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Two inventions short of success

By Anthony DeMarcoMay 18, 2020

Technology readiness is a critical cost driver of development programs. Many high technology programs fail because initial cost and schedule expectations were based on the assumption that the technologies employed were proven, when actually they were not. Space programs have the most dubious history in this regard. I once listened to a Lockheed Martin executive explain how the X33 space shuttle was a great vehicle, but was canceled because it was, “two inventions short of meeting the requirements”. Canceled after over one billion dollars were spent.

Starting development projects that have constrained budgets and schedule with unproven technology is a bad idea, one that has not gone unnoticed. The Defense Acquisition Performance Assessment 2006 (DAPA) report states,

“Technology maturity or “knowledge-based” development has been a subject of considerable discussion between the Department and the Congress. However, although there is agreement concerning the advantages of ensuring that technology is mature prior to proceeding to development and production, there are no clearly definable measures of technology readiness.”, and, “Incorporating high-risk technology in systems generally leads to significant cost and schedule impacts.”

So, have decision-makers learned their lesson by now. Recent news suggests not. It was just published that NASA’s Mars Rover mission was delayed two years and is over budget because,“problems developed in the design and operation of the 31 actuators that control the mechanics of the craft, including the steering mechanism and its robotic arm

Probably a few inventions short.

Technology should be matured in a lab environment with a sustained level of effort before it is employed in a development project with cost and schedule constraints. Anything else is extremely risky and will most likely fail.

The PRICE® TruePlanning® models each have a method evaluating the cost and risks associated with technology maturity. Our cost management software helps our clients decide among alternatives with varying technology maturity and let them know the risk of overrunning cost and schedule. Most of the time our analysis can dissuade executives from starting a project “two inventions short”.