Why Intel's labs celebrate product failures

Ditching expensive failures before they can reach the market

Finding a path

Rattner says for the first 15 years of its existence Intel avoided using the term 'research' unless it was directly related to product development. This was because Intel's founders, including Gordon Moore, had problems progressing semiconductor research at their old company. It wasn't until the mid 80s that asmall research team were allowed to form.

"It was a relatively small organisation if you think of Intel's industry leading semiconductor technology" muses Rattner. "Many of the stunning Intel chip advances were work created by this one research team. What separates them is how they get their inventions out of the lab and into the factory. The key to this is pathfinding."

"The question was 'how do we improve the hit rate of technology coming out of the lab and into products'? It was the fact that the timing difference between what was going on in research and what was going on in product development was out.

"It was difficult to get [technical] developments into the product development part of the lifecycle. The research had potential to kill technologies before they had gone anywhere; it was like a 'valley of death' they had to pass through. This includes technologies such as virtualisation. We doubled down and managed to get virtualisation on the next generation processor feature set.

Rattner says there's no actual pathfinding department at Intel. "Really the pathfinding department is a senior technologist and an admin. It's formed on the fly of researchers and developers who come together for a period of, say, 18 months with the purpose of finding a technology for a future development processor technology.

"They've hit every Moore's Law deadline, often with months to spare. They have a 100 per cent success rate. The challenge was how to scale that pathfinding process to cover the dozens of different technologies that go into a new Intel chip. Despite our fears, extending this to various areas of research has been a huge success for our company." Intel now has over 50 pathfinding teams at any one time.