The Heilmeier Catechism

George H. Heilmeier, director of DARPA (the advanced-technology research agency of the US Defense Department) from 1975 to 1977, formulated a set of questions to help evaluate research proposals.

  • What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon.
  • How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?
  • What is new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
  • Who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make?
  • What are the risks?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • What are the mid-term and final “exams” to check for success?

Certainly nothing more than common sense, on some level, but valuable to have them all collected in one place.

The first, fourth, and last items stand out as the “key” questions to ask.

Also interesting to see that time does not equal money in this list. This captures the observation that some tasks cannot be sped up beyond a certain point by throwing more people at them.

The list of items can be found on the DARPA website, and on Heilmeier’s Wikipedia page.