Archive for the ‘Project Management’ Category

Email Penalty #1 - Too Many Men on the Field

Monday, July 14th, 2008

As I stated in my previous post, I’m starting a series of posts on “Email Penalties”…football style.  For the first penalty, to get into the swing of this, I thought we’d warm-up with one that happens every day and we all can relate to…

Too Many Men on the Field (5 yards)

More directly, too many people on the cc: list.

Several months ago, I came in to work to an email from Payroll that had been sent to a long list of distribution lists, informing us of new timekeeping processes.  Only one problem … I did not use the timekeeping system in question, but another one altogether. So, I did what any sane person would do … I ignored it.

I guess I was not the only person who had received this email in error. But apparently I was one of the few sane ones.

Throughout the morning, I received 3 or 4 emails from others like me, protesting that this did not apply to them and asking to be taken off of whatever email list had incorrectly tagged them. Fair enough, but only one problem.  Instead of replying directly to the sender only, they had hit “Reply All”, so I and everyone else on all these distribution lists now knew that Joe Smith (name made up) did not use this timekeeping system. What a waste!

The emails stopped around noon and so I figured this was over. I was wrong. This was only the tip of the iceberg and there was much more to come.

You see, a totally unrelated event had occurred that day.  There was a Blackberry outage so all the Blackberry users without email access had not seen this email. About 5pm the outage was resolved.  And thousands of Blackberry users checked their email and discovered this erroneous email sitting in their in boxes. And so, with fingers furiously striking tiny keys, they started to “Reply All”.  Peter had wandered into my office to discuss a technical issue, but every few seconds another email would interject from someone else that they “did not use this timecard system and please take me off the distribution list”.

This had become an event.

It was obvious after 15 minutes and dozens of emails that “Reply All” was not a good idea. There were numerous individuals sane and brave enough to admonish others not to “Reply All’ … in an email that they sent by hitting “Reply All”!!! Duh.

One person sent a “Reply All” that said “The Yankees are going all the way this year.”

Another said “Greetings from Virginia” to which came the reply “Greetings from Florida”.

“I’m not like all those others.  ADD ME TO YOUR LIST!!!!”

“I haven’t seen a reply from President Bush yet–or did I miss that one?  Go Sabres/Bill”


One person referenced the poster on Idiocy, “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”

I packed up to go home, a 20 minute drive, and found 200 more emails waiting for me. Eventually, the torrent subsided.

The next day, the entire company received an email from the CIO informing us that the previous day’s email “generated 15 million unnecessary emails” throughout the company.

harry the ASIC guy

Email Penalties

Friday, July 11th, 2008

There’s no debate that email has become at once a valuable tool and a misused and overused communications medium. Seth Godin recently posted an extensive email checklist of do’s and don’ts for marketing email. I’d like to do something similar for corporate and business email, the kind of day to day email we use at work.

I’m also big football fan.

(The American kind … my apologies to the international folks).

I won’t tell you which college and pro teams I root for, but their initials are USC and NYG ;-)

So, with the football season coming up, I thought I’d address the corporate email issue by suggesting some new penalties that need to be added to the game of “email”.

Starting Monday, I’ll be posting one each week, up until the football season begins. And I welcome your contributions as well, especially good stories and anecdotes that help to illustrate the new penalties.  Feel free to email them to me (harry at theASICguy dot com) or post them as comments.  And let me know if it’s OK to use your first name, full name, or no name.

harry the ASIC guy

One Goal, Two Faces

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

“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

The Contrary ASIC Designer

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Last Saturday night I went to a family Seder to celebrate the first night of Passover. You know, like in The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston. As part of the Seder, we read a story of 4 sons, one wise, one contrary, one simple, and one unable to ask a question.

This got me thinking about some of the contrary ASIC designers I’ve worked with through the years … you know the type:

1. If everyone else wants to take road A, he wants to take road B.
2. If everyone else wants to take road B, he wants to take road C.
3. If you’ve got a plan, he’ll tell you why it won’t work.
4. Once he takes a stand on an issue, he’ll never give up.
5. He doesn’t really care what others think about him.
6. Every battle is worth fighting … to the death.

The contrarian ASIC designer can sap the energy and optimism out of a design team with all his negativity. Obviously, not good. So, why would anyone want to work with a contrarian?

Well, I’m here to tell you that the contrarian gets a bad rap and he can be a critical member of the team. First, some background…

Most law schools use a method of contrarian argument based upon the Socratic Method, that goes something like this:

• A legal decision to consider is chosen
• One student or the professor argues one interpretation
• Another student is assigned to argue the opposite position.

It does not matter what the individuals actually believe. They need to argue their assigned position as vigorously as they can. The goal is not for there to be a winner or loser in the argument. The goal is for the students to get the most complete and thorough understanding of the issue under consideration as possible. And only by giving both sides equal status can this be done. In the end, the law students emerge better prepared.

So, again, why would anyone want to work with a contrarian? In short, because the contrarian keeps the rest of us honest.

Consider the 6 behaviors of a contrarian that I mentioned earlier. Viewed within the context of law school argument, the contrarian is simply holding up his end of the bargain, to represent the opposite viewpoint. He’s the one most likely to find the holes that would otherwise eventually kill the project. Sure, he may find 9 holes that are not real for every real hole. But the one real hole he finds probably never would have been found by anyone else. In that sense, the contrarian is actually the ultimate optimist, because he’s the one trying the hardest to protect project success.

So, when you see that Contrarian on your project the next time, give him a hug…well, maybe not.