Elementary, Mr. Watson: We’ve Never Done It That Way Before

The September edition of Design007 Magazine discussed the theme of collaborating and working with a team. In that issue, I wrote a feature article called “PCB Design Is a Team Sport.” After that edition was published, I had several follow-up questions and conversations with individuals; they agreed on the importance of teamwork but felt that it's easier said than done. It's challenging because of the inherent problem of team members accepting or handling change very well. Change it's a word that sends shivers down the spine of some. You know those sort of individuals. They're easy to identify. The ones that constantly remind everyone, "We never did it that way before." As if how we did things in the past was so much better.

Why don't you hear much reminiscing about the good old days of PCB design? Maybe because it meant long hours at a light table with a sheet of mylar and endless rolls of tape, going home at the end of the day with more scraps of tape on you than finally got into your design, it took hours to get rid of the spots in front of your eyes. I know some readers are scratching their heads, wondering what I'm talking about.

The truth is, we are a part of an industry that significantly influences how people live. There is not an area of our lives where electronic devices don't have an impact. With that said, the desire for better, innovative, faster, and smaller devices are constantly causing our industry to change and push forward. I would say our industry is reinventing itself constantly. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus had it right when he said that "The only constant in life is change." Our next design will need to push the boundaries more than the one before. It is constantly challenging us to be better. With almost everything changing around us, organizations often go wrong by not implementing needed changes; often, the company fails. To develop your team means accepting change, whether the change is positive or negative. As we will see later, even when things go wrong, we still can learn something.

This year, the theme at I-Connect007 has been continuous improvement, described in a formula as X = Xc – 1. That involves taking a serious look at how you do things and making changes to improve your overall process. But, unfortunately, implementing changes are complicated sometimes because people resist it. That's an understatement; people put a lot of effort daily to resist change. Why is that? 

It Means Leaving Your Comfort Zone
The comfort zone is that place where you control things; there are no surprises, nothing is demanded or expected of you. I understand it's a nice place to be. It's, well, comfortable. It's a nice place to visit sometimes, but many spend much of their careers right in the middle of it. They never push themselves beyond those self-made limitations. But it's a fine line between being a comfort zone and a rut for your profession and education.

I often find that PCB designers get stuck in how they do things. I see it constantly—people who do not fully take advantage of the ECAD tools they use. I experienced this firsthand while consulting for a company where someone was length tuning a set of traces. He had an Excel spreadsheet that he was rather proud of. He put in the desired length and it would calculate out the details of the trace geometry. He would draw a single wave in the trace, and then copy and paste it. It turned out that the ECAD tool he was using had an automatic length tuning feature which took his elaborate process and finished it in seconds. So you seehe got stuck into a rut and stopped learning; maybe not entirely, but staying in the comfort zone gets you locked in how you do things because we do what we know.

If the past year and a half has taught us anything, it has shown us that we survive even when everything familiar to us is turned upside down and forced to change. We learn new ways of doing things. We learn new skills. Now that things are getting back to normal, let's not forget the lessons we learn. Set aside time each week to study and keep learning. It's never been easier; everything you need to know is written down somewhere. You just need to have the motivation to find and understand it.

Fear of Failure or the Unknown
Another reason people resist change is the fear of failure or the unknown. Whenever someone leaves their comfort zone, they sometimes go immediately into a fear zone. Fear is a powerful force among your team and, if not handled correctly, will result in massive resistance to changes. Doing things differently brings the possibility of success or failure. But unlike the comfort zone, at least here you are trying.

But an underlining problem of failing is the consequences that ensue afterward. So in your team, knowing how to handle issues when they come is very important. It's entirely unrealistic to believe no problems will occur. That's like pulling out of your driveway and expecting all the traffic lights to be all green.

Some believe that successful people should not fail. That in some way, they are immune to the pitfalls and should have no problems. We look at people in business and tag them as a failure if they declare bankruptcy or if the engineer goes through thousands of failures before finding the answer. But in reality, the most successful people are those that fail the most—the ones who are willing to take the chance and take a nose dive if necessary to get to their goal.

It's okay to fail. With changes, sometimes they work, sometimes not. Very rarely have I seen things work perfectly the first time. So, it takes time to work out the issues and make further changes to improve the process. Do that as a team—a group meeting to discuss what works what doesn't. Involving the team and getting their input helps everyone feel like their opinion matters and is a part of the decision-making process.

Furthermore, I have found that if people resist change because of the fear of the unknown, it's because of a lack of communication, by you talking out the specifics of the changes, how it will impact the team, and most importantly, what is expected them. When these conversations are missing, the rumor mill takes over, and misinformation spreads like wildfire. But, there is a reason we have two ears and one mouth; maybe we're to listen twice as much as we talk. Listen to your teams' fears and concerns. That will go a long way.

Finally, as a PCB designer, know that since things constantly change in our industry with new tools and new ways of doing things, embrace that change. It means you are learning and growing as a PCB designer. 

“You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you.” — Brian Tracy

 John Watson, CID, is a customer success manager at Altium. 

 Download The Printed Circuit Designer’s Guide to… Design for Manufacturing by David Marrakchi. You can also view other titles in our full I-007eBook library here. 

Back

2021

Elementary, Mr. Watson: We’ve Never Done It That Way Before

11-11-2021

The September edition of Design007 Magazine discussed the theme of collaborating and working with a team. In that issue, I wrote a feature article called “PCB Design Is a Team Sport.” After that edition was published, I had several follow-up questions and conversations with individuals; they agreed on the importance of teamwork but felt that it's easier said than done. It's challenging because of the inherent problem of team members accepting or handling change very well. Change it's a word that sends shivers down the spine of some. You know those sort of individuals. They're easy to identify. The ones that constantly remind everyone, "We never did it that way before." As if how we did things in the past was so much better.

