How Small Teams Accelerate Product Development

What is Skunkworks?

Throughout history there have been pivotal moments where small teams of dedicated individuals have come together with a common purpose – to achieve the seemingly impossible.

One of those moments was in 1943. Lockheed Aircraft Corporation was secretly hired by the US Army to build a high-speed jet fighter to counter the growing German threat. The jet needed to be ready in 150 days, fly at 600mph (200 miles faster than the current Lockheed propeller plane) and on a very tight budget.

It seemed like an impossible mission, but the Lockheed team stepped up to the challenge and had the jet ready in 143 days. This event set a standard in making the impossible possible. It subsequently inspired businesses to create small, carefully selected teams, who are cohesive, focused and nimble in their approach – a concept also known as ‘skunkworks’.

Everett Rogers, a Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico, defined skunkworks as an “enriched environment that is intended to help a small group of individuals design a new idea by escaping routine organisational procedures.”

When Is Product Development Hindered In Large Organisations?

Each large business has an established culture and structure which supports its successful growth and output. However, these structures can inhibit successful product development. Here are 5 common reasons:

1. Long chain of decision makers.
Numerous phases of development require approval. This can slow down the creation of new and disruptive ideas that lead to innovation.

2. Employees feel restricted.
Staff must feel independent enough to pursue their own innovative thinking and put forward ideas. This allows creative intelligence in the organisation to flow.

3. Large workload.
Staff have a large workload which limits their ability to be creative.

4. Too many chiefs.
Multiple managers trying to make their mark on a project can slow product development

5. Restrictive processes and rules to protect the business.
Large organisations have a playbook of processes and rules that minimise risk, and ensure company standards are met. However, these processes can become a barrier to innovation.

When large organisations carve out small teams that don’t have to play by these rules. They give themselves a much greater opportunity to be innovative, be faster to market, and gain a significant competitive edge.

In Our Experience, Here’s Why Smaller Teams For Product Development Work Better.

  • Small teams stay focused. Given authority to make decisions, they remain free from multiple layers of management
  • Communication is more streamlined, leading to confident decision-making and quicker actions
  • Individuals can be carefully selected to complement each other’s skill sets. This reduces competing agendas that can take away from the purpose of the project
  • There is a cohesiveness that develops in small teams. A small team builds a unified and common purpose. Therefore, ideas, both good and bad, can be voiced – allowing ideas to flourish into meaningful solutions

Mission Impossible: What Can A Skunk Works Style Approach Achieve In Product Development?

As a fully resourced product design team, we’ve been able to help larger companies innovate with ground-breaking products, strengthen their brand and develop a competitive edge.

We were part of a small, diverse team in the sport medicine sector which included the CEO, software engineers, production designers and engineers. Together we developed a game-changing, patented sport science device which is now sold worldwide.

We’ve also worked within a small team of commercial builders and manufacturers to design and engineer a million-dollar, architectural ceiling feature, in less the 30 days.

Need to speed to market? We’ve been part of a global team including a brand manager in Europe, QC agents in Hong Kong, and a manufacturer in Shanghai. The brief was to get to market within tight buying windows, fulfilling different promotional cycles including Fathers day and Christmas. As a group we were able to design, engineer, manufacture and deliver within just 90 days.

Partner With An Experienced And Highly Efficient Product Development Team.

Our product development team has been working together for many years. We’re cohesive, efficient, and productive. Above all, we bring our skills in innovation, focus and creativity to launch products that extend your brand, and give you a competitive edge.

Contact us to learn how we can help you innovate and expand your business into a profitable future.