Why Don’t Software Management Tools Cut it for Hardware Design?

November 24, 2021

Software engineers have lots of management tools to choose from (Jira, Asana, Wrike, and monday.com to name a few). For hardware engineers, there aren’t nearly as many options. The lack of hardware-specific tools has led hardware engineers to adopt their software peers’ tools, despite having fundamentally different work processes. Since these tools aren’t designed with hardware engineering in mind, hardware engineers are forced to piecemeal together features from a handful of platforms. Those in software, on the other hand, will have tools that fit into their entire workflows. Having a comprehensive workflow is essential to success, and that’s where hardware engineering can learn from software engineering!

By assigning different tools to different parts of the work process, hardware engineers worsen information loss and lengthen design reviews. With each tool used, the opportunity for miscommunication and wasted time increases greatly. Software engineers can avoid this, because they have tools created specifically around their workflows. They’re able to work on every phase of their projects in one centralized platform—accelerating information retrieval and cutting out unnecessary steps. This all comes down to having a toolset that fosters a streamlined workflow. With tools designed specifically for them, hardware engineers can experience the same value that software engineers get from theirs. 

To see the difference having a workflow makes, we’ll explore the different functions hardware and software engineers need from their tools:

Issue Tracking

Software engineers use tools like Jira, Wrike, Asana, and monday.com to manage their open issues and track their tickets. These tools are built around software’s lifecycle in which engineers build, release, and continuously change code. These platforms fit into their workflows and digest the content that they put in.  

In contrast, the content that hardware engineers need to upload—design files, BOMs, and many other files—aren’t supported. The process of hardware design is also much different from the continuous nature of software. Subsequently, hardware engineers resort to using tools like Jira solely as a to-do list and sharing assets elsewhere. 

While software engineers can reference specific lines of code within their tools, hardware engineers are unable to close the feedback loop between their design workstation and feedback-tracking workspace by concretely referencing designs. Instead, they need to use screenshots, which live outside of their management tools. The same tools can have unequal uses and benefits between the hardware and software industries.

Data Storage

Tracking changes is vital in both software and hardware, but the changes made in these projects differ greatly . Despite the different needs, they both often use Git to manage changes over the life cycles of their projects. Git works well with code but doesn’t provide the same benefits when used with hardware designs. Git allows software engineers to understand changes easily and intuitively by showing the parts of code that have changed. This makes it infinitely easier to run the code review process. But when used for hardware, Git is unable to manage the binary nature of design changes. Therefore, hardware engineers miss out on a core benefit of Git that software developers can take full advantage of. 

Other data storage systems, like Google Drive and DropBox, that hardware teams use lack even more features. They’re unable to render models, they have no form of version control, and their naming conventions easily become disorganized. They act simply as a place to upload files. These systems are simply not scalable as teams grow and iterate more.

Sharing Files

Sharing and collaborating is easy in software where engineers can simply copy and paste code. Design files and models are much trickier. For example, many stakeholders within the hardware design process don’t have access to expensive licenses needed to view files. To remedy this problem, hardware engineers will take screenshots and send them off over email. There are also some ad-hoc, lightweight solutions that allow engineers to upload their files and create a link to send. However, this process easily becomes cumbersome as design reviews involve countless iterations and models. Both methods of sharing files are  very manual, decentralized processes that slow down communication and design reviews. 

What’s the Solution?

To find a solution for the problems that hardware engineers face, we can look to their software counterparts who use tools that perfectly complement their workflows. Software engineers have centralized tools that are tailored to their needs, and these tools streamline their processes. 

And, that’s where Bild comes in for hardware design! Our centralized platform allows engineers to combine all the features they need in one space rather than piecemealing individual features from different systems. For teams that want to continue sitting on some of their current systems, we even offer integrations to their existing tools! 

To learn more, book a demo!