DARPA's Heilmeier Catechism
It seems the hardest part of engineering is the part where you are staring at a blank page with a vague notion of a problem statement in your head.
First you seek structure. After all your attention span can only hold so much at the same time. In order to tackle larger problems, you need to reduce large parts of the problem area into intuition. And in turn, to reduce parts of the problem into intuition, you need to break those pieces into smaller simpler pieces that you can chew on individually.
Losing sight of the forest for the trees is easy during this process.
Why were you trying to solve this problem in the first place? Would you have started if you knew then what you know now about the real scope of the problem?
Such concerns are also part of the problem statement; parts that help your prioritize and select the best solution amongst many. Throughout all, it’s always good to keep and eye on the prize. That being the end goal of the exercise. The goal must justify the effort involved. Once again, for that you need to reduce your motives into intuition.
The “The Heilmeier Catechism” is “a set of questions […] to help Agency officials think through and evaluate proposed research programs”. The list of questions is duplicated here for your convenience. It’s a short and terse list. Much like what your design sketch should be.
- 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 is new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
- Who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make?
- What are the risks?
- How much will it cost?
- How long will it take?
- What are the mid-term and final “exams” to check for success?
(Source The Heilmeier Catechism - DARPA).