Quality & Business Improvement

Skunk Works


"A concentration of a few good people, solving problems far in advance - and at a fraction of the cost - by applying the simplest, most straightforward methods posible to develop and produce new products" - Kelly Johnson, founder of the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works.

It is characterised by high degrees of secrecy, autonomy, talent and resources with a focus on breakthrough changes in business.


Quad of Aims


To assemble the best project team from the entire organisation into very small multi-disciplinary teams.

To produce quick results and commercially viable quality projects on time.

To create or assist in the development of prototypes quickly and quietly with minimal outside assistance or knowledge.

To empower the project manager and teams beyond normal company expectations.


(Information to be included, relevant to company).


Members of Skunk Works team, Project manager, Senior management representative, who will act as Champion.


Complete break from daily work routine and wide freedom to search for possible solutions. Direct relationship between design and manufacturing sides of business.


Commercially viable solutions to real problems.

Enthusiasm generated by break from daily routine.

Increased motivation from producing much-needed solution.

Success criteria

Solution to known problem produced at low cost.

Lateral thinking may produce solution and/or guidelines for hitherto unrecognised problem.

Some enthusiastic and motivated employees.

Characteristics of Skunk Works types of projects


1) Complete freedom from bureaucratic controls ie excessive paperwork and management.

2) Complete freedom to draw on wide base of ideas, however lateral or seemingly irrelevant.

3) Cross-fertilisation of workers - engineers and designers will work with machinists and shop workers; engineers will "walk the talk"; marketing representatives and gatekeeping/change agents will be included in the team from the start.

4) Participants know there are no holds barred - crazy proposals will be expected - the expectation to be on the leading edge of technology.

5) Permeating sense of urgency, attention to details and high quality.

6) Savings in time and cost for projects - projects are essentially fast and flexible.

7) Mutual trust between project team, parent company and customer, thereby minimising misunderstanding and correspondence.

8) Project leader to have complete autonomy with minimum of reporting to top management.


1) Research and Development division may be good host for Skunk Works projects.

2) Appropriate reward structure must be available, based on long-term goals.

3) Encouragement to work on several projects simultaneously.


1) No guarantee that every project tackled will be commercially viable - eg project and/or solution may be divergent from expressed goal of organisation.

2) Technology may be risky and in advance of available machinery.

3) Corporate culture must be appropriate to support a counter-cultural entity in its midst.

4) Projects must be both technologically and commercially oriented.

5) Must have high level champion and unquestioning open-ended funding.

6) Team must be physically separate from rest of company.


1) Counter-cultural nature of Skunk Works will need protection from company culture and politics.

2) Change on project completion from near-obscurity to high visibility to top management to explain commercial viability may be difficult.

3) Important to have right mix of people - and to keep the team ruthlessly small.

4) Despite minimisation of paperwork, important events must be recorded thoroughly.

5) High level of secrecy needed - access by outsiders to be strictly controlled.

6) Corporate executives must have faith in project leader without necessarily knowing what is happening in the group.

Further Reading

  Skunk Works
Ben R. Rich, Leo Janos

ISBN: 0751515035, Paperback - £6.39 BUY
  Kelly: More Than My Share of It All
Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson, Maggie Smith

ISBN: 0874744911, Paperback - £11.85 BUY

  SR-71 Blackbird: Stories, Tales and Legends
Richard H. Graham

ISBN: 0760311420, Hardcover - £13.47 BUY

© Fell Services Ltd., 2004

Jenny's photo

Quality Home
Previous Work


Bluffer's Guide to SPC

Singapore Airlines

Skunk Works

Risk Management


All I want for Christmas