The real cost of “skunkworks” operations

skunkworks operationsAnyone who knows me knows I am a big fan of “skunkworks” operations where you circumvent the huge overhead associated with a corporation’s established “processes” and make things happen behind the scenes, often by working directly with engineers and designers who are passionate about the same things you are. Lots of sites extol the virtues of the skunkworks operations as a great, if not the only way to make innovation happen at big companies. I am not here to argue with them.

There is, however, a cost no one tells you about going skunkworks: you will for sure piss some people off. And some of them will be pretty powerful. Ask yourself this question: what do powerful people do when they are pissed off at you? They tend to take a few well-timed, visible slugs at you, which can add up to some stress. That said here’s what I think the keys to succeeding are:

  1. Year one: Go skunkworks in your passion project. Expect to take some hits for doing it and don’t take it personally when they come. Be brutally honest with yourself about goals and metrics that the business will get excited about.
  2. Years two and beyond: Once you’ve tested your way into those metrics of success and enough of the right people in your business are interested and excited, it’s time to suck it up and go through the established processes.

Next up: why would you want to go through established processes if you’ve had success in the skunkworks arena?

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