One Goal, Two Faces

“Offshore drilling?”

That’s what a puzzled ASIC designer would have asked with bewilderment if you mentioned the term “off-shoring” 10 years ago. But today the world is flat and off-shoring means global teams, working ’round the clock in 6 cities on 3 continents in 4 timezones on 1 chip. And it’s not just off-shoring and out-sourcing driving this globalization. Design teams for complex chips can have 100 – 150 designers doing tasks ranging from RTL design, verification, physical design, software and firmware development, mixed signal design, and so on. You just can’t find all the designers you need with the right expertise in one place or even in one company.

There are economic factors causing us to work remotely as well. Last week, American Airlines announced that they would start charging for baggage and other airlines are also raising their fares due to record oil prices. Companies, already watching the bottom line, are encouraging their people to travel less, just as they did several years ago after 9/11. Telecommuting has become accepted, even encouraged in many companies as a way to promote better employee lifestyles, save on office space, and be more “green”. As a result, for most of us, the days of the co-located design teams are as long gone as Hillary’s campaign.

Of course, these same ASIC and software design teams have designed and continue to design the technologies that enable effective collaboration between these dispersed teams. The high-speed networks that are the backbone that make it all possible. The IP routers. The graphics and specialized processors.

And let’s not forget the software applications that run on this hardware … Wikis for collaboration … WebEx, Sametime, and NetMeeting for remote meetings … Skype and Vonage for cheap global conferencing … video-conferencing … instant messaging … Twitter … Second Life … social networks like LinkedIn and FaceBook.

These technologies are impressive. Several years ago, I worked out of my home in Southern California, managing projects with team members in Silicon Valley, Arizona, Colorado, Washington State, Vancouver, Texas, Florida, Ottawa, and Bangalore. We conference called and held WebEx meetings. We worked on the same hosted environment through secure VPN. When necessary, we got up early (5 AM) or stayed up late (1 AM) to collaborate with team members half-way around the world. And these teams were able to get the job done as a result of their strong skills, hard work, and the technology that allowed them to work together. But, something was still missing and thanks to my sister-in-law I now realize what it was.

Face Time!

Our kids keep us pretty busy, so when Evelyn suggested that we need more “face time” with our kids, Joyce and I were flabbergasted. More face time? Don’t we already spend enough time getting them ready for school, dinner, or bed, taking them to this or that activity, helping with homework? Are there more than 24 hours in a day?

The truth is, although these parenting activities are important, they are not really face time. Face time is not about getting things done … it’s about getting to know one another better. Obviously, this makes a lot of sense if you are a parent, but you’re probably wondering what face time has to do with ASIC design? After all, this isn’t eHarmony or Parenting 101.

Several years ago, I attended a one-day class entitled Managing Virtually: What Works, taught by Lu Ellen Schafer of Global Savvy. Lu Ellen gave great advice on using email effectively, “drive-by-phoning” to stay in touch, collaboration tools, and especially on the difference between cultures (fascinating). But one thing stood out that she said. “Initial face-to-face interaction leads to greater remote communication.” She continued by pointing out that “informal email exchanges often do not happen among new team members until they meet face-to-face”. My friend Ron put it another way, “email is a great way to continue a relationship and a lousy way to start one”. And studies have shown this as well.

As for me, much of my day is consumed by discussions, meetings, and conference calls with co-workers, clients, and vendors. But that’s not really face time, even the face-2-face meetings. Face time is about getting to know one another and what the other person cares about. It’s something I’ve tried to do, but probably did not do enough. Go out to lunch. Go to a ballgame. Take a flight to meet a new person in the organization or on the team. Plan a team-building event and fly in the remote people. I’ve always found it easy to find excuses not to do these things … too busy … no budget … next time. But in the end, I always regret it because there is something missing. Something that feels like “trust”.

As a program manager, I recall three specific situations in which there was not enough trust because there was not enough face-time. In one case, there was some very nasty inter-personal conflict happening, but neither party trusted me enough to share their concerns until the situation was too far along. In another case, one remote team member felt he was being ignored by another remote team member, but he did not want to “bother” me with the issue. In the third instance, one team member decided to overrule another team member’s recommendations because “he knew better”. In that last case, once they met face-to-face, these two designers became a great tandem.

We all have to decide … Face Time or FaceBook?

This is not just a philosophical question but a practical one. I became aware a few days ago of a new social media company called Xuropa. From what I can gather from the website, the Xuropa Tradeshow Platform let’s you attend tradeshows at your desk. There are booths, suites, labs, demos … just like DAC, without the face time. So next year you may have a choice, DAC or eDAC?

As for me, I’m gonna have lunch on Friday with some people I haven’t seen in months. What about you?

harry the ASIC guy

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