Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Successful Multi-Site Collaboration

When you hear the term “collaboration” in reference to IC design what comes to mind? Is it multiple physical design locations working on the same project? Or is it the ability of a design team to work well together, or maybe a combination of both? The dictionary definition of collaboration is “to work jointly with others, especially in an intellectual endeavor”.

The definition is fairly generic and says nothing about physical location(s), excellence, approach, predictability, synchronization, expected results or that the others even agree on a common strategy. However, in chip design these items are essential components of successful project collaboration. Some organizations are successful building true collaborative teams and some are not.

If you believe there is an ideal software product(s) that will make multi-site collaborative design projects a blazing success, you are missing a fundamental concept about collaboration. Successful design collaboration is about managing people. The primary emphasis must be placed on maximizing individual contribution, or your efforts will be certain to produce disappointing results. Management complexity increases greatly when the collaborative effort spans multiple countries, further amplifying the necessity of superior people management skills to bind the team as a single entity. There are two key components to a successful collaborative project; team unity and a solid, effective and broad communication strategy.

Team Unity
Team unity begins with an altering of the entire teams mind set from one of “us and them” to “we”. This is the primary hurdle and it will be the largest challenge. Without addressing this major barrier to true collaborative efforts, your projects will be filled with fault finding, limited information sharing, lack of trust and an attitude of protecting “my” knowledge. Evolving the team towards a unified front starts with a change in the way you make reference to the collaborative team. The foremost step towards team unity is by only referring to the team as “we” and the avoidance of singling out a team subset by functional or physical boundaries. Secondly, include the broad collaborative team in any verbal or written discussions related to planning, strategies, decisions, risk mitigation, meetings or summaries. Focus on these two points and you will find that implementation is simple, change is gradual and results are profound.

In any quality collaborative team the communication dynamics are well defined and effectively utilized. A rigorous system and/or process must be in place to ensure that the entire team understands objectives, deliverable requirements and timeline expectations. If anything on the project changes, a technical obstacle comes up or requirements are modified the team must flawlessly be involved. An environment that depends on hallway discussions to manage a project will quickly diminish the effectiveness of any collaborative effort. A reliance on one on one verbal communications excludes parties that may have a vested interest in the topic. Small group discussions also fails to keep the team properly synchronized and erodes the team unity. Keeping an emphasis on information flow and sharing will provide a simple path towards genuine collaboration.