The Lockheed Martin Skunkwork

By August 8, 2011 No Comments

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.

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