Monday, March 03, 2008

Contrasting the PM Practices of IT and Semiconductor Businesses

We all have a moderately good knowledge of formal Project Management and most of us will answer positively if asked about the use of a formalized management process on projects in our organizations. My observation is that most mature semiconductor business units have embraced formal Project Management at the business level but it is much less practiced, or even acknowledged in the engineering teams themselves. This is a key difference between the semiconductor and Information Technology worlds. IT businesses largely embrace all aspects of formal Project Management for New Product Development while the semiconductor businesses typically have a PM system in place, although the level of implementation is usually far less. In fact most of the new project management philosophies have their roots in the IT industry, further strengthening their position as a PM driver and innovator.

Why would there be such a gap in the level of formal Project Management commitment between these two industries? Is it the size and complexity of the projects? Is it management's commitment to Project Management? Is it that engineering team resistance is greater in the semiconductor business? Good questions, although the answers are of little relevance. Of major importance is that IT teams believe in fully engaging formal Project Management techniques as the best path for their projects success. This fact is something that those of us in the semiconductor business should take note of, as the demands for faster and better product releases (revenue generation) drives us down a path of continuous improvement.

We must candidly assess the effectiveness of formal Project Management for our businesses. If projects are honestly exceeding the needs of the business then it is a safe assumption that the PM implementation in place is working well. However, if projects exhibit a level of unpredictability and delays I suggest a serious look at the depth of Project Management practices in your organization. By depth I mean how far the formal Project Management reach is into each of your NPD team disciplines. If an organization has formal Project Management in place at the business level while the planning and tracking of projects for product engineering, design, test and so on does not fully embrace formal PM practices, then it is improbable that a business level Project Management implementation will be successful. Garbage in, garbage out type of analogy would best describe this scenario.

Ideally there must be an individual that understands formal Project Management practices within each of your disciplines; someone who is experienced in the principals and knows both the technical activity flow and the technical tradeoffs. This individual would ask the tough questions and can visualize the sequence of tasks along with the required deliverables/receivables for each. Essentially you are looking for a project manager type mind set within each discipline that can properly identify and frame the project activities for that group. Either there is a project manager that has the exceptional background to properly assess and plan the activities for all disciplines, or that talent must be developed within each discipline to deliver accurate project planning and tracking data to the project manager.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I agree with your view that although there is scope of using PM practices in Semiconductor industry, it is still not embraced as a second habit.

    My view is that this is because of the following reasons:
    - The technology changes are fast making methodologies also change with it
    - Project Managers are required to adapt to these changes at a very fast pace - this builds resistance towards PM practices
    - Value chain is long - due to the concept of outsourcing, there are just too many parties involved in the entire ASIC design cycle: tracking each of them is very tough - another reason that builds resistance
    - PM tools not mature enough to accomodate iterations involved in ASIC design cycle

    In fact, I tried using MPP and found it extremely daunting when it came to reforecasting of schedules, inserting iterations etc.

    There are some PMs who are good at it and can keep up to the change. But largely, the PM population is hesitant to put PM mechanism to use.