Technology Readiness Levels

Boeing Phantom Works TRL

I’ve written about Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works in the past (and it inspired some work we did in the last year), but just found out about Boeing’s Phantom Works before break, via several clicks away from a Tumblr post about drone silhouettes.

Phantom Works is about the same thing as Skunk Works – secretive, advanced projects, etc. – but with what feels like a slightly more defined scope: taking technologies from Boeing Research & Technology (BR&T) and advancing them to the point that they can be used/scaled by Boeing’s Commercial and Defense divisions. They manage this using Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) that describe how advanced/finished a given system is, relative to its environment and use. Phantom Works takes technologies from TRL 4 to TRL 6. That’s their purpose.

The DoD version of TRL is copied below:

  1. Basic principles observed and reported
  2. Technology concept and/or application formulated (Invention begins)
  3. Analytical and experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof of concept (Active R&D is initiated)
  4. Component and/or breadboard validation in laboratory environment (Basic technological components are integrated to establish that they will work together)
  5. Component and/or breadboard validation in relevant environment (Fidelity of breadboard technology increases significantly)
  6. System/subsystem model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment
  7. System prototype demonstration in an operational environment (Prototype near or at planned operational system)
  8. Actual system completed and qualified through test and demonstration (Technology has been proven to work in its final form and under expected conditions)
  9. Actual system proven through successful mission operations

This is so cool. Probably worth applying to agile/lean approaches, as the language and thinking are readily adapted to product-market fit.