Tim's Takeaways: Navigating Industry Expectations

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In case you didn’t know, columns like this are usually written well in advance of when the magazine is published. Of course, there are times where something important gets rushed at the last minute in order to make it into the next issue. (“Hold the presses! We’re remaking page one.”) Normally, though, writing and publishing are carefully planned around precise schedules that must be followed. Even though you are reading this sometime in the middle of May or later, I am writing this during the first days of April while we are still observing the shelter-in-place restrictions due to the coronavirus.

I hope that by the time this column is published, the restrictions on gathering in public have been lifted, and life is returning back to normal. But, for now, everyone is doing their best to limit their contact with each other. This means that a lot of people across the world—especially in the PCB design industry—are working from home for the first time in their careers.

If this is the position that you find yourself in, and you are looking for some ideas on how to work successfully from home, I shared some recommendations in a recent column that you may find helpful. Thankfully, our technology today is better prepared for remote offices than ever before, and many EDA tool vendors and suppliers are offering work-from-home options to help their customers as well. Who would have guessed, though, that when we planned a theme for this month’s edition of exploring industry expectations that the biggest expectation would end up being, “Stay home!” But that’s the hand that we’ve been dealt.

Thankfully, everyone is doing what they can to help keep each other safe. Soon, I hope the expectation of “stay at home” will turn around to become “get back to work,” and that will be a welcome relief for everyone. There are a lot of other expectations, however, that designers deal with regularly, too. While some expectations are normal—and, well, expected—in the workplace, there are also those that do more harm than good. Do any of these three sound familiar to you? 

  1. Schedules: Not having enough time to get the job done, sliding delivery dates, or changes without corresponding schedule adjustments top the list. These are just some of the frustrations that we experience with schedule expectations, but  
there are plenty of others.
  2. Deliverables: If your job is to lay out a PCB, it’s pretty obvious what the overall expectation is. However, there are many details of the layout that can get lost in the shuffle, such as manufacturing drawings, output file requirements, and internal documentation. How these details are to be completed and who is responsible for their content and acceptability often gets changed without advanced notice, and yet it is the designer that is often held accountable.
  3. Processes: A team member or a vendor may change, but you aren’t notified, and you end up waiting for information that never comes. You’re expecting answers while your boss is expecting results, and everyone ends up being disappointed.

This probably won’t come as a big surprise, but the frustration over unmet expectations like this is common not only in our industry but everywhere. A recent informal survey conducted by our editors at DesignCon revealed that users and vendors alike often voiced the same concern: “I never know what is expected from me.”
I have found that a lot of these problems can be resolved by working at improving communication with our co-workers, managers, and customers. I was careful to use the word “working” in that last sentence because good and effective communication rarely happens organically; it usually takes a lot of planning and effort to set up mechanisms that will promote good communication, but the results are well worth it. 
Schedules, deliverables, and processes can be better managed, and everyone can take a big step backward from that cliff edge of uncertainty and anxiety over wondering just exactly what is expected of them. The next logical question is, “How do we do improve our communication in the workplace?” Here are three ideas that might help:

  1. Document the workflow: By outlining the basic process steps and who the key reporting and decision-makers are, you can quickly help team members to know exactly what is expected of them. Obviously, you can’t document every single tiny detail, but by giving everyone a clear path to follow, they will be less likely to get lost along the way.
  2. Multiple reviews in the workflow: A lot of confusion around expectations occurs because of design changes. Changes will happen, of course, but the key is to catch them as early as possible. With regularly scheduled reviews and check-ins during the design process, you can hopefully avoid full redesigns because of a component change that should have been caught during placement.
  3. Include team members in the process: Unmet expectations often happen because someone didn’t feel empowered to ask a simple question. This can happen when team members don’t feel like they are part of the process, so get them involved. By encouraging participation and feedback, your team members will feel more ownership of the process and will be more likely to get fully involved.

Many years ago, as a PCB designer for a large electronics manufacturer, I was stunned when on my first day of work, I was pulled into an impromptu meeting about a problem with the mechanical housing of one of our products. Since I was brand new to the company and didn’t even have computer access yet, I couldn’t figure out why I was being asked about a product that I had never seen before. I guess that they just wanted a fresh pair of eyes on it, but for me, the effect went much further beyond simply giving my opinion. I realized that I was in a work culture that wanted and encouraged my participation. This sent a very clear message to me that I had value, and the company’s expectations of me were to be an active part of the corporate process and workflow. That moment still lingers in my memory as being a pivotal point in my growth as a designer and becoming part of a productive team.
The lesson here is that these kinds of expectations—to grow, ask questions, and be part of the team—result in freeing up people to operate at their best and take the initiative in their careers. On the other hand, expectations set around unrealistic goals do just the opposite; they tear down a person’s confidence and self-esteem, making it much more difficult for them to be willing to take the steps and risks needed to expand and grow in their professional careers. It is safe to say that negative expectations—whether they are unobtainable, unrealistic, or ambiguous—should be avoided at all costs. We shouldn’t put them on anyone else, nor should we accept them from others. It’s just better for business that way. The next question, though, is, “Are we putting negative expectations like that on ourselves without realizing it?”
Just as being blamed by a co-worker for not meeting their ambiguous or unrealistic expectations can create stress, you may be doing the same thing to yourself without knowing it. There are so many different ways that we can set ourselves up for this negative expectation trap that it would be impossible to list them all here. Instead, let’s turn this around and look at it from the other direction. Here are five ideas on what kind of positive expectations that we could set for ourselves:

  1. Trust your qualifications: It can be easy to slip into doubt, especially when the going gets tough. Remember, though, that you were hired for your job because of what you can do, and you should expect yourself to live up to those qualities.
  2. Own your job: Don’t be content to merely do your job; own it. Make sure that you know your responsibilities in and out and expect yourself to succeed.
  3. Stay on target: Be careful about becoming lackadaisical in what you do. Set expectations for yourself to maintain a consistent level of performance and excellence.
  4.  Forgive yourself: No matter what, you will probably make some mistakes along the way. It can be easy to dwell on those problems and derail your motivation and momentum. Set an expectation that you will forgive yourself in order to learn from those mistakes and move on.
  5. Believe in yourself: I hate to sound like a greeting card here, but believing and expecting that you will succeed and perservering is an important foundation for any successful career.

We all have expectations in our jobs that have to be met for success, and more than likely, we are going to encounter ambiguous and unrealistic expectations as well. But we can choose how to respond to these by communicating with those we work with and setting clearly defined objectives and goals. Don’t let negative expectations drive you. Instead, grab the wheel firmly and take control over those expectations so that you can drive them. Stay safe, everyone, and keep on designing.
This column originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Design007 Magazine.



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