New DoD Guidance Suggests ‘Skunk Works’ Mgt. Approach


New DOD Acquisition Guidance Suggests ‘Skunk Works’ Management Approach

Posted on April 24, 2013

The Defense Department will explore a lean, “skunk works” style management
approach in more acquisition programs, one of many initiatives listed in new
guidance issued today by Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall.

The memo provides detailed implementation instructions for the “Better
Buying Power 2.0” guidance that Kendall issued last year. Included is a long
list of tasks and related due dates that concern affordability, cost control
and reducing the frequency of higher-headquarters reviews, among other
priorities. obtained an advance copy of the memo
from a Pentagon source. Kendall is scheduled to unveil the new
guidance during a press briefing today.

“A number of observers of the DOD acquisition process have advocated a lean
and less burdensome approach to managing programs and to making major
acquisition decisions,” the guidance states. “One approach is the ‘skunk
works’ approach, which dates to the 1960s. This approach involves small,
highly competent government and industry teams working together on a new
product development. This approach can have merit, but only if the necessary
preconditions are met.”

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Katrina McFarland and
Director of Acquisition Resources and Analysis Nancy Spruill will draft a
pilot “skunk works” based management and decision making guidance document
to brief to the Business Senior Integration Group by July 1, the guidance

Service acquisition executives will each recommend to Kendall by July 1 one
program for a pilot “skunk works” approach to acquisition management and
decision-making. The recommended programs should be early in their
development cycle; due for a cost-plus development approach with strong
government and industry interaction; and include highly qualified technical
management teams from both industry and government for development, Kendall

A report released last year by the National Academy of Sciences proposed
creating more unconventional “skunk works” programs in the defense
industrial base, universities and DOD to help address a shortage of
expertise in cybersecurity and key intelligence fields in the department’s

— Christopher J. Castelli
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