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Technology Readiness Levels at 40: A Study of State-of-the-Art Use, Challenges, and Opportunities

29 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2015  

Alison L. Olechowski

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Steven D. Eppinger

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Nitin Joglekar

Boston University - Department of Operations and Technology Management

Date Written: April 1, 2015

Abstract

The technology readiness level (TRL) scale was introduced by NASA in the 1970s as a tool for assessing the maturity of technologies during complex system development. TRL data have been used to make multi-million dollar technology management decisions in programs such as NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover. This scale is now a de facto standard used for technology assessment and oversight in many industries, from power systems to consumer electronics. Low TRLs have been associated with significantly reduced timeliness and increased costs across a portfolio of US Department of Defense programs. However, anecdotal evidence raises concerns about many of the practices related to TRLs. We study TRL implementations based on semi-structured interviews with employees from seven different organizations and examine documentation collected from industry standards and organizational guidelines related to technology development and demonstration. Our findings consist of 15 challenges observed in TRL implementations that fall into three different categories: system complexity, planning and review, and validity of assessment. We explore research opportunities for these challenges and posit that addressing these opportunities, either singly or in groups, could improve decision processes and performance outcomes in complex engineering projects.

Keywords: Technology assessment, Technology readiness, Engineering management, R&D management, Project management, Risk management

JEL Classification: O32

Suggested Citation

Olechowski, Alison L. and Eppinger, Steven D. and Joglekar, Nitin, Technology Readiness Levels at 40: A Study of State-of-the-Art Use, Challenges, and Opportunities (April 1, 2015). MIT Sloan Research Paper No. 5127-15. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2588524 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2588524

Alison L. Olechowski

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

Steven D. Eppinger (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

MIT Rm E62-468
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
617-253-0468 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://web.mit.edu/eppinger/www/

Nitin Joglekar

Boston University - Department of Operations and Technology Management ( email )

United States

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