Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Cat Juggling

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

I have several projects starting up in the next few weeks, so the challenge of managing several concurrent projects has been on my mind. Managing multiple projects at once feels a little bit like juggling cats:

Even though it seems more difficult, I don’t think it’s inherently any different from managing a single project. Except, it’s absolutely crucial that each project is managed as efficiently as possible.

Being an engineer at heart, my tendency is to micro-manage things. I hate the idea of not having control and not knowing the status of every task all the time. Part of that is my nature, and part of it was learnt early in my management career.

When I first became a project manager, I was reticent to watch over the work of others. I figured, “I asked him to do this task, so it will get done the way I want it done.” The problem was that people did not always follow through and not always the way that I would have wanted them to. It was at this point that a colleague I trusted gave me this short but valuable insight. “Other people are not like me.”

Pretty obvious, but I think we all tend to assume that others will do things the way we would. Sometimes they do it differently and better, and that’s great. But other times, not so good. There were a few projects that blew up because I was not following up how tasks were getting done and so I learnt my lesson.

That’s when I got religion. Instead of assuming that tasks were getting done, I was all over people to make sure if and how they completed the work. Which made me much more effective as a project manager, but kind of a pain in the ass to work for.

I’m now somewhere in the middle, of course, but that does not mean I’ve just split the difference between absentee manager and micro manager. Instead, I have developed my own philosophy of project management that seems to work for me. Here are the 3 tenets:

Get it right early - The first few weeks of a project are the most critical, for obvious reasons. I try to make sure every person on the team knows his role, what are his reponsibilities, how they will work with others, how we communicate, etc. If I can get this part right, then things usually go smoothly from there. The first few weeks are also the time when the project goals, scope, budget go through the most change. Managing these changes and the associated risks, costs, schedule impacts, and expectations are critical to making sure the project is achievable. This is obviously a lot easier to say than do, so I like to engage everybody on the team to help us accomplish this.

Regular communication - This was one area I did not do well the first time around. I’d have sporadic 1-on-1 meetings or I’d only call people when there was an issues. Now, I make sure I touch bases with everyone on the team, and with the customer, at least once a week. It’s not always very long, but there’s that human relationship that needs to be developed that takes repeated and frequent contact, ideally face-to-face. With global teams this is not practical, so we talk on the phone, something that has been made easy and cheap by Skype. At least there is some human communication over the phone. Email and chat is used to keep in touch with quick things, but it tends to be less personal. I’ve found that if I stay in touch, people will bring me issues sooner and I can deal with them before they threaten to sink the project.

The customer, the customer, the customer - Especially within larger organizations that have been around awhile, there develops unspoken organizational and personal agendas and objectives that run counter to project success. Sure, it’s nice not to have to travel if you have a family (or to get to travel if you are young and single). It’s great to be able to work with the latest new tools or on the most challenging 28nm project or work with your best friend. In the end, however, as tough as it may sound, we’re all out of a job if we don’t take care of the customer. Whenever there is a tough decision to be made, it’s important to make project and customer success the #1 goal. That does not mean that everybody has to cancel his vacations and work 80 hour weeks, but it means that the impacts to the customer need to be considered and mitigated. Or else we’ll have a lot longer vacation than we bargained for.

There’s a lot more to project management than these 3 tenets, some of it nuts-and-bolts (how to develop a schedule, do risk management, etc), and some of it very difficult (how to deliver bad news to the customer). I like to think that these 3 tenets provide some guidelines that make the other stuff easier.

harry the ASIC guy

Dear H. Gries

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Below is the response I received 2 days after my original email to Verizon. As you can see, no change on my end at this point. I’m not too happy, but what do you think?

Verizon

Dear H. Gries,

Thank you for choosing Verizon. I have received your email dated 3/14/11 regarding your request to handle your concerns over a DSL technical issue that you were trying to report when an order was placed to remove your DSL and add Fios to your home. My name is Janine, and I will be happy to assist you.

We apologize for the delay in our response and regret any inconvenience to you.

I understand how important it is to be treated with respect and handle your concern efficiently.