View Story

Elementary, Mr. Watson: First, Component Shortages, and Now Hot Dogs?

10-14-2021

When I considered the title for this month’s article, I seriously considered calling it "From the Frying Pan Into the Fire" because I’m sure you’ve noticed recently that the component shortage problem has only worsened—we’re now seeing other supply lines breaking down.

View Story

Elementary Mr. Watson: PCB Design—It's a Team Sport

09-29-2021

One of the hard lessons of this past year was about the value of the team and collaboration. I have repeatedly heard how many of us have a newfound respect and appreciation for the teams we work with inside our companies. Out of necessity, we had to find new ways to collaborate.

View Story

Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Danger of Rogue Libraries

09-16-2021

For PCB designers, the most common part of the library is the collection of components used in the PCB design process. But, I have seen some libraries have other information, including a resource area, a group of documents, standards, and articles. So basically it can have anything you want.

View Story

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Epic Fails with Design Rules

08-12-2021

Various sciences, including physics, mathematics, chemistry, are significantly involved throughout the PCB design process, rules that can sometimes be bent but not broken. However, the rules that designers break and ignore altogether and very often are the design rules.

View Story

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Managing Risk in PCB Design

08-05-2021

PCB design is like bungee jumping. With the complexity of a PCB design, the intricate details, and various steps, it's rather easy to make mistakes. Those mistakes, many times, do not show up until it's too late and the board has gone off to fabrication and assembly. By the way, a good rule is not to use your assembly house as your quality control team for PCB designs.

View Story

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Time to Market, from Ludicrous Speed to Plaid

07-18-2021

Mel Brooks may have something to teach us about going "ludicrous speed" in getting our designs to the finish line. John Watson explains.

View Story

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Trust but Verify

06-10-2021

Over many years, I have seen some elaborate PCB library systems. However, the best ones were those not based on the size but rather the quality of the information. That old axiom is definitely “not quantity but rather quality.”

View Story

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Paying the Price To Be a PCB Designer

05-13-2021

Today, the electronics industry is flourishing with innovations and technologies. The result is that the “good” designers are left in the dust. Truthfully, our industry doesn't need more good designers; rather, we need great designers—those who can face any challenge and instead of cowering in the corner, looks at the task at hand and says, "Bring it on."

View Story

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Keeping Counterfeit Components Out of Your Library

04-13-2021

To know whether anything is wrong, you must first know in detail what is correct to follow the standard or pattern. This principle could not be more true when handling our components in the library.

View Story
Back

2020

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Demystifying Bypass Capacitors

12-17-2020

As PCB designers, we work under the simple rule of cause and effect, and a PCB design can quickly become a petri dish for the butterfly effect to flourish. One of those areas that can quickly snowball into major problems is your PCB power distribution structure. When it goes wrong, it usually goes very wrong and has significant issues throughout your design.

View Story

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Density Feasibility Putting 10 Lbs in a 5-Lb Bag

11-18-2020

Whether on a customer, a system, or a PCB level, it’s essential to understand the final objective and how you intend to get there and meet the customer need at the forefront of any project. In this column, John Watson addresses density feasibility and more.

View Story

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Location, Location, Location

10-15-2020

When it comes to PCB design, one of the most overlooked principles is component placement. Similar to a home, the component location has a considerable impact on the quality and is the real value of a PCB design. John Watson examines five rules to follow when it comes to component placement.

View Story

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Overcoming PCB Designs Pitfalls

09-10-2020

When starting every PCB design, the hope is that we can navigate through any pitfalls that arrive. Unfortunately, many times, issues happen that you do not handle correctly; they fall through the cracks and end up in your PCB design. John Watson explains how that is when the real problems begin.

View Story

Elementary, Mr. Watson: How to Ruin Your PCB Design in 4 Easy Steps

08-06-2020

John Watson has seen firsthand how quickly PCB designs can “go off the rails” by not following a few simple principles. In this column, he looks at four practices that can easily ruin your PCB design.

View Story

Elementary, Mr. Watson: PCB Components Naming Conventions

07-09-2020

How you accurately analyze and identify certain information has a direct connection to the overall success of your PCB designs. In this column, John Watson focuses on the conventional naming scheme for the schematic symbol and footprint to prevent headaches and ulcers later.

View Story

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Collaboration in the PCB Design Process

06-11-2020

The past few months have been trying for everyone, with many of us working from home. However, there are still the underlining principles of collaboration to step into a role to finish the necessary tasks to keep a project moving forward. John Watson, CID, explains.

View Story

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Reinventing Yourself

05-28-2020

When COVID-19 first hit, many businesses were forced to close, and we immediately saw its impact on the service industry. Whatever challenge you’re facing, John Watson emphasizes that it’s time to hit the switch on reinventing.

View Story

Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Positive Side of COVID-19

04-16-2020

With the recent COVID-19 outbreak worldwide, most of us have been forced to reshuffle how we work, live, and play. Something like this has never happened before in our lifetimes, and it is scary and challenging, but difficult times develop resilient people. John Watson shares some of the positive things he has already noticed come out of this situation.

View Story

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Are We There Yet?

03-12-2020

Anyone who has taken a road trip with children knows the question, “Are we there yet?” very well. This question also applies to PCB design. If you are not careful, your PCB project could easily go off track and you could lose sight of what you are doing (objective), why (motivation), how (process), and when (schedule). John Watson emphasizes the importance of these fundamental questions.

View Story
Copyright © 2021 I-Connect007. All rights reserved.