Archive for March, 2010

Why?

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Simon Sinek Golden CircleThe other day, I was listening to John Wall interview Simon Sinek on the Marketing over Coffee Podcast. Simon Sinek is a marketing consultant and motivational speaker and has a book out entitled “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.” In addition to the podcast interview, I also came across the following presentation that Simon gave at a TedX conference a few months ago.

To make a long-story short, the key premise is that companies spend too much time marketing what they do and how they do it better than the other guy. This strategy may win you customers in the short-term, but only until the next guy comes along with a better offering.

Instead, Sinek contends that companies need to inspire customers by talking about why their company exists and how they intend to change the world. All people, and this includes customers, want to be inspired and to follow leaders with vision that matches theirs. Companies that can inspire effectively will gain loyal customers that will continue to buy even when a competitor offers a superior product at a lower cost.

Dell and HP and Gateway are busy telling us what they do, that they make computers that are higher speed, lower power, lower weight, better graphics, and lower in price than the competitor. And they can certainly sell computers in that manner … until a competitor beats them on one or more of these metrics. These companies are closing transactions, not gaining customers.

In contrast, Apple tells its story something like this: “we exist to challenge the status quo by making products that are elegant and easy to use”. To Apple’s customers, it doesn’t matter that PCs are less expensive or have longer battery life or support more software. Or that other smart phones can run multiple applications or have an open source OS or support a carrier with better 3G coverage. Or that other tablet computers have a camera or 3G or a phone built in. Apple’s customers are inspired by Apple’s story and will buy whatever Apple sells. Some call them blindly loyal, but who wouldn’t want to have customers like that.

There are lots of other examples. Nike inspires us to “just do it”. Harley Davidson inspires the Hell’s Angel in each of us. The Chicago Cubs prove that you can have an inferior product for a long time and still have the most loyal customers. (For the record, not a strategy I recommend). The Oakland Raiders, on the other hand, prove that loyalty doesn’t have to have a positive message, just one that inspires us.

And it’s not just about the customers. Employees can be inspired as well. An uninspired employee will leave if the pay is better or the commute is shorter or the work is more interesting elsewhere. An inspired employee will enthusiastically work longer hours for a lower salary just to be part of something special. And he won’t leave.

I admit that this idea is not really new. Seth Godin contends that people want to join Tribes and be led by leaders with vision. It’s really the same thing, put a little differently.

This seems to make sense in the business-to-consumer (B2C) market, but what about business-to-business (B2B). Can businesses really be inspired? Would they ever ignore their tradeoff charts, evaluation criteria, benchmarks, and ROI calculations and just go with their “gut feel”?

What about EDA? Clearly, this is an industry where marketing has been all about features and benefits. Has there ever been an EDA company that really inspired customers?

I may be a bit biased, but I think Synopsys was one of those companies when it first started out. As a Synopsys customer, I was inspired by the gospel of high-level design. So much so, that I got myself a job at Synopsys as an AE evangelizing the good news. (That’s really what we called it … evangelizing). To be part of a movement that changed the world (at least the EDA world) was exciting. It helped that we were small and close to the founders who had the original vision for the company. After all, we could carefully hire only those who shared our vision and would faithfully represent us to our customers.

But what about EDA today? Are there companies that inspire you, that you’d buy from even if their product is not the best? Does loyalty exist today anymore?

And if you run an EDA company, does your company inspire? Do you tell people why you exist, or just what you do? If it’s the latter, it might make sense to try the former.

Why not?

harry the ASIC guy

The Burning Platform

Monday, March 1st, 2010

The Burning PlatformAlthough I was unable to attend DVCon last week, and I missed Jim Hogan and Paul McLellan presenting “So you want to start an EDA Company? Here’s how“, I was at least able to sit in on an interesting webinar offered by RTM Consulting entitled Achieving Breakthrough Customer Satisfaction through Project Excellence.

