Is IC Design Methodology At The Breaking Point?

Hardware designers need to look at Agile software development methods to see what can be applied.


Evidence is mounting that traditional “waterfall” methods used to develop complex ICs are reaching the breaking point. Consider that today:

  • Some IC designs contain more than 100 blocks that must be integrated from multiple sources
  • Design requirements are constantly in flux
  • Demands for low power and security are increasing as device connectivity grows
  • Software content is rising in end-system products and HW/SW co-design/verification is a must-have capability.

With consumer electronics and (IoT) end-system devices driving new market opportunities, time-to-market is now more critical than ever before. First mover advantage promises the lion’s share of profits, but getting to the first mover position is made more difficult due to mounting design methodology challenges. Design cycles are so short that the requirements are not fully known at project start and to complicate matters, the requirements continually change during the project. Highly interdependent end-system products often threaten tight project schedules and result in costly delays.

  • Problems with the “waterfall” IC design method are easy to observe. They include:
  • Assuming that every requirement can be identified before any design or coding occurs;
  • Proceeding in sequential operation with little parallelism;
  • Changes in one phase may result in a reset of all downstream steps;
  • While design reuse and use of purchased IP is allowed, it cannot be fully exploited, and
  • If one feature is causing a delay, it may be impossible to move forward with the rest of the design until it is resolved.

In general, the focus is on the process rather than the desired outcome.

What if IC design process took a page out of software development evolution to Agile methods? An Agile IC design methodology will provide the capability to make reasonable progress with an incomplete specification. It will help IC designers better solve modern challenges of time-to-market, power, and security. It will enable design teams to collaborate more effectively between architectural, logical, physical, and software design. And, it will make shipping “on-time” or early with a reduced feature set a realistic option.

Tell us what you think about the promise of Agile IC methodology for your company and development projects. How would you define Agile IC methodology and its benefits? Join the industry conversation on the LinkedIn Agile IC Methodology group page and get involved in the evolution of IC design for the 21st Century. Visit Agile IC Methodology Group.

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