The rapidly growing number of features and options in chip design are forcing engineering teams to ratchet up their planning around who does what, when it gets done, and how various components will interact.

In effect, more elements in the design flow need to be choreographed much more precisely. Some steps have to shift further left, while others need to be considered earlier in the planning process even if the work happens later in the flow. Otherwise, problems can crop up anytime in the design cycle that are more costly to fix, and schedules may be delayed that can leave some resources idle while others are scrambling to meet deadlines.

This planning involves people, tools, and technology, and it becomes more challenging as device complexity increases and as demands grow for increased reliability and more customization.

“When I started my career, it would take us three days to do the physical design part of the chip, and you’d be doing something else at the same time,” said Graham Curren, CEO of Sondrel. “Nowadays, it will take a team of 50 to 100 people 18 months to do the same job. The scale of the teams is hugely different, which is reflected in how you manage them. If you’ve got a team of one or a team of five, you can manage that team yourself. If you’ve got a team of 25, you suddenly create another level of hierarchy. If you’ve got a team of 125, you’ve got yet another level of hierarchy and management structure.”

Coupled with that is the complexity of the designs themselves. Curren recalls designing chips from gates. “Nowadays, it’s rare not to have six or eight microprocessors, a few GPUs, a neural network, a bunch of HDMIs and USBs, and all sorts of other things. Each one of those is very complicated in its own right.”

This complexity is inevitable and cannot be designed out. While there may be no way to reduce it, there are ways to manage its effects.

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