Set up an IT ‘skunkworks’

Sometimes, the rigid organisational structure that traditional IT project management demands can get in the way of innovation.

This is a problem that technology companies have always wrestled with. The most famous solution was engineering giant Lockheed Martin’s so-called Skunk Works team, which circumnavigated company procedure and politics to develop cutting-edge fighter jets.

The idea of setting up an internal ‘skunkworks’ to lead innovative IT projects gained recent attention thanks to the UK government, of all places. The British Parliament has operated a skunkworks of sorts, called ‘Parliament Labs’, for a number of years. It operates outside the official structure of the organisation to explore innovative ways of making Parliament more transparent.

The idea seems to have struck a chord with the present government, which announced in June 2010 that it would set up an IT skunkworks “to assess and develop faster and cheaper ways of using ICT in government”. According to the Cabinet Office, this skunkworks was successfully set up in January 2011, and a mechanism is in place to allow the skunkworks team to get involved in procurement projects at an early stage.

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Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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