Insights For Success

Strategy, Innovation, Leadership and Security

9 most important questions to determine if a project is worthwhile

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

George H Heilmeier was a DARPA director and developed 9 questions to help the agency determine the worthiness of project being submitted to it for funding. These 9 powerful questions as referred to as the "Heilmeier Catechism" and have become a core operating paradigm for DARPA [Defense Advance Research Projects Activity] And IARPA [Intelligence Advance Research Project Activity].

These questions are so powerful, they are used in the business world day in and day out. I first learned about these questions while having lunch with a VC in San Francisco. He explained that many of his peers also use these questions when determining the funding worthiness of a proposal.

There have been variations to the questions but I recommended sticking with the original 9:

  1. What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon.  What is the problem?  Why is it hard?
  2. How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?
  3. What's new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
  4. Who cares?
  5. If you're successful, what difference will it make?   What impact will success have?  How will it be measured?
  6. What are the risks and the payoffs?
  7. How much will it cost?
  8. How long will it take?
  9. What are the midterm and final "exams" to check for success?  How will progress be measured?

This is a variation on the journalists who, what, where, when, why and how strategy. Obviously answering these questions will not change the world or guarantee the success of a project. They will greatly reduce the risks you take by ensuring the key concepts are thought off and understood