Possibly random thoughts of a oddly organized dba with a very short attention span


Kelly Johnson's 14 Rules of Management

Kelly Johnson's 14 Rules of Management, in their original form (highlighting added by me):


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 ninety 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.


So Johnson was an aircraft engineer and an organizer, not a writer. Some project manager type could probably write prettier rules, but no one rivals Johnson's ability to bring major technical innovations to 'market' with amazing speed. The rules are good, practical and with a few small adjustments, they could be applied software development projects very well.

Until recently, I hadn't heard that there was an unofficial 15th rule:

15. 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.

I worked on a Navy abandoned project right after I graduated from college, the P-7. Kelly may be right on rule 15 too ...

If you're interested in learning more about Kelly Johnson, check out the book 'Skunk Works' by Ben Rich and Leo Janos.


Basil Fawlty said...

So this is where Skunk Works came from!

Robyn said...

Hello Basil,

Yes, Kelly Johnson originated the Skunk Works and was the leader for a very long time. I didn't start working for Lockheed until I graduated college in 1989 but even then, there was a clear difference in the men who had been part of the Skunk Works. Kelly left his mark on a lot of individuals and it was always a positive influence.

And I say men because they were, without exception, men. Sorry ladies, I've never met a woman from the Skunk Works. They may have existed, but if you think IT is male dominated, try aerospace manufacturing for a while. I doubt they've changed much since I moved on and sometimes, like today, I really miss it.

Through his protégées, Mr. Johnson has had a very profound influence on the way I see the business world, so while I plan to stay Oracle focused, there's more to say about Kelly. Stay tuned if you're interested ...

cheers ... Robyn

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