Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Kelly Johnson's 14 Rules of Engineering Management

One thing that I forgot to include on this post that I found pretty interesting was "Kelly Johnson's 14 Rules of Engineering Management."

In general: "Be quick, be quiet, and be on time."

The 14 Rules: (Via Wikipedia)

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. Don't have the books 90 days late, and don't surprise the customer with sudden overruns.

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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

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 with very close cooperation and liaison on a day-to-day basis. This cuts down misunderstanding and correspondence to an absolute minimum.

13. Access by outsiders to the project and its personnel must be strictly controlled by appropriate security measures.

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.

Note that Kelly had a 15th rule that he passed on by word of mouth. According to the book "Skunk Works" the 15th rule is: "Starve before doing business with the damned Navy. They don't know what the hell they want and will drive you up a wall before they break either your heart or a more exposed part of your anatomy."

That last one could be broadened to state, 'don't work for a client that will get you in more trouble than it's worth.' There are a lot of engineering companies that deliberately avoid public sector work for that reason...


Peripatetic Engineer said...

You will probably never see a "skunk works" implemented in most private corporations. It concentrates too much power in the hands of too few. The concept is good when you have an emergency and need to get something done quickly, but otherwise, top management will be afraid it.

I was lucky enough to work on such a team.

We were charged with submitting a proposal for leases off Sakhalin Island back in 1991. We formed as a team on July 4 and the proposal was due, in Moscow, in Russian, by August 10. We did some crazy fast engineering estimates, the geo-guessers cobbled together some maps and the downhole boys ran some production estimates. We did it. And we followed up with trips to the CCCP where we were offered all kinds of crazy deals. (want to rent a nuclear powered aircraft carrier as construction crew housing?)

The bottom line is that the team was disbanded within a year and development continues along more "normal" lines. And we were not looked upon as heros but as cowboys who needed a tight rein. The VP who headed the thing was later fired for buying stolen geological information. (You've got to remember that who owned what back at the fall of the CCCP was a little fuzzy)

Editilla said...

Skunk Works was a private corporation. While the lines certainly blur (especially these days) between Military and Civilian in American Defense Contracting, and the existence of Private Defense Firms relies on Military Contracting, back then the environment within which Kelly et al operated was decidedly deliberately civilian and corporate. Indeed, the contact for the B-2 Stealth Bomber was snatched from Lockheed by another private corporation Northrop --due in now small measure to the quiet private back-room politics.