Heilmeier's Catechism

Here’s something I read in the Huntsville Times recently that I’d like to share with you. It starts with Lisa Porter, the director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA – sounds a little like DARPA; the name of the project that became the Internet). She was in town to speak at UAH (nowadays called UAHuntsville) and she discussed a very interesting concept that I immediately saw as being perfectly applicable to musical projects (CDs, band efforts, new concepts and directions… you name it).

This concept is called the Heilmeier’s Catechism after its creator George Heilmeier. It’s a series of questions credited to Heilmeier that anyone proposing a research project, product development effort or banjo business plan (you know I put that one in, don’t you!) would do well to reflect upon, be able to thoroughly answer and review periodically. You can easily Google ‘Heilmeier’s Catechism’for more info, but it really needs little more in the way of explanation. It is deceptively simple, as Lisa Porter stated. Here are the questions that compose Heilmeier’s Catechism.

  • 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?

In addition to these, the Huntsville Times article also listed a few more, perhaps added by someone along the way; I’m not sure of their origin. Note also, these 4 really are a bit more business-oriented as witnessed by their more business-oriented jargon:

  • What is your program plan?
  • How will you measure progress?
  • What are your milestones/metrics?
  • What is you transition strategy?

Do you see how readily this can apply to whatever your pursuits (musical or otherwise) may be? Perhaps not every questions will be equally suitable to all your endeavors, but taken as a whole, they certainly help you define you efforts and keep them on track. Just think about one of the things you have in mind to do musically, and see if this doesn’t help you with getting things started and better defined!

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About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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