Semiconductor Post Silicon Validation is always a challenging area where there is a lack of standardized tools and technologies, unlike semiconductor design. In most organizations, bench validation and data capture are done with a combination of manual effort and home grown automation frameworks and either Excel or smaller database solutions are used for data management. We discovered that home grown solutions are generally built by Validation Engineers who found faster ways to automate repetitive tasks or by a central team that focuses on organization level validation efficiency. Over time, we observe that these home grown solutions either lose traction because the original developers have moved on or these frameworks and solutions become very bulky due to an addition of a lot of features which makes them less user-friendly, thereby losing steam on adoption.
As a company, we are the leaders in Post Silicon Validation space and have been involved with many semiconductor companies – including 5 of the top 10 mixed signal/analog semiconductor companies – to build standardized software frameworks and Database infrastructure to make Post Silicon Validation efficient.
In the past several years, semiconductor clients have consulted with Soliton to build solutions for problems that have been identified by them and our focus was to build technology solutions for those problems. Over time we have started to realize that as a consulting company, we should also help our clients to identify the right problems leveraging our domain expertise instead of merely building solutions utilizing our technical expertise.
Inspired by the Design Thinking Methodology, we have been engaging differently with our customers in the recent few months through a systematic study of how things are done today. We have been able to help our clients identify problem areas which were previously thought to be either non-existent or too minor to address, and have been able to make an incredibly large impact.
Below I will list down high-level steps we follow with our clients. In the interest of keeping this post short, I will skip details but hopefully, this post provides a good enough understanding of the process and the merits of using the Design Thinking approach.
Figure 1: From the book “Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers” by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie
We start off with a presentation to the customer’s management team on our methodology, since Design Thinking is relatively new to the Semiconductor Engineering Community. We walk through our process and show sample reports that we had created in the past. Although there are many illustrations on design thinking we find it most effective to use the figure 1 to convey the process. At this stage generally, our clients agree with some reservations since they are looking for solutions and we are proposing activities to find problems! But at the same time, our clients see the merit of the systematic approach that design thinking brings which is otherwise done by them in a more ad-hoc, unstructured manner.
During this phase, we purely focus on how things are done today with an intention of building deep empathy with the proposed end users of post-silicon validation tools. We engage with people at various levels in the client’s organization including validation engineers, Validation Managers, Project Managers, Systems Engineers, Design Engineers and many more. We quietly follow people in their day to day work and develop a deep appreciation of various aspects of their job, their likes and dislikes, their exciting and boring moments and many other aspects. In places where the engineers are not comfortable with us shadowing them, we engage with them through interviews to better understand their work.
We document & present our observations through a mind mapping exercise. This exercise is more of an information yard sale than a traditional mind map. This exercise helps us build a thorough understanding of the key problems areas to address.
We create a visual document that shows what part of the work that is exciting for an end user and what part of the work is boring for them using smiley faces. We also capture the amount of relative time spent on each of these activities. User Journey Map has helped us convey the message of where the improvement focus needs to be. Our message to our clients has been that Validation Engineers like to spend more time on core engineering activities and tools we build should help them do the rest of the work!. Through User Journey map, our clients realize that there are many non-core activities that validation engineers do today that could be either eliminated or made efficient in the future.
We end the “What Is” phase with the design criteria. Based on our explorations, User Journey Map and Mind Map we create a simple Design Criteria document that says what are the key aspects for the end solution. In this document, we have said things like
The subsequent stages of our engagement with our client involve a brainstorming session to come up with as many possible solutions as possible, A Napkin Pitch which is a more refined version of design criteria detailing the top things to experiment and build.
Beyond this, we follow the Lean Principles to develop only what is necessary and using Agile methodology to build things in the right way. This article provides a good outline on the benefits of combining Design Thinking, Lean and Agile.
Applying design thinking methodology to Post Silicon Validation provides us a creative framework to approach the problem in new ways like never before. Understanding the Users’ behavior, their struggles and emotions enable us to see the problems from users’ perspectives and that in turn is helping us take inspirations while building really cool and engaging solution. One challenging part of this methodology is to get an agreement to shadow engineers at their work. Some clients are able to find engineers who are comfortable to allow us and for others we do interviews. Also, Validation engineers in large organizations are globally distributed and sometimes we are not able to cover a certain geographic location, we mitigate the risk of not seeing enough by sharing some form of a global survey. In general, the activities that we do during the ‘What Is’ stage require very less time from the engineers if shadowing engineers for a day or two is acceptable to them.
In some instances, we can start new engagements by doing Steps 1 & 2 on a free no obligation basis. We provide Mind Map, User Journey Map, Design Criteria and a few other artifacts using which our clients understand “what are the key problems, that if solved can get them the maximum impact.”
For any question/suggestion, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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