How to manage trans national, multi company, and cross functional teamsRaul Perez
All system custom silicon projects where the silicon is not designed and manufactured in-house require at least two companies to directly interface with each other: the system company and the silicon supplier company. Each one of these two companies has other companies that interact with them.
Typically, the system company works with a contract manufacturer, and that contract manufacturer interacts with the silicon supplier usually whenever there is an FA from the build so they can send the units back for analysis at the silicon supplier’s lab, to agree on types of reels to be used for shipments, agree on part markings to be used, and eventually the contract manufacturer will be submitting the POs for parts when they take over after the ramp.
The silicon supplier usually interacts with a package and test contractor, and a foundry for wafer manufacturing. The silicon supplier could also be using external design houses that are subcontracted, subcon quality testing labs, subcon failure analysis labs, etc… Some silicon suppliers have foundries, and package and test in-house, but most do not. The system company generally will not interact with the foundry or the package and test contractor EXCEPT if they are interested in aggregating their volumes to get better pricing and terms. So for example, a system company may be buying many different chips from different silicon suppliers, but most are using the same foundry or the same packaging houses, so they may go directly and tell those foundries to aggregate their total volumes when quoting wafer or package prices to the silicon supplier for the parts for which they are the final customer. In this way, the system company obtains a price reduction.
The system company has many cross functional teams, and depending on what this custom silicon is used for, any or all of these teams could be involved in the integration of this component into the system: software, firmware, security, EE, ME, system reliability, component engineering, PCB design, thermal team, signal integrity, silicon management, system project management, sub-system teams and their project management, battery team, antenna/RF team, test fixture team, GSM, and/or legal.
The silicon supplier company has some core teams which at some point will be interacting with the system company, these are: design (analog and digital) team, validation/apps team, test team, layout team, verification (ams,dv and analog) team, sales and marketing teams, FAEs, and software/firmware teams.
If there are not already enough teams, people and companies involved, add to the mix that usually the system company and the silicon supplier are located in different countries, and their suppliers are also in other countries.
Here are some basic things that need to be implemented to manage this complexity of human and technical challenges:
- Communication. You will need to implement multiple regular interactions to keep people aligned and informed. The main meetings that need to be programmed are: regular sync call between the system and silicon supplier teams, internal cross functional sync meeting at the system company, in person design reviews and in person vendor selection reviews, establish a ticket system to track actions throughout the entire process, meetings to obtain phase sign off from Executives for all phases, and many other contact points as needed to deep dive on items. You will need to document a lot, and share between different sides as needed. CustomSilicon.com offers some packages that manage some or all of these interactions.
- Ensure to have a process to manage the system custom silicon engagement. CustomSilicon.com implements a process, and manages both the system and silicon companies such that there is a really strong connection between all teams, and the deliverables are clearly communicated, and the development phases are signed off by all stakeholders such that there is cross functional and multi company alignment at every stage of the project. The process should be captured in the contracts, and the sign offs should be used as triggers. The silicon manager will drive the sign offs with the system company, and also drive to closure all issues with the silicon supplier such that at the end of a phase a concise precise escalation can be presented to the system company executives for their approval.
- Establish a clear stakeholders list, and establish what authority each of them has, and for what aspect of the project. One of the least appreciated, and most critical aspects of driving cross functional teams is that it is imperative that no one usurps someone else’s rightful authority over the domain for which they are responsible for. One very pernicious human factor that destroys effective collaboration is the practice of calling “working meetings” or “executive update meetings” with decision makers to push a one sided agenda, but the people that call the meeting leave out others who are rightfully stakeholders too who hold some contrary views to their own, so some parties are excluded from the meeting to prevent there being a healthy debate over the proposals and an attempt is made to gain approval from the decision makers without presenting all facts and views. This type of political maneuver will seriously derail cross functional team collaboration, and will destroy trust and goodwill in the program. So the silicon manager MUST not let this happen, and needs to ensure everyone that is a rightful stakeholder is signed off for each phase, and included in discussions directly relevant to their domains. The other issue that needs to be addressed is not allowing people who are not rightful stakeholders to impede or block progress from occurring or demand be included in meetings to which they have no agenda items to cover or “vote” in decisions to which they are not rightful stakeholders. Sometimes it is ok to allow people to sit in in meetings, but in my experience this can backfire as you then start seeing how these political maneuvers have some malicious intent which later becomes clear and now the silicon manager has to deal with it to keep the program on track. So to keep the peace and sanity, it is very important that everyone that is a stakeholder is accounted for and included, and everyone that isn’t is scrutinized if they insist on being involved without a clear logical explanation.
There are many difficulties in driving a custom silicon project that only common sense, determination, technical competency in the systems and silicon domains, and a solid process can overcome so that you can go from concept to mass production with confidence. I hope this short list above is a helpful first step for you.
At CustomSilicon.com we specialize in managing custom silicon engagements with our battle tested process. Custom system silicon when done with the assistance of silicon experts puts the system company in control of its own destiny. Hiring silicon experts full time at your company may not be reasonable due to insufficient continuous work for them, and that is why customsilicon.com provides you a solution so that you can engage with chip suppliers on custom silicon programs and mitigate all the risks listed above. When purchasing catalog parts for your system, unless you perform similar due diligence to what is described above, you’re trusting but not verifying that your components will be of good quality and not likely to cause yield or other issues when you go to production in high volumes.
Developing custom silicon can have huge benefits from an economic, engineering and market perspective for system companies, but it takes a structured and detailed approach to ensure proper take off and a successful landing. Don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for any further questions, or help you may require.
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