We always welcome feedback from our customers and we appreciate your comments. We apologize for any difficulties you have experienced.

We constantly review our processes and procedures to determine where we can improve upon the Verizon customer experience. Customer feedback is vital to our business. Thank you for taking the time to offer your comments.

I am researching your online issue immediately. I have contacted our DSL escalation party to see if she can run your service back in immediately. Once I hear back from her, I will contact you back with her answer.

Although additional follow-up is needed, it has been my goal today to address your concerns related to the problems you have experienced. I hope I have succeeded in meeting that goal. In the meantime, if you have any other questions, please let us know. We look forward to serving you.

Thank you for using Verizon. We appreciate your business.

Sincerely,
Janine
Verizon eCenter

*****Simplify your life. Cut the clutter and help the environment with paperless billing!*****

Enroll today at: http://www.verizon.com/gogreen

Original Message Excluded:
————————-

Dear Verizon

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

This is an actual email I sent to Verizon 2 days ago regarding an “issue” with their broadband service. I will post their reply in later posts. This is an “opportunity” for them to show how they “provide excellent service” to each customer, even little guys like me. If you are in a service business, like I am, there might also be some lessons to learn. Your comments and thoughts are welcome.

Verizon

Dear Verizon, 

On the evening of March 9 at ~10pm, our DSL service stopped working. The following morning at ~8am, we contacted Verizon for technical support. We spoke to Ivan (empl # Z192506), who told us that the DSL service should still be active and offered to send us to DSL support.

However, before forwarding the call, he recommended that we upgrade to FIOS. I told him that I was interested, but that FIOS would take days and that I needed the internet connection up today. He was extremely pushy, several times refusing to forward my call until I agreed to upgrade. I finally told him that I was only interested in fixing my DSL at this time and that I wanted him to forward the call immediately, which he finally did.

When I spoke to DSL support, they told me that the DSL had been deactivated because an order for FIOS had been put in. I told them that I had not put in an order. They could not tell me who had put in the order, but it was scheduled for March 21, 11 days later. I pleaded with them that I had not put in this order and that I wanted the DSL turned back on, but they said they could not do that. Even if they did, they said it would take just as long to turn on DSL as to get FIOS. They suggested I talk to the billing department.

So, I called the billing department and spoke to a gentleman who confirmed that the FIOS had been ordered, but he said he could not see when or who ordered it. I asked several times to try to find out where this order originated, but he would not say. Instead, he kept telling me to “move on from here”, like he was my psychiatrist. I found his demeanor to be extremely rude, non-empathetic, and condescending. When I asked to talk to a supervisor, he claimed he was a supervisor. I asked him why the DSL had been turned off before the installation, and he said that this was a possibility and that Verizon made no guarantees as to how long DSL would stay active before FIOS was connected. I told him that, if true, that would be a horrible way to do business and that Verizon customers would all object, but again he kept making it seem like I was the problem because I would not just accept what was happening and go happily away.

Today (March 14) I called again and spoke to a gentleman named Harry (empl# V119648). Harry was very helpful. He confirmed the order for March 21, and also told me that it was Ivan (empl # Z192506) who had put in the order, DESPITE MY TELLING HIM NOT TO!!! Harry also told me that the order had been entered wrong, leaving the default to disconnect DSL immediately, rather than having it disconnected when FIOS was installed.

In the meantime, my wife and I have been using our iPhone Mobile Hotspots (from Verizon) to access the internet for our home computers. I don’t know if we are going to go over our 2G limit on our phone’s mobile hotspot data plans, but we really have no choice.

Here is what I am asking for:

1) Immediate restoration of our DSL service for the period between now and next Monday March 21 when FIOS is going to be installed. However, I still want the FIOS installation at this point to go forward on Monday.

2) Waiver of ALL installation charges for FIOS service, since we did not order it.

3) Credit for DSL service for the time between March 9 and the day we have FIOS installed.

4) Credit for any overage charges we incur on our cell phones in the interim period before FIOS is installed.

5) Written (on paper) apology for being given misleading information, for being signed up for FIOS without our permission, and for being treated with such lack of respect by Verizon.

