70 year anniversary of Skunkworks, secret of innovation is its people

June 2013 is the 70 year anniversary of Skunkworks.


In an interview the Chief Skunk

Chief Skunk, Dr. Alton D. Romig, Jr., PhD, is the vice president and general manager of Advanced Development Programs AKA the Skunk Works® for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. In this interview, he reflects on the rich history of the Skunk Works and discusses the unique culture that will continue its tradition of mission driven innovation and value added solutions for years to come.



Another important characteristic of the Skunk Works is a unique management structure that empowers engineers. Even today we make it a point to follow Kelly’s rules for program management. Our workforce has a breadth of experience and system lifecycle engagement. We also have a willingness to take prudent risks.  In a technical sense, our culture encourages doing things that have never been done before.  For example, the SR-71’s predecessor, the A-12, went through 11 iterations before it met the design specs.

When you read the 14 rules & practices created by Kelly Johnson you can see the areas where people are a priority.

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.


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. This cuts down misunderstanding and correspondence to an absolute minimum.


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


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).


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.