Social Software Speeds Team Decision Making

This was originally published as “Impact of Social Media Tools on the Speed of Team Decision Making” in the July 14 DACEzine. I am re-publishing it here as a reminder for the “Tweet, Blog or News: How Do I Stay Current?” Pavilion Panel tomorrow Wednesday July 29, 4:00 – 5:00pm at the Design Automation Conference.

One of the most significant impacts from social media technologies will be to improve the speed and quality of business decisions. Social media tools foster team collaboration and speed a group’s ability to build consensus, solve problems and make decisions. For example, Twitter speeds the delivery of actionable, targeted intelligence to decision makers. Dashboards and social networking tools are great examples of technology complementing and enhancing face-to-face and phone conversations. They allow a team or group to maintain a shared awareness of an evolving project or design issue, enabling faster decisions because there is less time needed to establish and review context.Take Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, delicious and wiki software and contrast them to how design and verification teams communicate.

With social media tools, we can narrowcast information to select groups, sending appropriate information to different sets of recipients. Some of these messages are sent automatically when we add a new connection or register to attend an event. Twitter (or its company private alternatives like yammer) allows you to easily notify a group of a status change or new development. Delicious allows me to share bookmarks easily with others in my “network” and be alerted by them to new and interesting sites. If my team is working in a wiki I can be notified–via e-mail or RSS–when anyone else in the group changes a page, and if I am curious I can query the revision system to show me in detail what was changed.

The various teams involved in a design project (e.g. RTL, verification, layout, timing, etc …) have similar needs — as does the project and its management superstructure as a whole — but use very different tools. We have RTL code to be reviewed, we have check in events and comments, and we have test failures and failing timing paths. All of these can be the focus of a conversation — and a negotiation — whether it is held in a meeting, a conference call, IM chat, or E-Mail.

I think one reason that social networking and social media tools are not more widely adopted in EDA is that the majority of design and verification information is not generated or delivered in a format that can be shared easily. It’s rarely in HTML form, it may be in ASCII as many large log files are, but ASCII does not support links to other relevant information. Often the information is in design files, waveform files, log files, source control databases, and coverage databases, all of which may require special tools and licenses to access.

I think we will see the impact from social media change from a companion technology to a disruptive technology. If we incorporate social media tools into EDA environments, they will change engineering practices for bug-tracking, project status assessments, and related methods for assessing project health. There will be a much better audit trail for every line of code, every test executed, and every check in. These streams of conversations will complement the formal bug report process, providing some structure to what are ad hoc conversations around “is this a real bug” or databases full of bugs that the team may not be committed to taking action on. The healthy back-and-forth between design and verification engineers could be automatically tracked to a check in.

The first order impact would likely be to make team meetings more productive. Team collaboration tools will fundamentally speed up the design team’s ability to build consensus, make decisions, follow up, and solve problems. Everyone could sign up for notifications when a design file changes because on balance it lets folks know when and where work is being done or where the conversation is taking place. The second order impact will be more rapid decision making as less time is required to establish context, either from project history or across projects.

Join us for a more in-depth look at this at the panel discussion, “Tweet, Blog or News: How Do I Stay Current?
Wednesday July 29, 4:00 – 5:00pm Pavilion Panel at Design Automation Conference.

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