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Alleviating stress, eliminating risk. Because that's how we roll.

One of my coworkers recently described a situation their customer was in: “You know you want to deploy, it has to be now, you don’t know how, but you do know you don’t have enough resources to do it without risking success.”

Never mind that at that stage, when those words aptly describe your predicament it can be difficult to be effective in the help I or anyone else can give implementing an enterprise class software suite. Not to mention the paradigm shifting, feature rich game-changing nature of Capital. There can be a stressful whirling around of timescales, issues, and problems real and illusory. The first casualty in a stressed roll-out of engineering software is project management. Without project management there is nobody to calmly separate the truth from the half-truth, the dangerous from the merely intimidating factors.

Going determinedly into exploring how a feeling like this comes about is beneficial, and taking a step back, reviewing is the first step in relieving pressure on a project. You get to a position of comfort by planning, you know there are few surprises in the future because you have planned, and you can expect stability if you proceed from known position to the next well explored, well researched point in your process.  We all know the theory, the hard thing is to have a working life where you live it in practice. It is like performing as a comic actor or a sportsperson or being the best in many other fields: talented people abound, it is those who rehearse hard, study hard, practice, experiment in safe environments, it is those who paradoxically look most spontaneous and are the best improvisers. I and the co-worker have a responsibility of leadership – we have been through the things that are stressing our customers to just experience once every ten or fifteen years.  

To elaborate further, serious users of Capital actually do know a great deal which is relevant. And thus should remain confident in success. I have been on the road, making plenty of business trips lately. One of the things I learned recently was that when it comes to electrical platform engineering and design – Mentor Graphics’ customers definitely know what they know, and some lesser times don’t know what they don’t know and that’s all there is to it.  Surprise, or denial or dispute from me or anyone else is not going to change anything. 

Effort today, tomorrow just water under the bridge.

Planning is pointing in the right direction + effort, even against the flow.

Give an example? Ok then.

You know of an engineer went on a training course two years ago and used the software regularly and doesn’t know apparently some pretty basic things?  So what – that person isn’t paid to breathe the mouse clicks and eat and drink off the Capital menus. If I am asked what to do in a given situation, I tell, point him to the customer support documentation or other resource or find out and relay the information if I don’t have the information at my fingertips. Compared to most users, I dream in Capital such is my fluency. I sit in the hotel restaurant and in a sense do eat and drink from my software expertise. A more comprehensive level of knowledge than most customers’ in most areas is no surprise.

Up for consideration now is the statement, ‘customers know what they know.  “I want my non-scaled harness drawing to contain this piece of information graphically in this way.”   Again a few times this year I have gone through the routine: “are you sure, this seems like it is relying on visual clues on some paper when in the modern era the promise of data exchange between design and manufacturing, OEM and Vendor is realizable?” That’s necessary to make sure we eliminate wherever possible redundant steps and the authorship and maintenance of useless pieces of information, or pointless pictures. Guess what – the item, when analyzed usually really does have some use for the customer?  

Never fear. It is subtle. Sometimes I tell customer how to use the functionality to the best advantage, and sometimes I tell people how the software works and then the customer decides how to use it to their best advantage. And the first step to good decision making, is to take a deep breath and stop feeling stressed sometimes. Stress makes success more difficult – but nowhere near impossible.

Going to help the customers, on business trips is what I and team people I work with do. It is an interesting, varied and rewarding profession.

To characterize what takes place on many of those meetings, face to face with our customers as simply “working through the issues” is underestimating the benefit of software vendor expert and customer interaction. The issues are not the project, the problems to overcome say nothing about the process and business benefits to be had. It is fair to say that mostly the issues obscure the returns to the individuals, the groups and the enterprise as a whole.

Let yourself have time not just to count the number of open issues, debating points or rows of references to support tickets. Count also the percentage of design information captured in your new way of working, count the number of engineers who have adopted the improved workflow, bank the hours saved with more efficient, correct-by-construction ways of working. Measure the positive ways in which a new design process powered by Capital and then juxtapose that to the issues list. There will be issues, and a good Vendor partners with you in resolving them prioritizing them based on how they block achieving productivity gains.

You know the issues are not the project itself, and help can be got, with the knowledge gaps, the human resource and expertise (trainers & consultants) – the “been there done that” people. So things are not as bad actually as you might think. It is hard to assess accurately project risk from a melancholic outlook, as hard as defining risk realistically with an overly optimistic world-view (in the team nobody will leave, get ill, and there will be unanimity on all fronts).

Down but not out. Beyond feelings of needing help and not knowing how to proceed is an objective reality – attainable with some help from Mentor, but mostly it will be your full commitment which will get you there.

The leaves turn amber and gold outside the hotel room

Capital, Capital Harness Systems, Automotive Electrical and Electronic Systems Design, Outsourced Integrated Electrical Systems Software, Customer Support, Deployment

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About Paul Johnston

Paul JohnstonI help Mentor Graphics customers to be successful, accomplish a more rapid return on investment. My professonal focus is on the Capital product line. Customers need a good technical and commercial understanding when making software system purchasing and adopting decisions and in addressing issues through to best resolution. I am one of the team of experts Mentor employs to support the Capital worldwide. I was born just outside of Manchester England, am now resident in the metro Detroit area of Michigan USA. I have worked for Mentor Graphics for more than 15 years. Visit Paul Johnston's Blog

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