Project Management in the Semiconductor Industry


October 3, 2022

Shop Now

We’ve discussed the semiconductor supply chain many times in this blog. Whether an organization is trying to manufacture something as popular as silicon semiconductors, or something as specific as InP reclaim wafers, there are a lot of moving parts that need to be accounted for.

One of the best ways for organizations to ensure the timeliness and cost-effectiveness of their production processes – even in the midst of uncertainty – is to ensure that their projects are being managed appropriately.

Today, we’ll go more in-depth on the importance of project management while also outlining the differences between the two biggest schools of project management: waterfall and agile.

What Is Project Management?

Project management is the discipline of leading a team to ensure it meets its goals on time.  

While it could be argued that engineers and architects have always managed their projects, the discipline really came into its own during the 1950s. It was during this period that the corporate world became interested in the field, establishing a body of knowledge around it.

Project management starts by taking a look at the goals of an individual or organization. What do they want? Why did they decide to put together the team in the first place? At this point, the project leader may need to determine if the goals are realistic and defined correctly.

Once the goals are established, they are then responsible for four different aspects of the project, referred to in project management circles as the “Four P’s”:

  • Plan
  • Process
  • People
  • Power

The Challenges Project Managers Face in the Semiconductor Industry

The semiconductor industry is extremely challenging for project managers, for several reasons:

Thin Profit Margins

Because competition is fierce and the manufacturing processes can be extremely complicated, semiconductor companies don’t have much room for error. A small error in a project could lead to massive cost overruns that make the entire project unprofitable.

Changing Demands

It isn’t always easy to gauge semiconductor demand. All kinds of things can happen in the world at large that influence the demand for a certain product. For instance, the increased demand we saw for automobiles in 2020 contributed to the semiconductor shortage.

While cryptocurrencies and gaming computers also led to spiking prices for semiconductors, the reverse has also often been true: it is all too easy for a glut of semiconductors to make the products profitable for no one.

Evolving Technology

The fact that technology evolves so quickly is one of the reasons semiconductor production is so cutthroat. Even if Moore’s Law is slowing down, older integrated circuits tend to be much less valuable than newer ones. They simply don’t have the same processing power.

If a delay sets semiconductor production back by several months, the semiconductors could be less desirable than those being released by a competitor.

How Project Management Helps

Depending on how a project’s management is organized, the project manager can help minimize the disruptive nature of surprises, while also keeping a close eye on the interests of stakeholders.

A good project manager takes ownership of a project, juggling the many tasks and decisions that can slow down design or production.

inp reclaim wafer

Agile Management Versus Waterfall Management

Given the importance of project management, it’s worth taking a look at how your organization currently handles project management, and how that aligns with the rest of the industry.

Agile Management

Agile management is a more iterative approach when compared to traditional project management. Teams work in “sprints,” meeting goals within short, established timeframes and making changes to accommodate any new client requests.

Agile management offers several important advantages to organizations:

  • It’s more flexible to changing market conditions.
  • It brings projects to completion much more quickly.
  • It focuses on increasing productivity over time.

Agile management has become increasingly “buzzy” in the tech world. Software companies have had a lot of success with this project management technique, using it to ensure that teams are responding quickly to market demands and shareholder concerns.

The semiconductor industry has been slower to use agile methodologies, which makes sense, given how expensive changes can get late in the production of an IC.

That said, there has been increased attention on the idea of incorporating some agile methodologies without completely abandoning the plans and documentation of the waterfall style.

While it’s not a good idea to “move fast and break things” in the semiconductor space, it’s still possible to use agile methodologies to get to know your team better, as well as responding better to shifting customer demand.

Waterfall Management

Waterfall management is linear by design. A roadmap is planned, clearly delineating each step of a project, and teams don’t proceed to the next step before they’ve completed the previous one.

There are some significant advantages to waterfall management:

  • It’s easier to predict and control costs when using the waterfall management method.
  • Inter-team coordination is less vital since everyone has agreed to an initial plan.
  • Documentation is encouraged, increasing structure and stability.

As things currently stand, waterfall management is more popular in the semiconductor industry. This actually makes sense when you consider the amount of money in play, as well as the complicated nature of the product.

Semiconductor designers and foundries want to ensure there aren’t any necessary overruns on their projects. The nature of manufacturing also means that waterfall management can be more cost-effective.

That said, the success of agile management in the software space is a good reason to consider implementing some agile practices.

Given the volatile nature of the world, it is much more difficult to guarantee the conditions that are best suited to waterfall management.

INP Reclaim Wafers

Looking for InP Reclaim Wafers?

You’ve come to the right place! At Wafer World, we work with semiconductor companies to ensure they get the wafers they need. The semiconductor supply chain is complicated enough: make it simpler by working with trusted partners who have been in this industry for decades.

Do you have any questions you’d like to ask us? Wondering if we can supply you with a wafer you can’t find on our website? Please don’t hesitate to contact us today. We’re excited to speak with you!

Wafer World Banner