Jan 162013

It’s one of the most famous studies in the world of product development and probably the most famous study in the history of Product Cost Management.  It was done in the 1960’s (reportedly) by DARPA (The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the United States Government).  It’s so famous that it is typically referred to as “The DARPA Study.”  Some claim that the entire software category of Product Lifecycle Management has used the study for its primary justification for being.

But, if it is so famous… where is it?

I have searched for the study a couple times on the internet.  It is easy to find The DARPA Study of product cost referenced loosely, but I could not find the original study, or even a formal citation… and as we know, if you can’t find something after thirty minutes of searching on Google, it does not exist, right?

Fortunately, I was able to dust off my engineering masters thesis and find the following studies that corroborate DARPA’s alleged claim.

Cost Committed vs spent in Product Cost Management Hiller Associates


DARPA’s claim what bold and powerful and if we paraphrased it, we would say:

“80% of a product’s cost is determined in the first 20% of activities in design and development”

I have even found a great webpage that lists FOUR PAGES of references to studies, corroborating DARPA’s results:

Design Phase Cost Rational

… but it does not have a reference to the original DARPA Study.

So, can anyone help?  Can someone send me:

  1. A link to “The DARPA Study” on the web? AND/OR
  2. A .pdf of the study? AND/OR
  3. At least the proper academic citation to the study?

Anyone, Anyone, Bueller, Bueller, Bueller…

Cost Committed vs. spent for product cost hiller associates




  12 Responses to “Where is “The DARPA Study”?!”

  1. Moderator re-posting a comment from linked-in group here: http://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=4497143&type=member&item=218117052&commentID=122570652&report%2Esuccess=8ULbKyXO6NDvmoK7o030UNOYGZKrvdhBhypZ_w8EpQrrQI-BBjkmxwkEOwBjLE28YyDIxcyEO7_TA_giuRN#commentID_122570652

    Trevor Easton SAYS:
    If it is truly important and was done by DARPA rather than for DARPA. Maybe it is still classified and that is why a search won’t find it

  2. Ha ha! Yes, I am cracking open a secret cover-up bigger than the Da Vinci code… except that unlike the Da Vinci code, Product Cost Management is not a big bundle of lies in a conspiracy theorist’s imagination. 🙂

  3. […] are still on our epic quest to find the DARPA study (a.k.a. the legendary seminal study reported to say that ~80% of product cost is determine in the […]

  4. […] Where is “The DARPA Study”?! Design-to-Value versus Design-to-Cost versus Minimum Viable Product 2012 Product Cost Management Revenue Assumptions […]

  5. […] We will NEVER get down to the same price as the cost avoidance line. We know from the legendary DARPA study from the 1960s that the vast majority of product cost is “locked in” very early in product development. […]

  6. […] The first 20 percent of the product design process determines 80 percent of production costs, according to an oft-quotedmythical DARPA study. […]

  7. […] The first 20 percent of the product design process determines 80 percent of production costs, according to an oft-quoted mythical DARPA study. […]

  8. […] the product design process determines 80 percent of production costs, according to an often quoted mythical DARPA study. Tighter integration between product development, design, engineering and sourcing, earlier in the […]

  9. Perhaps you are thinking of the DARPA report done by Boehm on “Error Cost Escalation” …? The one that states that it costs more to fix problems as development moves forward? (or the antithesis, if you get the requirements right you will avoid future costs) …?

    Boehm’s study was to predict cost drivers and he predicted software would be the driver in the future. I don’t have a copy of it but my understanding is that Boehm wrote about it in his book “Software Engineering Economics.”

    Hard to say if you’ll ever find Boehm’s DARPA report. Things that old are hit an miss in the DTIC archives.


    • David — Thank you for the references and input. Boehms study sounds different. I believe the original DARPA study was about defense systems, not software specifically.

  10. The study data and conclusion appears in numerous Defense Acquisition University materials and courses. I have seen it. It also appears in various materials associated with the US Government’s curricula for Earned Value Management when tracking cost & schedule performance for Government acquisition contracts.

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