Everyone says they want to increase their IC development productivity, but what do they really mean by that?
"We must increase our IC development productivity!" is the persistent invocation from semiconductor industry executives, and it's getting louder by the day. It's not surprising. Yet when I ask the question, "What do you mean by productivity?," executives and R&D managers often give vague answers. Few seem to have a firm grasp of the definition, other than saying "we need to finish projects on schedule, reduce development cycle times and use fewer engineers." As a characterization of the benefits of boosting productivity, it's not a bad start.
It reminds me of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's comment in a landmark First Amendment case in which he described the challenge of defining pornography: "Pornography is hard to define, but I know it when I see it." Maybe semiconductor executives are saying the same thing: "Increased productivity is hard to define, but I know it when I see it." Justice Stewart subsequently recanted, concluding that pornography can be indeed defined. So too can productivity.
As a starting point, consider the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC)'s definition of manufacturing productivity: "Output divided by Labor-input." Output is the difference between the widget's selling price and the cost of materials comprising it. Labor-input is the effort expended on manufacturing it (in person-hours). The dimensions of manufacturing productivity are therefore: Dollars per person-hour.
We can use a similar approach to quantify IC development productivity: Output/Labor-input. However, Output must be a calculation of the design's complexity as opposed to value-add. That's because complexity is a measure of the development team's output. For the moment, let's assume we can calculate it—a challenge, but one that's definitely achievable.
Labor-input, the denominator, is the total effort the IC development team spends on the project from start to finish. The start milestone is "begin concept definition." The finish milestone is release-to-volume production. Consistent accounting from one project to the next is a must. Also, it's more reliable to use full-time equivalents (FTE's) instead of counting person-hours, where one person working full-time for a week is a an FTE, or a "person-week."
Adapting the DoC's mfg. productivity definition to IC development productivity yields a productivity metric whose dimensions are: Total IC development effort expended divided into the chip's design complexity (i.e. "Complexity/Effort"). The key question of course is how to accurately calculate design complexity?
Ronald Collett is president and CEO of Numetrics, which provides fact-based project planning and benchmarking software that improves IC development productivity and schedule predictability.