Enough Already About Collaborating With The Fab!

In the last 2+ years that I’ve dedicated to applying agile methods to hardware development, a big part of my focus has been on using agile to bring design, verification and software developers closer together. In my opinion, we have room for improvement in that area. From the beginning, I’ve seen incremental development as being the key for improvement because it pulls experts together, forcing them to continuously prioritize and exercise what they plan to deliver instead of hunkering down in their cubes and hoping things come together at the end.

But with all the effort I’ve put into this, I’m starting to wonder who else is thinking the same way. Is a lack of meaningful collaboration a problem in SoC development or am I seeing a problem that doesn’t actually exist? I’m starting to question my observations – or imagination perhaps – for a few different reasons.

The big one for me lately has been all the effort dedicated to increasing collaboration between design house, EDA and fab. Now I’m sure the value there is huge, but so much emphasis on collaboration between design house and fab, to me, insinuates that this next level of collaboration is a natural extension of what is already a highly collaborative environment within the design house. Is that true? Are cohesive, collaborative teams and shared priorities the norm in SoC development? Or, for example, are design and verification sub-teams formed and insulated from each by ambiguous product specifications and bug tracking databases as well as independent priorities, scheduling, and reporting structure?

It’s also easy to notice all the attention being paid to enabling early software development as software becomes an increasingly dominant component of an SoC. That’s certainly been propelling innovation in ESL design not to mention emulation and hardware acceleration. But in focusing on those areas, is it being suggested that pulling in software start dates is the missing link to getting successful product out the door? What about the fact that hardware and software tend to be treated as completely independent deliverables? Or that hardware and software development for the same SoC may be controlled by 2 separate groups within the same organization? Do early start dates compensate for that kind of deep rooted disconnect?

Of course it’s easy to generalize. Not all teams are in the same boat with respect to how they work together. And I’m certainly not suggesting a culture of bickering and infighting. That’s not the point of this at all because that’s something I don’t see. My points relate to the organizational and operational levels and on those levels there are characteristics that SoC teams exhibit almost universally. Splitting into independent functional sub-teams is one example (modeling/architecture, design, verification, software, implementation, validation, etc). A preference for working toward a single big-bang deliverable is another tendency. Software and hardware teams that are separated organizational is yet another. The list goes on.

The details and extent obviously vary team-by-team but I don’t think I’m making this stuff up. I reckon there are significant gains to be made through a critical look at and restructuring of SoC development teams in the name of stronger collaboration. Take the time to question the barriers you put up between design, verification, software and everyone else that contributes to delivery. Imagine how regular shared goals and an agile approach to development can help break these barriers. If you’re wondering what agile SoC development could look like, you can read an article I co-authored with Bryan Morris called Agile Transformation in IC Development to find out.

And of course…

Despite what the title says, continue to pay attention to collaboration with EDA and fab. Continue to invest in ESL and emulation as a means of expediting software development. I don’t want to downplay either of those because they deserve the attention they’re getting. Just don’t forget to mix in a little time for some other things that are just as important.

neil

Q. What are your thoughts on SoC team structure and how we develop and deliver products? Are we good the way we are or are we due for a change?

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About nosnhojn

I've been working in ASIC and FPGA development for more than 13 years at various IP and product development companies and now as a consultant with XtremeEDA Corp. In 2008 I took an interest in agile software development. I've found a massive amount of material out there related to agile development, all of it is interesting and most of it is applicable to hardware development in one form or another. So I'm here to find what agile concepts will work for hardware development and to help other developers use them successfully. I've been fortunate to have the chance to speak about agile hardware development at various conferences like Agile2011, Agile2012, Intel Lean/Agile Conference 2013 and SNUG. I also do lunch-n-learn talks for small groups and enjoy talking to anyone with an agile hardware story to tell! You can find me at neil.johnson@agilesoc.com.
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One Response to Enough Already About Collaborating With The Fab!

  1. enginerd says:

    The fundamental structure of an SOC design team is flawed… unless your goal single chip out. When you have an SOC team and your organization has multiple teams targeted towards doing SOCs what you see is each team is encouraged to do what is best for their particular SOC and we fail to optimize the bigger problem within the organization of how you get multiple chips out the door. The same issue goes up the chain when you have Directors and VP’s incentivised based on the P/L of the chips their team directly tapes out, where most companies fail to properly reward collaboration at higher levels.

    An SOC team is a very efficient structure for getting a single chip out. Its very safe. A project manager does not have to worry about his resources being allocated to another more critical chip. He doesn’t have to worry about whether some script written by someone that is not directly in his control needs support and that engineer who wrote it is busy with another chip.

    One of the beauties of agile development is the ability to dynamically allocate resources and respond as needs change and view bigger issues. Team structures based on a single SOC where a company does multiple SOCs prevent boundaries to successful resource optimization.

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