17: Skunk Works

When big companies act like start-ups.

Skunk Works

What about people within more established companies who want to bring something new to market that might ruffle a feather or two? Most people think about the phrase “skunk works” as a renegade group of innovators working within the confines of a large company.

The term “skunk works” has a funny beginning. The term was first used to describe Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Projects (ADP) group. ADP was a super stealthy, super advanced group of engineers working on a powerful jet frame for a breakthrough jet engine.

The project is legendary for beginning successfully on a handshake, and without the usual protocols of contract and red tape at Lockheed. Because it was located near a nasty-smelling plastics plant in Burbank, California, the phone was answered once as “skunk works” by an engineer, and has since evolved into an accepted alias of the Lockheed Martin facility for development. Funny how a nickname can stick. Smaller groups can move faster, and if you can move faster, you can get more done.