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KIOXIA Corporation

Leader in semiconductor production discusses how Hyland's Alfresco platform transformed business agility and technical design workflows.

KIOXIA is a world leader in semiconductor production. Its main products are Flash Memory and Solid-State Drives (SSDs).

Introducing agile into the semiconductor production process

Question: How does KIOXIA use Jira Software and Alfresco Content Services?

At KIOXIA, we currently promote the practice of using "Agile" in semiconductor circuit design processes and introduced the Jira and Alfresco platforms to achieve this initiative.

Both platforms are used daily by design engineers and are highly popular in the circuit design department.

We started small and kept the use of Agile among key parties within the IT and circuit design departments. After its successful implementation and real-life use in actual circuit design, we expanded the use of Agile across all of the departments.

To date, KIOXIA’s Circuit Design Department managed its projects using the waterfall model (Vmodel). However, after the testing period, it was soon found that Agile was a better approach for semiconductor product design  due to the tight integration between Jira and Alfresco platform.

The new software that was introduced:

Names of software What it is/does
Jira Software World-standard Agile task management tool
Alfresco Connector for Jira An app that integrates Jira and the Alfresco platform
Alfresco Content Services A content manager solution that manages design and specification documents.

Question: Why did KIOXIA start using Agile? Can you give more details on how Agile is a better approach for semiconductor product design?

Let me start with the big picture. As a matter of convenience, we called it Agile Promotion for now, but Agile is a complementary method of design project management. We keep using waterfall approach as well for giant milestones of our design as a whole, but now it’s more like a hybrid management style.

Agile brings us closer to our teams at the design stations, which enables tighter and more efficient management of their schedules.

Since the price of semiconductor memory products cycle quickly between high and low cost when they first arrive in the market, development speed is crucial. If we're too sluggish, our competitors will get ahead of us, causing us to miss out when we could have gained the most. However, if we focus too much on speed, we are not being able to become truly competitive.

If we were a software startup, we could prioritize speed and get our products out to market more quickly, using online updates and patches to fix bugs after launch. But with semiconductors, which are hardware components rather than software, this approach is not feasible. KIOXIA has been producing semiconductors with huge memory capacities for many years. We must continue to protect and maintain the high quality of our products before they go to market.

KIOXIA’s competitors are bigger, designs have become more complicated, and development time has decreased, but we still want to put out the best products as quickly as possible. Otherwise, we can't hope to be profitable. It's a tough business, if I do say so myself.

As you know, waterfall is the standard method for managing product development for semiconductors. With waterfall, we first decide on a scope and deadline based off the project's specs and results. Then we reverse-engineer the process and carry it to completion. On the other hand, Agile is not suitable for managing everything that was set up in the beginning in the same way waterfall can. Because of this, I doubt waterfall will cease to be the industry standard.

However, we found some weaknesses with waterfall.

Question: What sort of weaknesses with waterfall design did you encounter?

There are three main weaknesses: Difficulty in responding to the changed conditions during development, a lack of efficiency and designers don't feel independent. These weaknesses led us to the conclusion that we needed to promote the use of Agile.

Weakness #1: It's difficult to adapt when conditions change during development.

New products cycle in and out all the time in the semiconductor industry. And since technology evolves with each passing day, it's not uncommon for techniques that didn't exist during development to come into being, or for our competitors to act in unforeseen ways.

And since waterfall is set up to quietly carry out the plan as it was first conceptualized, changing the plan halfway through to accommodate any changes that arise is fundamentally difficult. But Agile helps us adapt, well, agilely.

Weakness #2: It's inefficient.

There are two sides to circuit design: digital just like a software and analogue as a hardware. "The logical system design was correct, but our actual outcomes are not what we anticipated." This is an everyday occurrence with designers, who must redo their designs again and again. We feel that Agile is more flexible than waterfall with regard to this challenge.

Weakness #3: Designers don't feel independent.

Waterfall, where all the engineering is elaborately composed, represents one type of management development. Many of us like to think we're in charge of our own work, but we hate how this sense of independence easily crumbles away.

When introducing Agile, we asked our design department if they would define its goal as "increasing productivity" or as "making the designers' jobs easier." And our designers answered they thought Agile's goal was to make the designers' jobs easier.

We would like to change our former mindset of "A manager checks over the progress of our projects for us," to a more positive "The team manages itself!" All of our technicians are creative types who love to build and test things. We want to further develop their initiative and creative spirit by 120%. This may very well be, perhaps, the most important goal associated with our introduction of Agile.

