Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Heilmeier Catechsim

A couple months ago, I was reading the IEEE blog (the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Today's Engineer and they profiled George Heilmeier--a groundbreaking electrical engineer who made LCD possible for everyone. At least, that's his major claim to fame. He also worked for the Department of Defense and Texas Instruments, where he was a manager and engineer. According to the article, Heilmeier was the lead in many research projects and part of his impressiveness comes from what is now known as the Heilmeier Catechism. He developed a set of questions to help lead his engineers develop new products and ideas, and this list has been adapted for many uses. The version that Today's Engineer posted is as follows:
  • 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?
Almost immediately after I read the list, I copied it down and have kept it on my desk next to my computer where I can glance at it periodically. I know I'm not at a place where these questions could actually impact anyone yet, but they are definitely something for me to keep in mind as I do my homework. The questions also inspire me to try to think outside the box when I am working on a design homework problem. Even though I know there is a standard answer, I usually try to think about the impact my choices would have if I were designing for an actual client. Regardless of your discipline, I hope these questions will help you do better in whatever you choose.

If you would like to read the article that inspired me, here's the link.

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