A peek behind DARPA's innovation success

Some of the agency's tricks for picking projects

The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Project Agency is known for highly innovative technologies, and part of its success is in knowing which projects to pursue. One of its secrets is to start each potential project with the same set of concrete questions, writes Ted Greenwald at Forbes.

DARPA evaluates potential projects by asking a series of questions that were originally compiled by a former director of ARPA--DARPA's predecessor--George Heilmeier, Greenwald writes. The questions, dubbed the Heilmeier Catechism, are:

  • What problem are you solving, in plain English? How do you propose to solve it?
  • How is the problem managed today, and what are the limits of that approach?
  • What's different about your solution, and what gives you hope that it will succeed?
  • If your solution is successful, what impact will it have? How will it be that impact be measured?
  • How will the program be organized?
  • What intermediate results will it generate to help determine whether it's on track?
  • How will you measure its progress?
  • What will it cost?

With these questions in mind, DARPA's projects tend to be revolutionary, risk-tolerant, failure-tolerant, goal-driven, collaborative and project-centric. To further the odds of success, the organization maintains a small, lean, flexible structure without too many layers of management.

For more:
- see Ted Greenwald's article at Forbes

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