Team Development for PCB Designers

Kella Knack
|  Created: April 22, 2019  |  Updated: April 16, 2020

There Are Lots of I’s in The Word Team

The old adage is there is no “i” in the word team. But, in reality, there are a lot of “I’s”—interface, interaction, intercommunication and integration to name a few.

In today’s global supply chain (I use the acronym GSC) economy, product development rarely, if ever, rests with just a handful of individuals or even a handful of companies. In the highly competitive electronics market sector, there are disparate companies across disparate geographic locations in disparate time zones so it’s easy to overlook what has to happen in order to achieve a common goal.

Moreover, in the GSC we can readily define the “what” (the next greatest product to hit the market) but we are oftentimes woefully inadequate in defining the “who.” At best, it can be acknowledged that the members of a product development team are all the pieces of the same puzzle and, as such, there is an awareness of the team members because there is some contact in some manner, and in some places with the other pieces.

So, is it possible for the electronics market sector to fully embrace the team player concept? Is it necessary? Can it exist? And, most importantly, how can it be created and utilized? This blog will discuss these points and outline ways in which a highly effective team dynamic can be created.

If We Only Follow the Rules….

Almost any information resource on what it takes to run a successful business emphasizes that it is crucial to create and maintain a successful team environment. And, it no longer suffices to utilize just any team dynamic. Truly successful teams are comprised of members who feel their contributions are important and valued. Teams that are characterized as having shared values among like-minded individuals who see their work as being important are noted as being more motivated, more focused and more successful.

In addition, truly successful teams are qualified along a variety of performance matrices. And, those matrices all include the necessity for intercommunication, interface, interaction and integration. They include:

  • Establishing and implementing an environment wherein all product development goals are clearly and succinctly stated and ensuring that all of the team members have the same understanding of these goals. This understanding has to embrace not only team members’ own contributions but the necessity and value of the rest of the team members in regards to the overall product development process. In today’s GSC, it’s really easy to become isolated in our own worlds of tasks and agendas but it’s important to remember that we are an integral part of an overall product development system. he contributions of any one member or group of members is no more important than the contributions of others. In essence, we need to make sure that we all are marching to the same drummer.
  • Realizing that there is a difference between being a Project Manager and being a Project Leader. A few years back, I participated in a Semico Impact Conference that addressed how boards, chips and packages needed to be designed to maximize all of the product development efforts. Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was one of the keynote speakers. In his talk, Captain Sullenberger noted that there is a difference between being a good manager and being a good leader. If all you are is a good manager, you will probably fail. On that fateful day in January of 2009, Captain Sullenberger was hailed as the hero who successfully landed his crippled airplane on the Hudson River. He was always quick to point out that he was the team leader and the success of that operation was due to everyone on his team knowing their tasks and executing them exactly as required in that emergency situation.
  • To be a really effective team leader you have to have a well-defined and well-implemented communications structure. In order for all team members to stay on track, team leaders need to be sure that they are communicating with all of the individuals that comprise the team. A few key points:
  • It’s important to develop and maintain a management structure that is effective and efficient. You don’t want team members to blindly stumble along but you also don’t want to micromanage their efforts. A lot of times, this step in the process gets short shrift. People are impelled to get a product developed in the shortest amount of time for the least amount of cost possible. Time spent on developing an effective and efficient management structure can, unfortunately, be regarded as counter intuitive to that effort. This thinking comes from the “we have always done it this way and it has always worked” mindset. In order to ensure the management structure is optimized for a given product development effort, it’s important to review that structure and see if there are any elements that need to be tweaked.
  • Communication must consist of not only sharing information but fostering an amiable, reciprocal environment. It’s important to be able to listen and learn when team members need assistance, clarification as to product development efforts, project milestones, etc. In many instances, team leaders serve as negotiators among the various GSC team members.
  • Another goal is to foster an environment where team members feel comfortable in communicating any glitches, problems or hiccups that they may encounter during the process. This is where effective listening comes into play. Team members have to feel secure enough within the GSC framework to apprise team leaders and other team members of any issues that may negatively affect any milestone dates or tasks. This is crucial in the GSC environment when you have disparate individuals working for disparate companies in disparate locations.
  • When glitches, problems and hiccups are encountered, it’s important to encourage input from team members. It’s especially important to remember that not all team members will be comfortable in providing this input due to the structure and work culture within their own organizations.

The question arises that if performance matrices are clearly defined and understood, what is it that makes some teams more successful than others? On the surface, the differences can seem subtle such as recognition and allegiance to a common goal, and team building beliefs and actions that are truly team centric. But, perhaps the most important element is the recognition and appreciation that team members have for one another. In theory, this is often viewed as a given but, in reality, an effective process of recognition and appreciation can make the difference between a group of individuals that comprise a “team” and one that comprises a truly “great team.” It’s about team members enabling other team members to be recognized and valued. It’s about team leaders who recognize and acknowledge

the contributions of all the team players and communicate that information up the management chain as well as down to the other team members. And, it’s not just about embracing team spirit and dynamics at the launch of any product development effort, but embodying them during every phase of the process from conception to product launch.

On this last point, I always remember a critical piece of advice I was once given. “If you treat a group of people like cows, in six months you have a group of cows.” In other words, people respond to how they are treated and a leader needs to treat people like they count and they will respond in kind.

So, the final questions become; are there any companies in the global supply chain that embrace and deploy team dynamics on a daily basis? If so, which companies are they and can your company become one of them?

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About Author

About Author

Kella Knack is Vice President of Marketing for Speeding Edge, a company engaged in training, consulting and publishing on high speed design topics such as signal integrity analysis, PCB Design ad EMI control. Previously, she served as a marketing consultant for a broad spectrum of high-tech companies ranging from start-ups to multibillion dollar corporations. She also served as editor for various electronic trade publications covering the PCB, networking and EDA market sectors.

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