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.
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