Still managing FPGA requirements with Word and Excel?

Smart tips for safety-critical applications, like DO-254

Louie De Luna, Aldec DO-254 Program Manager
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Smart engineers work smart by using tools that are readily available and that they know how to use.  Wise engineers work wisely by first evaluating the options, analyzing the results and making a strategic decision not only for the current project  but, more importantly, for upcoming projects as well.

Recently, a customer developing avionics systems came to us with their frustrations in managing FPGA requirements.  They managed higher level requirements, such as line replaceable unit (LRU) and circuit card assembly (CCA) requirements, in IBM DOORS. The FPGA requirements, test cases and their traceability to HDL design, testbench and simulation results were managed using Word and Excel.  Since DOORS lacked the capability to trace to FPGA design and verification elements necessary for DO-254 compliance, the customer felt they had to choose Word and Excel.

Why? Because Word and Excel are readily available and the team members already know how to use them.  But as their projects grew in complexity increasing the number of requirements to be managed, they found that Word and Excel have many shortcomings and realized that they are not the right tool when it comes to requirements management and traceability. 

 

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The downside to managing requirements in Word and Excel:

 

  • Limited or no traceability – The only way to facilitate traceability with Excel is by manually entering the relationships between elements.  Relationships between FPGA requirements, HDL design, test cases and testbench are typically 1 to 1, 1 to many or many to 1, and they must be accurately entered in Excel spreadsheets.  This is a very tedious and error-prone process most especially if you have hundreds and thousands of FPGA requirements.
  • No impact analysis – No traceability means no impact analysis reports.  This is definitely a red flag because requirement changes happen frequently. Prior to the requirements change, project managers need to analyze the downstream impact to the FPGA design and verification elements and the upstream impact to the CCA and LRU requirements.  Impact analysis reports are essential to project management – these types of reports help project managers react and plan accordingly before a requirement change occurs.
  • No automated status reporting – FPGA design and verification engineers need notification when a requirement has been created, changed, reviewed, approved or rejected because this directly impacts their design and verification activities. These notifications are typically sent manually via emails or in-house wiki.  Project managers need daily, weekly or monthly reports of the project status so that they can determine how many FPGA requirements have not been implemented or coded by FPGA designers, how many FPGA requirements have not been covered by a test case and how many test cases have passed or failed.  These types of status reports cannot be automated by standard processes.
  • Impedes collaboration and lacks audit trail – For a given project, multiple stakeholders are usually involved who must work efficiently together to ensure success of the project. Word and Excel do not provide concurrent access and unique access rights capabilities for the stakeholders to efficiently finalize or modify requirements. When managing multiple versions of documents the audit trail and history of changes need to be properly recorded as well.  It is important to be able to answer questions like - Who made changes to the existing data? When and why?
  • Lack of a structured process control – Using Word and Excel as tools to manage requirements and traceability hinders productivity because it does not facilitate a structured process –which is a key factor to a project’s success.  A structured process, more importantly a requirements-driven process, is necessary for DO-254 compliance.

 

These are just a few of the many limitations of Word and Excel when using them for requirements management and traceability.  If you’re a smart engineer at a crossroads, contemplating whether to migrate from Word and Excel, picture yourself excruciatingly copy-pasting traceability in a spreadsheet for hours and days. Just when you’ve successfully completed it, you have to do it again because your project manager tells you that 20% of the requirements have changed.

Don’t simply accept the fact that you know there is a solution out there in the industry, but you have no time or bandwidth to evaluate and migrate. If you’re a wise engineer, explore and test drive your options. Then make a strategic decision based on the results. 

 

About Spec-TRACER™

Spec-TRACER is a requirements management and traceability tool that works hand in hand with DOORS to extend traceability to HDL design, testbench, code coverage results and simulation results. For more information about Spec-TRACER, visit www.aldec.com/en/products/requirements_management/spec-tracer.

 

Louie is responsible for FPGA level in-target testing technology and requirements lifecycle management for DO-254 and other safety-critical industry standards.  He received his B.S. in Computer Engineering from University of Nevada in 2001.  His practical engineering experience includes areas in Acceleration, Emulation, Co-Verification and Prototyping, and he has held a wide range of engineering positions that include FPGA Design Engineer, Applications Engineer, Product Manager and Project Manager.

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