The Roboticist Chronicles: Lockheed’s “Skunk Works” Business Philosophy in Practice

 

Every business approaches how they work in a unique way. Each has a philosophy and culture, and each unique approach has its wins; some successful than others. But why? On this episode of The Roboticist Chronicles, we spoke business philosophy with Dan Allford, president of ARC Specialties.

ARC Specialties has sound technology, but they still need a corporate structure to execute it. Allford, who had years of technical training but only business class, wanted to create something that worked at ARC Specialties. Instead of reading books on the latest fads, he followed people. And one that inspired him the most was Lockheed Martin’s founder Kelly Johnson and his Skunk Works philosophy.

What is Skunk Works? It was the name of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Program and has become a business philosophy applied to many, many industries. It’s based around creating groups within an organization and allowing them a high degree of autonomy.

“What I appreciate about Johnson and Skunk Works is that it’s about empowering project managers and giving them the ability to control their destiny,” Allford said.

While working in automation and robotics, you might assume that it isn’t people centered. The human portion, or the “team,” is the most significant part according to Allford.

“We reward people based on what they create, not who they manage,” he said. “A good manager hires the right people, gives them a task, and lets them do what they do.”

That’s how ARC Specialties runs, stripping out layers of bureaucracy and focusing on the task. It also allows the company to remain nimble in the marketplace and exchange ideas. It even allows Allford’s employees to tell him when he’s wrong!

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