Rules for Lockheed Skunk Works by Unknown

Lockheed Skunk Works is a legendary aircraft design division of Lockheed (currently Lockheed-Martin). Their numerous outstanding achievements over several decades of operation have inspired others to imitate Skunk Works ideas, leading to the concept of the Skunk Works Team.

The original operating rules, however, are not often mentioned. These rules were written by Kelly Johnson, the founder of Skunk Works, who led the organization during its most productive years.

Some of the rules are specific to defense contracting, but there are still interesting parallels to more mainstream situations.

For example, to rephrase rule #7, we could say that "using open source/free software is very often better than using proprietary software".

  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 (It is essential that the program manager have authority to make decisions quickly regarding technical, finance, schedule, or operations matters).

  2. Strong but small project offices must be provided both by the customer and contractor (The customer program manager must have similar authority to that of the contractor).

  3. The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner. Use of a small number of good people (10 to 25 percent compared to the so-called normal systems). (Bureaucracy makes unnecessary work and must be controlled brutally).

  4. A very simple drawing and drawing release system with great flexibility for making changes must be provided. (This permits early work by manufacturing organizations, and schedule recovery if technical risks involve failures).

  5. There must be a minimum of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly. (Responsible management does not require massive technical and information systems).

  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. (Responsible management does require operation within the resources available).

  7. The contractor must be delegated and must assume more than normal responsibility to get good vendor bids for the subcontract on the project. Commercial bid procedures are very often better than military ones. (Essential freedom to use the best talent available and operate within the resources available).

  8. 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. (Even the commercial world recognizes that quality is in design and responsible operations -- not 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. (Critical, if new technology and the attendant risks are to be rationally accommodated).

  10. The specification applying to the hardware must be agreed to 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. (Standard specifications inhibit new technology and innovation, and are frequently obsolete).

  11. Funding a program must be timely, so that the contractor doesn't have to keep running to the bank to support government projects. (Rational management requires knowledge of, and freedom to use, the resources originally committed).

  12. There must be mutual trust between the customer 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. (The goals of the customer and producer should be the same -- get the job done well).

  13. Access by outsiders to the project and its personnel must be strictly controlled by appropriate security measures. (This is a program manager's responsibility even if no program security demands are made -- a cost avoidance measure).

  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. (Responsible management must be rewarded, and responsible management does not does not permit the growth of bureaucracies).

archive posted on 5 Jun 2007

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