Question: Could you tell us why you chose Jira and Alfresco?

We selected Jira first. Since it is a tool that design engineers use on-site, there were three requirements: it must run without stress, it’s easy and intuitive to use, and there is less burden on engineers. In addition, it was important not just for a single project, but as a system for the intersection of many projects to be flexibly managed by a designer. Also, changing the settings on a project-to-project basis can be done with ease and independence. We started small, just to test it out. We only discovered Jira's true value when we started using it.

As our Agile development team started using Jira, they found issues when dealing with sensitive or very large files. Alfresco platform resolved those issues. Additionally, Ricksoft made partial improvements on their Alfresco platform connector for Jira to meet our needs.

Question: Could you explain in more detail how you came to understand Jira's true value by using it?

There are five benefits we can name after using both programs.

Benefit #1: Using Jira helped develop Agile.

Jira is a project management tool that was created with inspiration from Agile-type software development. This means that using Jira to work on projects made it feel like Agile development. For example, entering numbers onto Jira's ticket's list of estimates connects with Agile's story points, and with the entered numerical values reflected in the various standard implemented Burndown and Velocity charts, you can give feedback on the activities using Agile's operation report. Additionally, you can use Jira's functions to support the introduction of Agile concepts like backlogs, velocity charts, sprints and kanban.

In Agile's seminars and publications, I've heard things like, "Agile's development board should use flexible things like imitation paper and Post-its." Individual users have reported that using Jira boards do feel similar to analogue imitation paper.

Benefit #2: Intuitive to use. Its instructions are minimal.

Techies are busy people, so they don't like to deal with any tasks other than tech. Introducing new software with a steep learning curve is difficult. Jira is not only intuitive to use, but it easily manages the daily tasks of our technicians. Many design technicians use Jira well. I think it's a very good interface.

Benefit #3: By adding Alfresco, we can manage documents more securely.

The security levels of technical documentation for semiconductor memory are quite high. Jira's file management system is quite similar to Agile. Since it's oriented toward information sharing, we were unable to achieve the level of document security we desired. To remedy this, we started using a connector from Ricksoft that seamlessly links Alfresco platform's document management system to Jira.

Alfresco platform is a document management system that manages technical documents securely. But if Jira's tasks and results are managed separately, operations will not run smoothly. To solve this, we started using Ricksoft's Alfresco platform connector for Jira, which made the platform seamlessly become a part of Jira.

For technicians, by using Jira at work and uploading files, it is possible to achieve the kind of document management the company requires. This is why technicians use Alfresco platform through Jira without having to think about it.

Benefit #4: Full overview is possible.

Our IT department manages Jira. It's always important that they can have a full overview of all projects. With some tools, in order to set a project's invidual management items, you need to separate each instance, creating the need for as many system managements as projects. Since Jira can define individual schemas for each project, multiple projects can be organized under one system, which makes the IT department's system management job much easier.

Benefit #5: It is easy to combine waterfall style management.

Jira is fundamentally a simple and flexible tool that helps manage information. Because of this, when we started using Jira, we were thinking of using a different project management package for waterfall, in managing development life cycles. However, since Jira  with the security and freedom from adding on Alfesco  is highly regarded among design technicians, we decided to start also managing waterfall with Jira.

Question: What advice would you offer other companies considering Agile?

Start small. And let your teams just try it out. I think that’s the best advice I can give. If you have many employees, they probably won’t like the idea of changing up how they work. If you try to force Agile on them without any warning, you’ll be met with some pretty strong resistance.

But if you give them a good tool to use to implement their good ideas, and if you let them experience its benefits firsthand, I’m sure they’ll come around. In our own company, the technicians who were most resistant using Agile at first are now some of Agile’s main proponents. Technicians seem to respect what’s logical and acknowledge what’s good when they see it. Keep that in mind when you start off small with Agile  just start using it.

I’m sure you’ll run into various issues when trying to promote the use of Agile. But if that happens, Ricksoft has your back. In our own projects, Ricksoft stepped in to offer solutions to many of our problems.

Future expectations

Question: Could you tell us about your future expectations of Atlassian, Alfresco and Ricksoft?

We aim to continue to be world leaders in the development and production of quality semiconductor memory products. To that end, we look forward to Atlassian, Alfresco platform and Ricksoft's support in helping us make quality products and technology.