Heilmeier’s Catechism

Heilmeier’s Catechism

When George Heilmeier was the director of ARPA in the mid 1970s, he had a standard set of questions he expected every proposal for a new research program to answer. These have been called the Heilmeier Catechism. It’s a good exercise to answer these questions for an individual research project, too, both for yourself and as a way to convey to others what you hope to accomplish. So here they are:

1. What is the problem, why is it hard?
2. How is it solved today?
3. What is the new technical idea; why can we succeed now?
4. What is the impact if successful?
5. How will the program be organized?
6. How will intermediate results be generated?
7. How will you measure progress?
8. What will it cost?

Of course, if you are proposing a small effort, like a class project or MS thesis, some of these questions should be adapted and modified (e.g., #5 and #8)


George H. Heilmeier,

  • 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’s new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
  • Who cares? If you’re successful, what difference will it make?
  • What are the risks and the payoffs?
  • How much will it cost? How long will it take?
  • What are the midterm and final “exams” to check for success?