As you may recall, I wrote a previous blog post about a Consulting Soft Skills training curriculum developed by RTM in conjunction with Mentor Graphics for their consulting organization. Since that time, I’ve spoken on and off with RTM CEO Randy Mysliviec. During a recent conversation he made me aware of this webinar and offered one of the slots for me to attend. I figured it would be a good refresher, at a minimum, and if I came out of it with at least one new nugget or perspective, I was ahead of the game. So I accepted.

I decided to “live tweet” the seminar. That is to say, I posted tweets of anything interesting that I heard during the webinar, all using the hash tag #RTMConsulting. If you want to view the tweets from that webinar, go here.

After 15 years in the consulting biz, I certainly had learned a lot, and the webinar was indeed a good refresher on some of the basics of managing customer satisfaction. There was a lot of material for the 2 hours that we had, and there were no real breaks, so it was very dense and full of material. The only downside is that I wish there had been some more time for discussion or questions, but that’s really a minor nit to pick.

I did get a new insight out of the webinar, and so I guess I’m ahead of the game. I had never heard of the concept of the “burning platform” before, especially as applies to projects. The story goes that there was an oil rig in the North Sea that caught fire and was bound to be destroyed. One of the workers had to decide whether to stay on the rig or jump into the freezing waters. The fall might kill him and he’d face hypothermia within minutes if not rescued, but he decided to jump anyway, since probable death was better than certain death. According to the story, the man survived and was rescued. Happy ending.

The instructor observed that many projects are like burning platforms, destined for destruction unless radically rethought. In thinking back, I immediately thought of 2 projects I’d been involved with that turned out to be burning platforms.

The first was a situation where a design team was trying to reverse engineer an asynchronously designed processor in order to port it to another process. The motivation was that the processor (I think it was an ADSP 21 something or other) was being retired by the manufacturer and this company wanted to continue to use it nonetheless. We were called in when the project was already in trouble, significantly over budget and schedule and with no clear end in sight. After a few weeks of looking at the situation, we decided that there was no way they would ever be able to verify the timing and functionality of the ported design. We recommended that they kill this approach and start over with a standard processor core that could do the job. There was a lot of resistance, especially from the engineer whose idea it was to reverse engineer the existing processor. But, eventually the customer made the right choice and redesigned using an ARM core.

Another group at the same company also had a burning platform. They were on their 4th version of a particular chip and were still finding functional bugs. Each time they developed a test plan and executed it, there were still more bugs that they had missed. Clearly their verification methodology was outdated and insufficient, depending on directed tests and FPGA prototypes rather than more current measurable methods. We tried to convince them to use assertions, functional coverage, constrained random testing, etc. But they were convinced that they just had to fix the few known bugs and they’d be OK. From their perspective, it wasn’t worth all the time and effort to develop and execute a new plan. They never did take our recommendations and I lost track of that project. I wonder if they ever finished.

As I think about these 2 examples, I realize that “burning platform” projects have some characteristics in common. And they align with the 3 key elements of a project. To tell if you have a “burning platform” on your hands, you might ask yourself the following 3 questions:

  1. Scope - Are you spending more and more time every week managing issues and risks? Is the list growing, rather than shrinking?
  2. Schedule - Are you on a treadmill with regards to schedule? Do you update the schedule every month only to realize that the end date has moved out by a month, or more?
  3. Resources - Are the people that you respect the most trying to jump off of the project? Are people afraid to join you?

If you answered yes to at least 2 of these, then you probably have a burning platform project on your hands. It’s time to jump in the water. That is, it’s time to scrap the plan and rethink your project from a fresh perspective and come up with a new plan. Of course, this is not a very scientific way of identifying an untenable project, but I think it’s a good rule-of-thumb.

There are other insights that I had from the webinar, but I thought I’d only share just the one. I don’t know if this particular webinar was recorded, but there are 2 more upcoming that you can attend. If you do, please feel free to live tweet the event like I did, using the #RTMConsulting hash tag.

But please, no “flaming” :-)

harry the ASIC guy