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Palmer Pearson
Palmer Pearson
Palmer has earned degrees in both English and Electronic Engineering. Originally working as an R&D designer, he made the switch into technical publications early in his career to "have fun." His main concentration of late is searching for innovative methods of sharing technical information. He … More »

Is EDA Customer Documentation Viewed as Important Anymore?

August 13th, 2014 by Palmer Pearson

There was a time when the “big three” gave the impression they deeply cared about what their customers saw in their documentation and how useful they shared critical product information. From my view, that is no longer the case. Maybe that is harsh but this is more than a simple impression. Whether providing book-based or topic-based documents, whether offering downloadable pdf hard copy, sharing online documentation with robust search capabilities, or delivering meaningful embedded tutorials, most EDA companies took an active role in ensuring what they produced would be innovative, encompass the latest trends and meet (and even exceed) customer expectations.

A few years back, both Cadence Design Systems and Synopsys sat on the five member Advisory Board (along with Microsoft, HP and others) of the Center for Information Development Management (CIDM). That is a mouthful, but CIDM is the leading organization for technical publications managers, directors and in a few rare instances, vice presidents. Think of it as the IEEE for writers in the publications world and their annual Best Practices Conference as somewhat equivalent to DAC.

Attendance at their conference is limited to those who set policies and drive the publication effort in a variety of technology industries. Mentor, in addition to Cadence and Synopsys also played an active role in the organization sending managers to conferences and staying deeply involved. All three companies gave presentations on their best practices. Pride in showing off customer satisfaction numbers increasing as a direct result of documentation improvements (along with other metrics) took on a positive and competitive nature. Achieving what the customer wanted, and later demanded, was the goal shared by all in attendance. But, times have changed.

In a past article (Being Part of the Product), I wrote that what the customer pays for is the software and the information on how to use it. Explaining highly complex products in the EDA universe in a manner that is easily understood is not a simple task. Going beyond the basics of creation and delivery, meeting with customers to enable two-way conversations, instead of the push-method of “here is what we think you should know” was yielding true benefits.

Much financial support is given to R&D departments at EDA companies around the world. A certain percentage of revenue budgeted for product improvement, of course, does not include TechPubs. They see no funds coming their way to stay on the leading edge. Information Portfolio Management, (the process of choosing the best delivery vehicle for each type of content) may not be in full practice. Most groups just struggle to keep up with release dates in a time when staffing continues to be a critical issue. And what is true in many fields, deadlines take the place of quality too often. Deciding when and where to use animation or videos, or how best to create a system of instant answers for customers fighting their own timeline crunch is not given the attention it needs.

Being active in an organization can be the best solution in absence of sharing corporate revenue. Utilizing the “many-eyes-are-better-than-one” concept, listening to leaders explain where they are going and how they are achieving their goals is crucial. Bringing that plan objective in-house and closer to my team, I created the Listen to the Leaders program. The idea was simple, via a video link, I would invite peers to explain to my staff how they overcame some universal dilemma or to chat on where they think the field is headed in the future – the next steps to prepare for and learn. Dubbed a poor man’s Charlie Rose segment, an open forum with plenty of Q&A time, gave my staff a better sense on how they could impact the needs of the customers and also understand how they directly impact corporate goals. By using contacts within professional organizations, everyone wins.

There are many other examples of networking and developing close relationships with managers and directors across the industry and across the globe. I have chaired both local and global efforts always with the intention to share good ideas, avoid innovation paranoia and ratchet-up the search for better tools to make it easier to gain information at a useful level. We all want answers now. No-one can we rely on a 300-page manual to look up a topic anymore. (Only a dwindling few even write manuals now.) Along with the demise of the CD drive on most computers on a personal level, we either download a PDF file, take a long hike thru some search engine tree, or in a desperate sense, try to understand what we have to do based solely upon intuitive design. Choosing whether to watch a YouTube video explaining a concept or forcing end-users to wade thru many locations and searches to solve a problem is an easy decision for any Tech Pubs Manager when writing a documentation plan.

