Kelly Johnson’s 14 Rules of Management

I recently read a blog posting which linked over to Kelly Johnson’s 14 Rules of Management and I was intrigued by his principles of management and how they can relate to a design shop. I have been interested in Skunk Works ever since I had read a Popular Mechanics article on the organization just after the first Gulf War and learning of Kelly’s rules of management, I immediately been can to co-relate them to running a design shop. Below are Kelly’s rules of management with my thoughts on each and how they relate to design management immediately below. They are numbered SWD: Skunk Works Design.

  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.
  • SWD 1. If the project has a manager, the manager must have control of the project.
  1. Strong but small project offices must be provided both by the military and industry.
  • SWD 2. Small, competent teams should be provided by all parts of the project (web, print, programming, etc.)
  1. 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).
  • SWD 3. A project does not need everyone’s input, especially on the client side.
  1. A very simple drawing and drawing release system with great flexibility for making changes must be provided.
  • SWD 4. The project system should facilitate that changes be made easily.
  1. There must be a minimum number of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly.
  • SWD 5. The project system should not get in the way of the design process, although client documentation of approval must be recorded.
  1. 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 ninety days late and don’t surprise the customer with sudden overruns.
  • SWD 6. Project costs should be reviewed regularly by the team, any changes or projected changes in costs should be reported to the client immediately.
  1. 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.
  • SWD 7. If you have to subcontract out, make it for less than you charge but that you are willing to take responsibility for the results
  1. 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.
  • SWD 8. Basic proofing should be done well before the client sees the project. Proofing should be done by those who will directly approve the project.
  1. 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.
  • SWD 9. The client should be kept up to date with thumbnails, sketches and rough ideas initially, if not you are designing it wrong.
  1. 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.
  • SWD 10. Specifications for the project must be spelled out well in advance.
  1. Funding a program must be timely so that the contractor doesn’t have to keep running to the bank to support government projects.
  • SWD 11. Billing, invoicing or charging should be quick. Don’t leave the client guessing what the bill will be.
  1. 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.
  • SWD 12. There must be trust between the project manager and the client. If daily updates are needed, they should be given to cut down on misunderstandings. If they are not needed, don’t do them.
  1. Access by outsiders to the project and its personnel must be strictly controlled by appropriate security measures.
  • SWD 13. Clients should not interact with the design team, they should interact with project managers. Maintain a sense of team security.
  1. 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.
  • SWD 14. Rewards should be based on performance, those who consistently hit the mark should be rewarded more.

What do think about these Skunk Work Design rules?