Building the Right Team for Electronics Design: A Deeper Investigation

October 22, 2019 Ari Mahpour

In Building the Right Team for Electronics Design: An Introduction we discussed the concept of creating a diverse team of people with a diverse set of skills. In today’s market, it is virtually impossible to build a team of homogenous engineers who can deliver from start to finish. Each engineer, possessing unique skill sets, contributes to the sum of parts within the design lifecycle. In this article, we will dive more deeply into the different personality types and how to play to their strengths—specifically which part of the process to which they can contribute the most. Utilizing tools within Altium Designer® and Altium Concord Pro we will review how to hone in on each person’s sweet spot and focus their creative energy where they are the most effective.

Workflow Assumptions

There are many different workflows and ways in which people work. This can vary by personality, company, culture, etc. In this article we focus on a module-based workflow, where part of the team creates design blocks, and the others generate a design using those blocks. Additionally, we have characterized six different personality types you might find on a team. In reality, your team may consist of just some or even none of these personality types, so this article is only being used as an example to illustrate how to play to team members' strengths.

Recall the six different team members discussed in Building the Right Team for Electronics Design: An Introduction. They are:

  1. Subject Matter Expert
  2. Analyzer
  3. Fresh Out
  4. Architect
  5. Diver
  6. Leader

Using a Venn diagram of the two groups, block producers, and block consumers, we can categorize each team member as a producer, consumer, or both.

Venn Diagram showing block producers which contain the analyzer and the diver on one side, block consumers which contains the architect and the leader on the other side, and a shared area containing the fresh out and the subject matter expert

Figure 1. Depiction of team members and their roles with respect to block production/consumption

The producers are the ones who build each circuit block into a Device Sheet or Managed Schematic Sheet within a  Hierarchical Design. For an optimal workflow, I recommend a Managed Schematic Sheet using Altium Concord Pro™, as it performs all the release cycling for you, enabling you to distribute the workload across the team. The consumers are the ones who are taking these design blocks and dropping them into their designs. Both groups depend on each other, and in this environment the team thrives when they are able to focus within their realm.

Two Buckets: Producers and Consumers

We’ve taken each type of designer and intentionally classified them as a producer, consumer, or both. We do this to utilize them at their maximum potential. Here is a quick summary on our classification for each archetype.

  1. Analyzer: The analyzer’s strengths lies within working through the details within the design blocks. For this reason we want them focusing on reviewing every detail to make sure that block is perfect.

  2. Diver: Divers love going deep into a project, and as a result, should be focused on getting into the details of block building. Focusing narrowly on how to create the block (versus how to use them) makes the most use of their abilities.

  3. Fresh Out: The fresh out is usually a junior engineer with limited experience or someone who just finished school. They still have not figured out whether they want to be a producer or consumer of blocks. It is important to give them the opportunity to experience both sides, which is why we place them in the crossroads between the two. They can learn how to build hierarchical designs by producing blocks, but at the same time, create some of those blocks themselves. It is important, however, that an Analyzer (or other engineer) review their produced blocks to validate that they can be re-used among the team. This is where the importance of Managed Sheets in the Vault (now Altium Concord Pro) comes in. The workflow has been designed for you so your team does not have to spend the time reinventing the wheel.

  4. Subject Matter Expert: Naturally one would expect the subject matter expert to fall into the producer bucket. The subject matter expert narrowly focuses on a specific technology that usually ends up within blocks. In Figure 1, the subject matter expert sits between the two groups. This is due to the fact that the subject matter experts also understand the application of their technology, therefore, it is imperative that they are part of the review and discussion process of the block consumption. Questions, such as how to use that circuit and the application of that technology can sometimes only be answered by an expert in that subject.

  5. Architect: By the title of these folks,it is clear what their role is: to take each block and architect it into a masterpiece. These engineers understand the high-level function of a design and can easily see the forest for the trees. These individuals should be focusing on their biggest strength: architecting.

  6. Leader: The majority of the time, leaders are not involved in the design, but when they are it is important that they focus only on the high level details (similar to the architect). If they get bogged down in the weeds then they may not be able to focus on what is more important for the group and company as a whole. Playing to their strengths, leaders should be focusing on the block consumption rather than the block production.

Conclusion

In this article, we discussed the concepts of block production and consumption with respect to hierarchical design. We evaluated each engineer type presented in Building the Right Team for Electronics Design: An Introduction and placed in with the appropriate block bucket. After we understand where to place each team member and how to play to their strengths we can start to develop a solid process on how to recruit, build, and grow our design engineering team to its fullest capabilities.

Would you like to find out more about how Altium can help you with your next PCB design? Talk to an expert at Altium and learn more about making design decisions with ease and confidence.

About the Author

Ari Mahpour

Ari is an engineer with broad experience in designing, manufacturing, testing, and integrating electrical, mechanical, and software systems. He is passionate about bringing design, verification, and test engineers together to work as a cohesive unit.

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