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DesignOps Skunk Works

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We’ve all worked at places where there’s never enough time to make sure that things are operationally done the “right way”—bills need to get paid, client or product/project work needs to get done and takes priority, and hey, everyone deserves to have a life, too. There is light at the end of this tunnel! Several companies, including Atari, Ford, Microsoft and Google, have pulled off some great things by taking advantage of skunkworks teams and projects. I’ve been fortunate enough to see some successes with those teams and projects, as well, and will share them so you can see how to apply the approach(es) to your own practice.

Way back in the 1940s, Kelly Johnson and his team of mighty skunks used their Skunkworks process to design—and build—a prototype jet fighter in 143 days. Kelly established 14 Rules and Practices for Skunkworks projects in order to help articulate the most effective way for his team to be successful in the projects that they worked on. Not only can we learn from Kelly’s rules and adapt them to our current methods of working, we can also create our own skunkworks teams and projects to ensure that the Cobbler’s kids—the operational areas of our design practices—get some shoes put on their feet. And the results might just smell pretty good, if you’re patient enough.

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DesignOps Skunk Works

  1. 1. DesignOps Skunk Works @russu#skunkworks
  2. 2. @russu #skunkworks
  3. 3. @russu #skunkworks
  4. 4. @russu #skunkworks Video Source: Real Genius
  5. 5. @russu #skunkworks OODAObserve Orient Decide Act
  6. 6. @russu #skunkworks Kelly Johnson Image Source: http://www.wvi.com/~sr71webmaster/kelly.htm
  7. 7. @russu #skunkworks
  8. 8. @russu #skunkworks The XP-80 150 Days(To Deliver a Prototype Jetfighter)
  9. 9. @russu #skunkworks The XP-80 143 Days(Delivered 7 Days Early)
  10. 10. @russu #skunkworks Movie Source: http://www.lockheedmartin.com/us/100years/stories/p80.html
  11. 11. @russu #skunkworks The XP-80 Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lockheedmartin/9079672256/in/set-72157634190793153
  12. 12. @russu #skunkworks Kelly’s 14 Rules & Practices
  13. 13. @russu #skunkworks Kelly’s Motto Be quick, be quiet, and be on time. “ - Kelly Johnson Image Source: http://www.thisdayinaviation.com/tag/kelly-johnson/
  14. 14. @russu #skunkworks Skunk Works - 14 Rules & Practices 15. Starve before doing business with the damned Navy.They don't know what the hell they want and will drive you up a wall before they break either your heart or a more exposed part of your anatomy. 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 90 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. 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. 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.
  15. 15. @russu #skunkworks INNOVATION!
  16. 16. @russu #skunkworks Engineering optimizes based upon knowing the problem extremely well. Design understands the problem and the solution by creating something.
  17. 17. @russu #skunkworks Skunk Works - 14 Rules & Practices 15. Starve before doing business with the damned Navy.They don't know what the hell they want and will drive you up a wall before they break either your heart or a more exposed part of your anatomy. 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 90 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. 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. 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.
  18. 18. @russu #skunkworks Design Skunk Works - 8 Rules & Practices 1. The Design Lead must be delegated almost complete control of their project. 2. The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner. 3. Very simple, high-level requirements and/or flows and sketches may suffice for the project overview and goals, along with the flexibility for designers to make adjustments as determined necessary—including the cancelation of the 4. Team size must be as small as possible. Document as much as is needed, however as little as possible. Let the design/ prototype/etc. be the documentation when sensible to do so. 5. Designers must be allowed to test the product as frequently as needed.Testing products allows the designer to make better decisions about the current product, as well as future products. 6. There must be mutual trust between the sponsor and Design Lead with continuous communication to minimize potential misunderstanding. 7. Access by outsiders to the project and personnel must be strictly controlled. 8. Don’t do work for people who are unappreciative of—nor do not value—the design process.
  19. 19. @russu #skunkworks 3 Types of Design Skunk Works Projects
  20. 20. @russu #skunkworks Intensely collaborative projects during a set period of time and toward a targeted goal. #1 - Hackathons Image Source: Sebastiaan ter Burg from Utrecht,The Netherlands Image Source: Liran Mimon / Wikimedia Israel
  21. 21. @russu #skunkworks Hackathons 1. Determine Fix-It / Need-It Project List 2. Define High-Level Objectives 3. Establish Expected / Estimated Project Duration 4. Determine Estimated Team Size 5. Create Project Cards 6. Prioritize Projects 7. Assign Projects Example: New Hire Hackathons 8. Get Out of the Way!
  22. 22. @russu #skunkworks Hackathons Benefits • Fix-It / Need-It Projects Get Jumpstarted • Success or Failure Will Not Alter It; Every Project has a Learning Outcome • Team Forming & Performing Occurs (Some Norming & Storming, Too!) • Interaction with & Understanding of Broader Team and Culture • Emerging Themes of Work Styles & Patterns, Leaders, etc. Example: New Hire Hackathons
  23. 23. @russu #skunkworks Create a separate environment—may be a physical location, a “no fly zone” for office politics and bureaucracy, etc.—where people and teams can be highly autonomous, and let people focus on their work without worrying about the business of the work itself. #2 - Labs
  24. 24. @russu #skunkworks Labs Example: Atari Skunk Works
  25. 25. @russu #skunkworks Labs Example: Atari Skunk Works
  26. 26. @russu #skunkworks Labs Example: Hyatt Innovation Labs
  27. 27. @russu #skunkworks Labs Benefits • Keeps Teams and/or People Away from Office Bureaucracy • Maintains Entrepreneurial Spirit / Spirit of Innovation • Protects Teams / People from Daily Distractions • Allows Focus to Remain on Future Work Streams & Avoid Fire Fighting Example: Atari Skunk Works & Hyatt
  28. 28. @russu #skunkworks Similar in nature to Hackathons, this provides an established set of initiatives that need to be fulfilled, without a rigid timeline and can be worked on when normal work gets disrupted. #3 - Weaponized Downtime If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean. “ - My Manager at Burger King
  29. 29. @russu #skunkworks Weaponized Downtime Example: Design System in Axure
  30. 30. @russu #skunkworks Weaponized Downtime Example: Design System in Axure Delivery Time: ~6 Months Estimated “Actual” Project Delivery Time: ~4 Months with FTEs
  31. 31. @russu #skunkworks Weaponized Downtime 1. Determine Fix-It / Need-It Project List 2. Define High-Level Objectives 3. Create Project Cards 4. Prioritize Projects (Lower Than Hackathon Projects) 5. Team Chooses Project(s) as Available Example: Design System in Axure
  32. 32. @russu #skunkworks Weaponized Downtime Benefits • Low-Priority & High Impact Projects Make Progress • Success or Failure Will Not Alter It; Every Project has a Learning Outcome • Weaponized Downtown Projects Sometimes Move Faster Than Expected with More People Engaged • Interaction with & Understanding of Broader Team and Culture • Emerging Themes of Work Styles & Patterns, Leaders, etc. Example: Design System in Axure
  33. 33. @russu #skunkworks So What?
  34. 34. @russu #skunkworks So What? • Design Rules & Practices for Skunk Works Projects Help to Set the Stage for Getting Things Done • Multiple Rules Will Apply to Each Skunk Works Project • You Can Apply Them To Regular Projects,Too! • 3 Types of Skunk Works Projects Help You Identify an Approach / Style • Hackathons - Focused Project in Finite Time • Labs - Reduce the Tyranny of Now from Projects • Weaponized Downtime - Projects for Unscheduled / Unplanned Non-Billable Time
  35. 35. Thank You! @russu#skunkworks chicagocamps.org

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