Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Have you ever heard this famous phrase? The phrase is well known as KISS principle that is said that Kelly Johnson, the aircraft engineer of Lockheed, coined. Today’s story is about simple rule strategy in the special task force.


Do you know Skunk Works? According to the article that May writes, during WWII in 1943, the US government started the project that developed the first US jet fighter to compete against the German jet fighter. The project’s dead line was just 180 days after starting. Lockheed had the contract from the government. Kelly was assigned as a chief engineer. At that time, since Lockheed did not have enough space in its office, Kelly built a circus tent next to a bad smelled plastic factory and started the project. Thanks to the limited space, Kelly decided to build not a big team from ordinary engineers but a small team from the best engineers. It is said that the team developed the airplane thinking outside the box because the tent was detached from the headquarters office. As a result, his team achieved to develop the new jet fighter in 143 days. Then, his team was called Skunk Works. After this success, this organization continues to develop innovative airplane such as a super-sonic fighter and a stealth fighter.

Skunk Works has the fundamental belief, three principles, and fourteen rules that Kelly elaborated. According to May, the fundamental belief is “Don’t build something you don’t believe in”. As models of good behavior, there are three principles: “First, its more important to listen than to talk; second, even a timely wrong decision is better than no decision; and third, don’t halfheartedly wound problems - kill them dead (May, 2012)”. Though the fourteen rules are for Skunk Works that makes innovative solution and implements it in a short time, I think that an ordinary organization can apply a part of the rules. My favorite rules are:

  • 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.
  • There must be a minimum number of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly.
  • 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 competence to design other vehicles.
  • 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.
  • Funding a program must be timely so that the contractor doesn't have to keep running to the bank to support government projects. (Lockheed Martin, n.d.)

I think that these are simple and common sense rules that prescribe importance of sharing information, of confirmation by using your own five senses, and of money, but they are for an organization that makes innovation. They are very “Keep It Simple, Stupid”. Do you think that these fourteen rules are simple?

Lockheed Martin. (n.d.). Kell'ys 14 rules & practices. Retrieved from

May, M. E. (2012, October 9). The rules of successful skunk works projects. Retrieved from

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