Published on November 19th, 2006

NEVERTHELESS: Improve Project Predictability

Predictability in design execution is a goal always sought, although achieving it remains a challenge for many teams. Some may say that invention can't be planned to the point of predictability. Others may say that there are always the inevitable surprises that come out of creative process. There is an element of truth to these statements, however not with enough certainty to preclude due diligence in the planning process. Predictable design execution will result through a broad scope planning and management process that identifies and plans the activities that typically remain unmanaged.

Unmanaged activities in a design project originate from two major sources. One source are activities that fall into the gray zone between IC design and program management tasks. Ownership and/or management of these tasks are often lacking the clarity that facilitates crisp closure of the activity. A second source is in the form of an unknown activity that remains largely unheard of to the majority of the team. When uncovered, an unknown task will usually be found to produce a deliverable that positively impacts the flow of downstream activities.

The identification of potential gray zone activities must be an integral part of the design planning process. Areas outside the normal design activities that include schematics, RTL coding, simulations, architecture and layout will frequently fall into the gray zone.

Consider that the destiny of designs ability to succeed does not rest solely on their ability to execute. Design success requires closure on requirements, test -validation - characterization requirements, CAE development and a change management process to name a few. It is in designs best interest to include managing these, or ensure they are being managed, as part of the overall design plan.

Now consider the second source of unmanaged activities, the unknown. Definition of an unknown activity is best described as a new activity, that when completed, would improve the overall design workflow on a project. Solutions to unknowns may come in the form of additional information, a different representation of information, a change in the flow of activities or a change in a deliverable or receivable expectation. The emphasis should be on finding what is unknown about the overall design workflow to enhance the team's deliverables to each other and the organizations that design supports.

Homework is required in the search for unknown tasks. By definition they will not make themselves easily known to the overall team. If you were to go into any product design organization and ask what activities must be completed prior to fracture, they would have a lengthy list of items to share. A larger concern should exist about items that are not on the list and their lack of identity is quietly steeling away precious development time without any fanfare.

Consider the deliverables necessary to feed into later activities. Look for activities that are needed to support the success of product engineering, test, systems, program management and marketing in their role on the project. The process of finding unknowns in the workflow is known as "Discovery".

Components of discovery include one on one interviews and group brainstorming sessions targeted at uncovering gaps in activities or deliverables that prevent crisp execution of design. The process begins with a known set of design tasks and as the journey through the discovery process unfolds the list of items to be planned and managed by design increases. Completion of this exercise leaves the team with the list of all activities that design must own and successfully manage to closure, thus enabling a predictable workflow.

When embarking on a discovery process it is essential to keep the focus broad, cover multiple areas and multiple engineering disciplines. Uncovering all of the unknown tasks requires visualization beyond the designer's domain. The process must probe around in test, product engineering, marketing, applications and beyond.

Predictability in design execution will be the result of designs ability to manage the broad scope of activities that have impact on a teams ability to execute their tasks. Th is includes tasks beyond typical design activities as well as tasks and/or deliverables that may be unmanaged due to a lacking awareness of their existence.
Jeff Jorvig is President of Jorvig Consulting Inc. He can be reached at: jeff@ jorvigconsulting.com

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