My other recourse is to consider this transaction as fraud, and report it as such.

I await your response.

Harry Gries

Winners and Losers

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Washington General and Harlem Globetrotter at LAXEngineers tend to view the world in binary. There’s the good guys and the bad guys. There’s the right way and the wrong way. There are rich folks and poor folks. Democrats and Republicans. You’re with us or against us.

And there are winners and losers.

This week, working the Agnisys booth at DVCon, I got to see all these types and all the shades in between. I got to see the good guys (me, of course, and anyone who was with me) and the bad guys (the competition). I saw people doing things the right way (telling the truth, or close to the truth) and the wrong way (pure fabrications). I saw rich folks (CEOs in expensive suits and shoes) and poor folks (the guys at the hotel tearing down after the show). Most of the people from Silicon Valley were Democrats, I suppose, and many of the others were Republicans. And, of course, for the Big 3 EDA vendors, it was all about who was with them (on the EDA360 passport) or against them (everyone else).

But, when you look a little closer, you see a lot of shades in between. Personally, I knew people at almost every booth with whom I had worked before. They’re not good or bad, right or wrong, rich or poor, democrats or republicans, or with me or against me. They’re just old friends working in an industry they love on technology they are psyched about.

I actually had some foreshadowing of this as I was flying up to the conference. As I was passing through the metal detectors at LAX, I had noticed some tall gentlemen dressed in green warmup suits. Realizing it was a basketba,ll team, I curiously glanced at their logo and saw the name “Generals”. Later, I was able to get a full view of the name “Washington Generals”.

If you are not familiar, the Washington Generals are the basketball team that travels with the Harlem Globetrotters. They are perennial losers. The spoil and object of countless Globetrotter jokes. According to Wikipedia, the Generals lost over 13,000 games to the Globetrotters between 1953 and 1995, and won only 6 times. That’s a winning percentage of 0.0005! If anyone deserves the title of “Losers”, it’s the Washington Generals.

As I sat waiting for my flight, I noticed some other apparent basketball players dressed in red with white and blue trim. Could it be? Yes, they were the Globetrotters, winners of those same 13,000 games that the Generals had lost. If anyone deserves the ttle of “Winners”, it’s the Harlem Globetrotters.

What surprised me at the time was that these eternal rivals, Winners and Losers, were traveling together, joking and laughing like best friends. Although I know that they obviously travel together and they know eachother, for some reason I had expected them to be separated. The good guys and the bad guys. The Winners and the Losers.

Just as the Generals and Globetrotters are rivals on the court but friends off the court, these EDA veterans were rivals at the booths at DVCon but friends in the bar afterwards. The EDA industry is kind of like a professional sports league. Sure, the teams compete with eachother. But players move between teams all the time and most of the players are friends off the field. In the end, what’s most important is that the league grows and is successful.

Hopefully, going forward, EDA will be more like the NBA than one of these failed leagues.

harry the ASIC guy

It Shrinks?

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

As we enter a new year, it is comforting to know that we all are just a little bit dumber than we were last year.

According to an article in Discover Magazine, human brains have shrunk approximately 10% since Cro-Magnon man walked the earth 20,000 years ago. Although there is no certain relationship between brain size and intelligence, this still seems to be rather alarming and goes against what we all grew up believing. After all, don’t all those aliens have small bodies and big heads?

There are, of course, theories to explain this shrinkage.

One theory is that our brains have become more efficient and hence can do the same or better job with less mass. That’s the theory I’d like to believe.

Another thoery, described quite well in this clip from the movie Idiocracy, is that intelligence is no longer an asset for survival and procreation, and may even be a liability. That’s the theory I fear is true whenever I channel surf.

An interesting observation made by one anthropologist is that a smaller brain seems to be a way of naturally selecting against aggression and for tolerance and collaboration. Whereas early man had to be self-reliant and independent and aggreesive against his fellow man to survive, modern man benefits from the community which requires him to be tolerant and to collaborate.

By that reasoning, social media and social networking, which require a large amount of collaboration, are just the next stage in the evolution of the species.

