Original Post Date: lThursday, April 8, 2010

Despite the plethora of literature on Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) it remains a difficult concept.  I thought I would share my interpretation.

For most of us the concept of technology readiness is hard to grasp. This is because in general, our experiences with technology are with fully matured technology. In 1961, President Kennedy challenged US scientists, mathematicians and engineers when he announced that within the decade of the 1960s the US would ‘land a man on the Moon, and return him safely to Earth’. At the time, there were no solutions to solve problems such as reaching earth’s orbit and traveling to the moon, let alone for how man would be able to survive in space. Some very smart people and creative thinking was needed to invent solutions that didn’t exist in order to make Kennedy’s dream a reality.

One of the many things that these smart people discovered was that programs envisioned when the technology is very new or non-existent are much harder to plan for than programs using technology that has been used successfully on other programs. As the possibilities for the space program greatly outsized the budget for space programs this fact became increasingly problematic. In 1974 Stan Sadin of NASA developed Technology Readiness Levels as a methodology to assess the technology readiness of a proposed spacecraft design. Eventually the methodology was institutionalized by NASA and later similar methodologies were developed by the US Department of Defense (DoD) and other organizations responsible for the acquisition of complex aerospace and defense programs. TRLs are used by NASA and the Departments of Defense worldwide to support go/no-go decisions at various acquisition milestones.

 

Here's how I like to simplify TRLs.....

Level 1 => Back of the napkin sketch
Level 2 => Idea confirmed as both good and useful
Level 3 => Idea proven possible
Level 4 => Idea proven to present a realistic solution
Level 5 => Alpha version of technology
Level 6 => Beta version of technology
Level 7 => Release candidiate ready for operational test
Level 8 => Technology has gone gold
Level 9 => Technology used successfully in target environment

To learn more about TRLs and how they apply to software intensive systems - come to the ISPA SCEA conference in June.  (Bonus - the conference is in San Diego)