Friday, February 15, 2013

How does DARPA do it?

“Technology is creating and destroying billion dollar industries in extraordinary rapid time-frames.”
(Peter Diamandis, 2013). 

DARPA is renowned for its technology breakthroughs. How does DARPA do it? They start projects with a set of questions known as Heilmeier Catechism. These questions lay the groundwork for innovative projects by turning brilliant concepts into pragmatic concepts.

Heilmeier Catechism
  • What are you trying to do in plain English 
  • How is it done today, and how is that limited? 
  • 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? 
  • How will you know if its making progress 
  • How will you know it’s a success? 

The former head of DARPA described the qualities they need in their program managers
  • Technical excellence 
  • High levels of confidence, without arrogance 
  • Can manage the big picture as well they can manage component tasks (“dynamic range”) 
  • Work quickly. 
  • Strong desire to change the world 
Projects that merit DARPA attention
Project-based assignments organized around a challenge model with actual results (not investigative)
  • Revolutionary, not incremental 
  • Goal-driven, with predefined, measurable milestones 
  • Collaborative and multidisciplinary 
  • Tolerant of risk 
  • Tolerant of failure.
  • Outsourced support personnel
DARPA's Structure
  • Small – only 1-200 technical personnel 
  • Flexible, so that it can expand and contract rapidly in response to shifting needs 
  • Flat, avoids hierarchy with only two management layers 
  • Autonomy and freedom from bureaucratic impediments 
  • And lean, which is to say geared to minimize waste of all kinds. 
  • Eclectic, world-class technical staff 
Famous DARPA Projects
  • Driverless car 
  • Robot Mule 
  • Humanoid Walking Robot 
Simon Collyer

Diamandis, P. (2013). Retrieved Feb 16th 2013, 2013, from