So, as we start 2011, I’d like to propose a toast to us small-minded folks in social media. Smaller is better :)

harry the ASIC guy

EDA: The Next Big Things

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

As most of you know, I’ve been a big advocate for using technology to do more and more online. As an example, back in April, when the volcano in Iceland was causing havoc with air travel in Europe, I wrote a post on the Xuropa blog entitled “What’s in Your Volcano Kit?” In that post, I urged EDA companies to develop a kit of online tools to communicate and collaborate with current and prospective customers and the industry in general.

Well, it’s good to know that people are reading my blog and following my advice! ;)

One such tool that has become very popular in the last year, virtual conferences, are events sponsored either by media companies or the EDA companies themselves with several sessions throughout the day on a variety of topics. For us designers, they allow us to “drop in” on an event without leaving our desks or investing additional time or cost in traveling to and from the event. Certainly, it is not as rich an experience as being there live, but it’s more complete than the standard single topic disguised product pitch Webinar.

Since my advocacy was so fundamental in bringing these events about, I am very excited to be taking part in one of these upcoming virtual conferences. I will be moderating a session entitled “System-on-Chip: Designing Faster and Faster” at the upcoming “EDA Virtual Conference- EDA: The Next Big Things” on October 14. Here is a brief overview of my session, which will include presentations by Synopsys, Sonics, and Magma.

High speed digital design presents three important challenges: creating functional IP that performs well, combining IP blocks quickly to form a system, and being sure the system performs as expected with no surprises. EDA is allowing designers to create, simulate, connect, and deliver SoCs in new and exciting ways by combining and verifying IP blocks faster than ever. Very fast digital IP, with as high as 2 GHz clock speeds, is uncovering new issues that EDA and IP teams are working together to solve.

This session looks at the trends in digital IP, interconnect technology, issues in maintaining signal integrity, on-chip instrumentation, and more ideas to create sophisticated SoC designs and get chips to market quickly. Experts will discuss what they are seeing as clock speeds increase, tools capable of identifying issues, and ways to make sure a high speed SoC functions right the first time.

There are also 4 other 1-hour sessions during the day:

You can register for the event here. I hope you can make it.

harry the ASIC guy

Brian Bailey on Unconventional Blogging

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

bailey.jpg

(Photo courtesy Ron Ploof

I had the pleasure yesterday of interviewing Brian Bailey in the Synopsys Conversation Central Stage at DAC. We discussed his roots in verification working with the initial developers of digital simulation tools and his blogging experiences these past few years. There are, of course, even a few comments on the difference between journalists and bloggers ;)

You can listen to this half hour interview at the Synopsys Blog Talk Radio site. I’d be interested in your comments on the show and the format as well. It was pretty fun, especially in front of a live audience.

At 12:30 PDT today, I’ll be doing another interview on Security Standards for the Cloud. You can tune in live on your computer or mobile device by going to the main Synopsys Blog Talk Radio Page. So, even if you’re not here at DAC, you can still partake.

harry the ASIC guy

Where in the DAC is harry the ASIC guy?

Friday, June 11th, 2010

dac_logo.pngLast year’s Design Automation Conference was kind of quiet and dull, muted by the impact of the global recession with low attendance and just not a lot of real interesting new developments. This year looks very different; I’m actually having to make some tough choices of what sessions to attend. And with all the recent acquisitions by Cadence and Synopsys, the landscape is changing all around, which will make for some interesting discussion.

I’ll be at the conference Monday through Wednesday. As a rule, I try to keep half of my schedule open for meeting up with friends and colleagues and for the unexpected. So if you want to chat, hopefully we can find some time. Here are the public events that I have lined up:

Monday

10:30 - 11:00 My good friend Ron Ploof will interviewing Peggy Aycinena on the Synopsys Conversation Central stage, so I can’t miss that. They both ask tough questions so that one may get chippy. (Or you can participate remotely live here)

11:30 - 12:00 I’ll be on that same Synopsys Conversation Central stage interviewing Verification Consultant and Blogger Extraordinaire Brian Bailey. Audience questions are encouraged, so please come and participate. (Or you can participate remotely live here)

3:00 - 4:00 I’ll be at the Atrenta 3D Blogfest at their booth. It should be an interesting interactive discussion and a good chance to learn about one of the 3 directions EDA is moving in.

