free throws provides immediate objective feedback to me on my form. I know that if I fall below a 90% success rate my form is off. I know that I need to pay more attention and figure out what I am doing wrong.  I know I need to learn and adjust.

I also know that when I make those adjustments, the rest of my game across the whole of the basketball court improves.

The same is true in any of the engineering projects my clients are running.  One of the most potent things I teach is how to learn and adjust. Here are three of the critical steps.

1. Define success.  It is easy to define a successful free throw.  It goes in. However, I often make the criteria higher to improve my focus. Sometimes I define success as nothing but net.  For engineering projects, consider that success can be defined as very low rework in testing.  For the highest bar, aim for no defects to be discovered in testing.

2. Track and review the results.  You cannot learn if you do not know how you performed. Many teams don’t track data. Some of the teams that track data don’t review the data. The key is to review the results against what you defined as success.

3. Learn and adjust. If I am missing free throws, sometimes it because I am on my heels.  Sometimes, I don’t have the proper followthrough. Sometimes it is that I have lost focus. In engineering, teams need to determine the vital attributes that lead to success. They need to make the necessary small adjustments that will ensure the results on the other side are matching the results desired.

I love the feeling of the basketball hitting nothing but net. I equally love it when my clients have entirely successful projects.

Do you have the steps in place to have your teams learn and adjust to achieve success?

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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