F-117 stealth fighters to make final flight and Agile Development

F-117 stealth fighters to make final flight no one will know about - Engadget Skunk Works It's the final flight of the F-117. It's not exactly the prettiest aircraft in the world, but it sure broke new ground. At first, I was surprised, but I didn't realize there we so few of them left. Then it makes sense. Although, being replaced by the F-22 is an expensive proposition.

If you are interested in how engineering works when you have very smart people and not much oversight, check out Skunk Works. It still boggles my mind that they were able to build the SR-71 from scratch in two years. Especially, when you think about the fact that almost nothing on that aircraft had every been done before. They had to invent new tires, new fuel, new oil, engines that could cruise on afterburner, titanium fabrication techniques, and the list goes on. My favorite story involves paying vendors with suitcases full of cash so no one could follow the money -- these were very secret projects. Crazy stuff...

I also look back and see the parallels with Agile Software development. The principles are the same. You take a small team of smart people, empower them to solve a very difficult problem, and you can do a lot in a very short period of time. Kelly Johnson and his team had the luxury of super-secret projects that afforded them the freedom to do whatever is necessary to build their product. The same can be said for Agile Development teams. Give the team a goal and let them figure out the best way to reach that goal. With strong leadership, I'll bet that small team will destroy a large team's productivity any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Kelly Johnson said it best:

"Be Quick, Be Quiet, And Be On Time"

I might just have to add that to my own "Go big, or stay home."

Kelly's rules of management aren't too bad either:

  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.

In a follow-up post, I will map these rules to an Agile Software project.