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Walt Maclay’s advice on electrical and firmware development


Walt Maclay, Voler Systems President, was one of three expert leaders for the Expert Session on Engineering Design & Development at the 2018 Silicon Valley Hardware Symposium on September 20, 2018, along with Mark Brinkerhoff of FusionDesign and Bob Martin at Microchip. The expert leaders shared personal tips with session participants during the two afternoon breakout sessions which featured a lively and collegial exchange of information and networking. The Product Realization Group published a compilation of tips from the expert sessions, Expert Tips from the 2018 Silicon Valley Hardware Symposium, which is available for download from their website.

Here some of Walt’s tips for electrical and firmware development:

TIP #1: Communication, the Most Overlooked Aspect of Design

To be successful, on time, and on budget requires a lot of communication between the design team and the rest of the product development team. Start with a detailed set of requirements to take away any uncertainty about what is to be designed. Continue with weekly meetings.

TIP #2: Value Project Management

A good project manager keeps the project on schedule, on budget, and makes the resulting product easy to manufacture. The project manager’s most important tool is communication.

TIP #3 : The Voice of the Customer in Design

Use the voice of the customer to create the requirements for a product.  Typically, marketing is involved in bringing the voice of the customer to the creation of the requirements.

TIP #4: Firmware Requirements Are Hard to Write

To write good firmware requirements, describe what the device will do. Describe it in terms of inputs, processing, and outputs, with specific quantities and speeds. Here is a whitepaper about how to write them and templates.

TIP #5: Focus Early on Technical Risks

Focus early on the risky parts of your project. Identify and resolve the risky things first. You may need to make major changes that affect everything else. You may need to build prototypes to determine if you can achieve what you want. You may find that the compromises required to mitigate risk are not acceptable to the customer. Find this out before spending a lot of time and money.

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