Lockheed-Martin Skunk Works
In my career I can't say that I've worked on anything as crucial as a military jet or anything else typical of the Lockheed-Martin Corporation, but I have been on teams sometimes referred to as a "skunk works". I knew that this meant we were working on a project that was secret from the rest of the company (mostly to keep our work from the prying eyes of the marketing guys looking for something new to sell), but I never knew the true origin of the term.
The nickname "skunk works" came from the Li'l Abner comic strip, referring to a secret still churning out moonshine whose chief ingredients were ground up boots and dead skunks. The staff at Lockheed-Martin must have felt kinship with the bootleggers of this roadkill-based homebrew, and adopted the name for their unconventional secret projects within the firm.
Back in the 40's Lockheed-Martin had a design group that were autonomous within the company. They had control over their own budgets, staff, procedure, and were able to jet through the bureaucracy that plagues any large organization. Through this radical approach, this secret group within Lockheed-Martin was able to deliver essential technology faster than ever. They continue to operate to this day.
We've all had to deal with the rules and regs of a large organization. My experience has usually been that these often random edicts throw more roadblocks before the creative process than the actual challenge of the project itself. It's an enlightened company that shakes things up by creating a radical splinter group within the enterprise charged with actually getting work done.
Over time, Lockheed-Martin's Skunk Works established some great rules for how to run a project, and many of them are still useful today. See if you agree by reading the rules after the jump.
Dating back to 1943, Skunk Works’ founder Kelly Johnson compiled the following rules of operation. How many would you like to see adapted to your workplace?
1. The Skunk Works manager must be delegated practically complete
control of his program in all aspects. He should report to a division
president or higher.
2. Strong but small project offices must be provided both by the military and industry.
3. The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner. Use a small number of good people (10% to 25% compared to the so-called normal systems).
4. A very simple drawing and drawing release system with great flexibility for making changes must be provided.
5. There must be a minimum number of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly.
6. There must be a monthly cost review covering not only what has been spent and committed but also projected costs to the conclusion of the program. Don't have the books ninety days late and don't surprise the customer with sudden overruns.
7. The contractor must be delegated and must assume more than normal
responsibility to get good vendor bids for subcontract on the project.
Commercial bid procedures are very often better than military ones.
The inspection system as currently used by the Skunk Works, which has
been approved by both the Air Force and Navy, meets the intent of
existing military requirements and should be used on new projects. Push
more basic inspection responsibility back to subcontractors and
vendors. Don't duplicate so much inspection.
9. The contractor must be delegated the authority to test his final product in flight. He can and must test it in the initial stages. If he doesn't, he rapidly loses his competency to design other vehicles.
10. The specifications applying to the hardware must be agreed to well in advance of contracting. The Skunk Works practice of having a specification section stating clearly which important military specification items will not knowingly be complied with and reasons therefore is highly recommended.
11. Funding a program must be timely so that the contractor doesn't have to keep running to the bank to support government projects.
12. There must be mutual trust between the military project organization and the contractor with very close cooperation and liaison on a day-to-day basis. This cuts down misunderstanding and correspondence to an absolute minimum.
13. Access by outsiders to the project and its personnel must be strictly controlled by appropriate security measures.
14. Because only a few people will be used in engineering and most other areas, ways must be provided to reward good performance by pay not based on the number of personnel supervised.