SURF GOTChA chart

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GOTChA charts are a simple proposal planning tool that we use for planning out SURF projects. A GOTChA chart is an attempt to summarize in one page what you are trying to do on a project. The idea for GOTChA charts comes from Pratt and Whitney Corporation, which makes jet engines. Richard Murray learned about them when he spent two years working for United Technologies, the parent company for Pratt.

Contents of a GOTChA chart

A GOTChA chart has four main elements:

  • Goals - a high level description of what you want to accomplish, in plain English. Your goals should give a clear description of what you hope to accomplish in the overall timeframe of the SURF project. Think of the goals as something you could use to quickly describe your project to a friend who is not an expert in the area. Avoid the use of jargon as much as possible (think Scientific American, not Nature). You should have 2-3 goals for the summer.
  • Objectives - a concrete specification of what you want to accomplish, with numbers and dates, when appropriate. Objectives are something that you can measure whether or not it has been completed. They should support the overall goals, but should be much more specific and concrete. A sample objective is "Demonstrate autonomous driving for 10 miles at an average speed of 5 miles per hour by the end of summer". You should have 2-4 objectives, with a few of them ones that you can accomplish by mid-summer and the others to be done by the end of the summer. The last objective might be a bit of a stretch for what you think is possible.
  • Technical Challenges - a list of the "hard parts" of accomplishing your goals and objectives. Try to keep the list fairly short (3-5) items and focus on those parts of the problem that are the true showstoppers. A sample technical challenge is "Getting stereo vision to work sufficiently fast that we can recognize obstacles in time to stop". You should make sure that your technical challenges are such that if you overcome them, you will be able to complies your objectives (which will let you accomplish your overall goals!).
  • Approach - a list of activities or strategies that you plan to implement to overcome the technical challenges. These activities should provide the justification for why you think you can achieve your goals and objectives in the face of the technical challenges you have described. Think of this as your plan for the summer: what will you do before you arrive, what will you do in the first few weeks, by mid summer, and toward the end of the summer. Your approach should address the technical challenges, since if you don't overcome your technical challenges then you can't accomplish your objectives and you won't achieve your goals for the summer -:(.

This information is most easily presented in the form of a quad chart, which can be laid out in powerpoint or HTML (or wiki):

Project title, name and date

Goals:
  • Goal 1
  • Goal 2
Technical Challenges
  • Challenge 1
  • Challenge 2
Objectives
  • Objective 1
  • Objective 2
Approach
  • Approach 1
  • Approach 2

It is important that you GOTChA chart fit on a single sheet of paper. The purpose of this format is to create a concise description of your project and focus on the key aspects that you will focus on. If you description at this stage is longer than a page, something is wrong.

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the difference between a goal and an objective?

Goals describe what you plan to do in plain English. Thinks of this as the type of thing you might use to describe what the team is doing to one of your friends who is not part of the project. The intent of the goals section of a GOTChA chart is to capture the high level vision of what you plan to get done.

Objectives are concrete and measurable. They should be something that you can say that you either accomplished or didn't, and there won't be any disagreement.

Examples:

  • Goal: complete integration of all sensors that will be used for the race
  • Objective: mount all stereo camera pairs on vehicle by 6/1/05 and verify they meet project specifications for range and angle.

How does the GOTChA chart compare to the SURF proposal?

Once you have your GOTChA chart in final form, it will map fairly naturally to the items that you are supposed to address in your project proposal. Roughly speaking, you will turn the bullets in your GOTChA chart into paragraphs in your SURF proposal. You should follow the SURF guidelines for the layout and contents of your proposal, but the information on the GOTChA chart will drive the contents.