I will not espouse on many new ideas out there to share technical information. Many people who are considered visionaries in this field can be found with a quick Google (or Bing, or whatever) search. Come to think about it, shouldn’t your info be available in a similar manner when customers have specific questions? Not the marketing blurbs, or the instant tidbits from QR codes (although they do have their place).

The point is, with complex products becoming more complex with each release, and with the continual serge in M&As in EDA, it is imperative that we stay on top of the best ways to share our design content. Maintaining high standards and making constant improvements are what customers expect.

But, there is a sad fact to all of this within the EDA industry. The three companies mentioned earlier in this article no longer belong to that professional organization. In fact, absolutely no EDA company does! Many other major technology companies still do and the list is growing. The roster is a Who’s Who of creative corporations that “get it”. So, what happened to EDA? I can only assume one of two things. Either there is a growing lack of understanding of the importance of technical publications to the end-user at an e-staff level, or those who were once passionate about being second-to-none and seriously taking on the dual role of information communicator customer advocate, have moved on. Either way, it is indeed sad for all.

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Category: Customer Documentation

3 Responses to “Is EDA Customer Documentation Viewed as Important Anymore?”

  1. David Artz says:

    Doing VLSI design for 25+ years – well, I can’t tell you how important good documentation is (whether it’s SourceLink, Solvenet, PDF User Manuals, You Tube, Training, Tutorials, White Papers, Books, Release Notes, Application Notes, Help Menu, Bug Solutions, etc., etc., etc.)

    Without good (clear, concise, complete) and up to date documentation, as and end user, that’s just as important to me as current state of the art technology, tool capacity, etc. In fact, it’s a key part of any competitive assessment I’ve been involved in.

  2. Rupen Sharma, PMP says:

    Interesting take…sometimes, it’s about quantifying the value the Tech. Pubs. team brings in. It is then easier to get what you want. The problem is that not many Tech. Pubs. folks are skilled in such analysis and typically stick to doing the mundane day-in-day technical writing.

    If what you’ve written about the “big three” is true, I’m glad I don’t work for them. At Atrenta, the Tech. Pubs. team is valued and gets ample support from leadership for innovation. The focus is less on technical communication, but more on information experience.

    Love the world beyond the “Big Three”…

  3. BIll says:

    A few comments:
    1. all ‘industry’ organizations face challenges how to provide/show value to their members to keep renewal (annual dues) rates high and grow membership. Besides the annual dues, each organization allocates time and additional $s to support organizations they join. Over time, the ROI might not be justified for specific members or markets. I remember conversations while I was on the VSIA’s Board on this very topic and a key reason why we decided to fold VSIA’s work into various IEEE sponsored organizations.

    2. Both consumers and products have evolved over time.

    For decades, Apple has shown the world how to ‘think different’ with their products: often reducing the number of buttons, what can be accessed by customer and even the type of connectors to prevent users from incorrectly connecting other Apple equipment to each other, etc. Fewer and more intuitive options all reduced the need for lengthy documentation. So better product design is the BEST solution for manuals (let alone videos).

    3. Possibly after 20-30 years of EDA product development, Cadence/Synopsys/Mentor have learned the best for their customers/products. Maybe their solutions satisfy their customers’ documentation needs. I know that each has produced a long and varied list of publications in many forms (manuals, white papers, videos, etc) besides having customer support groups and field application and consulting engineers. I would not assume ‘they are broken’ because they are no longer members.

    4. With our products, I have seen customers not read our manuals. Like most of us, a user expects the product interactions to be intuitive (or very easy and forgiving during learning). Thank Apple! Just look at most of the social network products: simplicity increases usage. Besides modifying our GUI to be very intuitive, de-cluttered and focused for specific functions, we have created a full range of short videos (1-4 mins long) that address any topic/function within the tool. These are part of the installation besides a detailed, searchable PDF manual. These videos were created from interacting with our customers and recognizing specific issues they had with our solution. Once the videos were created, the amount of ‘tool’ support went to zero and any calls are application or how to analyze related. Our next videos will be focused on the ‘application’ and ‘how to analyze’ areas. But this is based on what we see from our customers’ specific needs. This is KEY. It is specific to our customers and how they interact with our products.


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