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.