A group within an organization given a high degree of autonomy, unhampered by bureaucracy, tasked with working on advanced or secret projects, is now commonly referred to as a skunkworks. The term comes from Kelly Johnson’s team at Lockheed Martin which was formed to build the P-38 Lightning. It was isolated and protected from the rest of the organisation; this one team went on to design the U2, A-12, SR-71, F-117, F-22 (just to name a few iconic aircraft).
“Many times a customer would come to the Skunk Works with a request and on a handshake the project would begin, no contracts in place, no official submittal process.” (ref)
So I find myself wondering, why we don’t always work like this ?
There are 14 key skunkworks rules at Lockheed – this is my TLDR version. (Too Long, Didn’t Read).
- The leader must be given autonomy, reporting into the highest level of the organistion.
- Minimal but thorough project management and reporting.
- Engage the absolute minimum number of ‘good’ people (emphasis on absolute).
- Continuously monitor ROI, maintain basic projections.
- Trust your partners/contractors, don’t drip feed, or nickle and dime them.
- Test, Test and Test.
- Reward people for skills and excellence, not the size of their empire.
- Build trust; trust your team and trust your partners.
Does this sound familiar Agilists ? Have faith, this stuff works and we have some of the coolest planes ever built to prove it.