Kelly Johnson’s Rules

Skunk Works Factory Floor

In 1943 the Army Air Force met with Lockheed.  They needed a jet fighter to counter the rising German jet fighter threat.  And they needed it fast.  Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson and his team of engineers designed and built the XP-80 aircraft in only 143 days.  They went on to become famous for developing aircraft such as the U-2, SR-71, and F-117.

Kelly had 14 rules for how this new team of engineers needed to operate.  At first glance it reads like good program and project management practices.  Upon closer inspection you see how it changed the game in terms of collaborative problem solving.

Here are a few of his rules:

#1: The Skunk Works manager must be delegated practically complete control of his program in all aspects.

#3: The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner.

#4: There must be a minimum number of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly.

#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, the very close cooperation and liaison on a day-to-day basis.

#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.

Do you hear in his words how this was a different paradigm from the established practices of his industry in that day?  What established paradigm might you shift?


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