Beyond skunkworks: going mainstream without selling out

In my last post I talked about the notion of starting your new, unproven projects in “skunkworks” mode to get them going without fear of the ongoing, unproductive dance of prioritization against proven mainstream efforts. After a year of being in skunkworks, it’s time to go mainstream. Why? Without further ado, I give you…

The top five reasons you know it’s time to move your skunkworks projects mainstream:

  1. You proved your case: When you launched your skunkworks project, you did it with concrete goals in mind, right? Once you start proving your case with indisputable data, things start to fall into line. The golden moment you realize you proved your case is one of the most satisfying work moments there is – because it means you were the oracle. And your life is about to get easier.
  2. You need the assets “the machine” provides: In order to flourish, your baby needs to grow. And the “core” business has incredible designers, programmers, and marketers who can help you do it.
  3. The resistance you faced initially is gone: See number one. Once you prove your case with some actual hard data, the resistance starts to fade, which means one of the reasons you avoided being part of the core process is fading too.
  4. If you want “social” to be part of the way you do business, it has to be part of the way you do business. Nothing says “I’ve arrived” better than walking through the front door.
  5. You’ll be GD-ed if you’re going to turn your baby over to some other corporate shumuck to takeover. If the business believes your project is worth growing someone is going to grow it. If you don’t someone else to be that person, you better step up. Trust me on this one.

Prioritization presents a pretty pickle

Pickles You know what’s great about my job? Lots of things: I get to work with super smart people, I get to be part of a successful team, plus I really like connecting a business to the humans who make our jobs possible.

You know what sucks? Going through the prioritization process. Why? Because when you’re trying to do something new, it’s hard to get the data to prove what will happen if it gets prioritized. Because it’s never been done before. So we don’t have data yet. Which is why we want to do it in the first place. Any new idea we have to improve on our original idea means more prioritizing.

I’m betting other big companies face the same issues. Lots of important priorities all want access to the same set of assets (engineers, usually) to make their plans happen. How best to balance keeping the core business running and innovation? It presents quite a pickle.