6:00 - Cadence is having a Beer for Bloggers event but I’m not sure where. For the record, beer does not necessarily mean I’ll write good things. (This event was canceled since there is the Denali party that night).

Tuesday

8:30 - 10:15 For the 2nd straight year, a large fab, Global Foundries (last year it was TSMC) will be presenting their ideas on how the semiconductor design ecosystem should change From Contract to Collaboration: Delivering a New Approach to Foundry

10:30 - 12:00 I’ll be at a panel discussion on EDA Challenges and Options: Investing for the Future. Wally Rhines is the lead panelist so it should be interesting as well.

12:30 - 1:00 I’ll be back at the Synopsys Conversation Central stage interviewing James Wendorf (IEEE) and Jeff Green (McAfee) about standards for cloud computing security, one of the hot topics.

Wednesday

10:30 - 11:30 I’ll be at the Starbucks outside the convention floor with Xuropa and Sigasi. We’ll be giving out Belgian Chocolate and invitations to use the Sigasi-Xilinx lab on Xuropa.

2:00 - 4:00 James Colgan, CEO of Xuropa, and representatives from Amazon, Synopsys, Cadence, Berkeley and Altera will be on a panel discussion on Does IC Design have a Future In the Cloud?. You know what I think!

This is my plan. Things might change. I hope I run into some of you there.

harry the ASIC guy

DAC Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Friday, May 28th, 2010

About a week ago, I got an email from someone I know doing a story on how the Design Automation Conference has changed with respect to bloggers since the first EDA Bloggers Birds-of-a-Feather Session 2 years ago. I gave a thoughtful response and some of it ended up in the story, but I thought it would be nice to share my original full response with you.

Has your perception of the differences between bloggers and press changed since the first BOF?

Forget my perception; many of the press are now bloggers! I don’t mean that in a mean way and I understand that people losing their jobs is never a good thing. But I think the lines have blurred because we all find ourselves in similar positions now. It’s not just in EDA … many, if not most, journalists also have a blog that they write on the side.

Ultimately, I think either the traditional “press” or a blog is just a channel between someone with knowledge to people who want information they can trust. What determines trust is the reliability of the source. In thepast, the trust was endowed by the reputation of the publication. Now, weall have to earn that trust.

As for traditional investigative journalism (ala All the President’s Men) and reporting the facts (5 Ws), I think there is still a role for that, butmost readers are looking for insight, not jut the facts.

What do you think of DAC’s latest attempts to address these differences, e.g. Blog-sphere on the show floor, press room in the usual location?

Frankly, I’m not sure exactly what DAC is doing along these lines this year. Last year bloggers had very similar access as journalists to the press room and other facilities. It was nice to be able to find a quiet place to sit, but since most bloggers are not under deadline to file stories it is not as critical. Wireless technology is making a lot of this obsolete since we can pretty much work from anywhere. Still, having the snacks is nice :)

What does the future hold for blogging at DAC?

Two years ago, blogging was the “new thing” at DAC. Last year, blogging was mainstream and Twitter was the new thing. This year blogging will probably be old skool and there will be another “new thing”. For instance, I think we’re all aware and even involved in Synopsys’ radio show. This stuff moves so fast. So, I think the future at DAC is not so much for blogging, as it is for multiple channels of all kinds, controlled not only by “the media”, but also the vendors, independents, etc. Someone attending DAC will be able to use his wireless device to tap into many channels, some in real-time.

Next year, I predict that personalized and location aware services will be a bigger deal. When you come near a booth, you may get an invitation for a free demo or latte if your profile indicates you are a prospective customer. You’ll be able to hold up your device and see a “google goggles” like view of the show floor. You may even be able to tell who among your contacts is at the show and where they are. Who knows? It will be interesting.

harry the ASIC guy

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