Suppose you work for a technology company that makes chips (integrated circuits), and the following task was given to you.
Make sure that a chip design (already manufactured, and not designed by you) will function for customers at frequencies of F_low to F_high inclusive.
- Initial testing shows some issues at frequencies between F_low and F_high at certain process skews, voltages and temperatures. However, workarounds have been found for many of the issues, and for most of the rest, it was found that the customer does not care about the particular set conditions that makes the parts fail.
- However, at F_high, the design seems extremely marginal. All sorts of features fail under seemingly random conditions.
- You are allowed to come up with "solid workarounds" to make sure the parts going to customers will work with the "solid workarounds" in place. It is too late to make design changes to the chip itself. However, you can change software, firmware, external resistors, capacitors, cables, and so on, as long as the changes don't cause the customers to reorder parts or rewrite their software.
- You must come up with a "screen" to test parts to make sure they will work when the customers receive them...and the parts must last
- Many of the registers and pins have secret functions that you can only find out by asking the right person.
- The design itself is a closely guarded secret, but if you know the right people to ask, you can still get access to most of it without breaking any rules.
- The design is a complicated mix of analog and digital circuits.
- There is ample data collected on the problems, but very few conclusions, if any. Data collection is easy, making sense of the data at F_high is proving to be near impossible.
Further complications(not normal):
- You are part of a small group of people on this task
- Many of your peers and superiors seem to have given up, but still expect magic solutions
- Customers are already using parts and somehow that has to be managed (quiet recalls/part swaps, etc.)
- F_high has to work in two weeks, despite others having spent 3 months trying to make it work
I would like outsiders' views on the situation, but I cannot give many details due to my confidentiality agreement. Sorry. I would love to get technical, but this has to stay abstract.