Critical Questions For Research Proposals

As director of DARPA in the 1970’s George H. Heilmeier developed a set of questions that he expected every proposal for a new research program to answer.  He referred to them as the “Heilmeier Catechism”.  These questions still survive at DARPA and provide high level guidance for what information a proposal should provide.  It’s important to answer these questions for any individual research project, both for yourself and for communicating to others what you hope to accomplish.  These questions are:

  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?