Some believe that Innovation cannot be managed.
However, there is a long history of Innovation being managed. For example – the history of Lockheed’s famous Skunk Works:
“It was the wartime year of 1943 when Kelly Johnson brought together a hand-picked team of Lockheed Aircraft Corporation engineers and manufacturing people to rapidly and secretly complete the XP-80 project.”
I first heard of this effort – and Skunk Teams – back in 1981 when I worked at Motorola. My internal clients at Motorola were the manufacturing, materials and purchasing groups.
I was also learning about Quality Circles as practiced in Japan and being imported (or returned back) to the US. It seemed as if everyone in manufacturing was attempting to manage Innovation in a move to vastly improve Quality.
For more on that story about the original Skunk Works – please go here.
Kelly Johnson Codified His Approach in 14 Rules & Practices
Here are his first 7 Rules & Practices:
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.
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.
For Kelly’s complete list – please go here.
Skunk Works is an official pseudonym for Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs (ADP), formerly called Lockheed Advanced Development Projects.
Short Video from Lockheed
The designation “skunk works” or “skunkworks” is widely used in business, engineering, and technical fields to describe a group within an organization given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy, with the task of working on advanced or secret projects.
Not Everyone Agrees
In his 2014 Forbes article, “Why Corporate Skunk Works Need to Die,” Steve Blank wrote:
“With the vantage point of the 21st century, we can now see that a successful skunk works – separated from its corporate parent, with its own culture, in control of its own R&D and distribution channel – looked much like a startup.
But as successful as skunks works were to the companies that executed them well, innovation and execution couldn’t co-exist in the same corporate structure. Skunk works were emblematic of corporate structures that focused on execution and devalued innovation.”
He goes on to write:
Continuous Disruption Requires Continuous Innovation
In the 21st century market share is ephemeral – ask General Motors, BlackBerry, Nokia , Microsoft, Blockbuster, etc. – disruption is continual.
Therefore companies need to master continuous innovation – the art of executing on core products while continually inventing new products and new businesses. That means that somehow we need to take the innovation that a skunk works removed from the core of the company and integrate the two.
We need to realize that skunk works epitomize innovation by exception. But to survive companies need innovation by design.
See Steve Blank’s Blog Posts – here.
Continuous Improvement and Discontinuous Improvement
Those are two terms I learned at Motorola back in 1981. But I also learned that Innovation needed to be planned and managed. Otherwise people start messing with, innovating, on production processes and products, and increasing process variation leading to product variation.
Back before Six Sigma, and before Six Sigma there was TQM, and before TQM there was VR – Variability Reduction – efforts in most manufacturing businesses.
And of course, Innovation introduces Variation in process to affect products. And sometimes, maybe most all of the time, that’s best done in isolation from standard business processes and products.
As always it depends. But it should be a management decision IMO – and not just anyone’s “good idea” to innovate.
CI or DI needs to be planned and managed IMO. And done for perceived and/or projected ROI.
Why invest millions only to get thousands in return? That’s not good stewardship of shareholder equity. You probably would want anyone to do that – Innovate Unplanned – if you owned 100% of the equity.
Meanwhile Back at the Ranch
The same is true in T&D/L&D/Learning/Knowledge Management, etc.. We should only…
Invest a buck to make many more bucks in return.
And too often we do not. We “Just Innovate.” We just grab some shiny tool or technique and Innovate away. With very little planning. With very little management.
And many times we too often Innovate Away Shareholder Equity.
And that’s not a good thing. Not at all.
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