Professional Development

Learning from the Best – Kelly Johnson, Lockheed

Learning from the Best – Kelly Johnson, Lockheed 480 368 Eric Roulo

As part of my series on Successful Lists, Kelly Johnson ranks among the best. Primarily due to his tremendous record in aviation and the fact that he was perhaps the first to create an entirely new corporate structure that is now referred to as “Skunk Works.”

Kelly Johnson and the Lockheed Skunk Works was responsible for some of the highest-flying and fastest aircraft in the world. They were built on relative shoestring budgets and in record times by a small team of people. Johnson’s team of engineers, mechanics, and craftsmen developed the P-80, F-104, U-2, and SR-71 under the direction of Johnson and his unique style of management that was distilled into 14 rules

  1. The Skunk Works manager must be delegated practically complete control of his program in all aspects. He should report to a division president or higher.
  2. Strong but small project offices must be provided both by the military and industry.
  3. The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner. Use a small number of good people (10% to 25% compared to the so-called normal systems).
  4. A very simple drawing and drawing release system with great flexibility for making changes must be provided
  5. There must be a minimum number of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly.
  6. There must be a monthly cost review covering not only what has been spent and committed but also projected costs to the conclusion of the program. Don’t have the books 90 days late, and don’t surprise the customer with sudden overruns.
  7. The contractor must be delegated and must assume more than normal responsibility to get good vendor bids for subcontract on the project. Commercial bid procedures are very often better than military ones.
  8. The inspection system as currently used by the Skunk Works, which has been approved by both the Air Force and Navy, meets the intent of existing military requirements and should be used on new projects. Push more basic inspection responsibility back to subcontractors and vendors. Don’t duplicate so much inspection.
  9. The contractor must be delegated the authority to test his final product in flight. He can and must test it in the initial stages. If he doesn’t, he rapidly loses his competency to design other vehicles.
  10. The specifications applying to the hardware must be agreed to well in advance of contracting. The Skunk Works practice of having a specification section stating clearly which important military specification items will not knowingly be complied with and reasons therefore is highly recommended.
  11. Funding a program must be timely so that the contractor doesn’t have to keep running to the bank to support government projects.
  12. There must be mutual trust between the military project organization and the contractor with very close cooperation and liaison on a day-to-day basis. This cuts down misunderstanding and correspondence to an absolute minimum.
  13. Access by outsiders to the project and its personnel must be strictly controlled by appropriate security measures.
  14. Because only a few people will be used in engineering and most other areas, ways must be provided to reward good performance by pay not based on the number of personnel supervised.

Note that Kelly had a 15th rule that he passed on by word of mouth. According to the book “Skunk Works” the 15th rule is: “Starve before doing business with the damned Navy. They don’t know what the hell they want and will drive you up a wall before they break either your heart or a more exposed part of your anatomy.”

Other companies have groups that attempt to mimic the working environment that Lockheed pioneered. These include:

Lockheed – Skunk Works -> Now Advanced Development Programs

Boeing – Phantom Works

NASA – Eagleworks Laboratories

Google – Advanced Technologies and Projects (ATAP)



Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed


Success – Richard St. John

Success – Richard St. John 564 513 Eric Roulo

8 Secrets of Success by Richard St. John

I enjoy this video for a few reasons. It is the ultimate 80/20 video. 3 minutes. If you don’t have three minutes to discuss how to be successful, please leave this website. I start all of my high school and college career talks with this video.

The “Big Eight Things that Lead to Success

  1. Passion: Successful people love what they do.
  2. Work: They work very hard.
  3. Focus: They focus on one thing, not everything.
  4. Push: They keep pushing themselves.
  5. Ideas: They come up with good ideas.
  6. Improve: They keep improving themselves and what they do.
  7. Serve: They serve others something of value.
  8. Persist: They persist through time, failure, and adversity.

Richard’s Website is here:

My other lists of leadership advice are here.


Engineering Guidance for New/Expecting Parents

Engineering Guidance for New/Expecting Parents 649 506 Eric Roulo

Initial Thoughts

The details of your personal life choices are not mine to judge. I have my life experiences and opinions and they were shaped by many external and internal factors that we may or may not share. That being said, if you’re about to have a child, I have three recommendations that will make this experience more rewarding to you as a parent and professional. After that, I share some other observations that may either alter or sharpen your existing opinions. Good luck. It’s a hell of a journey.

Three Recommendations When I Hear You’re Going to Have a Child

  1. Watch this awesome TED video on parenting taboo’s with your spouse on a cozy couch when you’re relaxing together. (17 minutes)
  2. Acquire the book Wonder Weeks. It will explain many of your child’s emotional meltdowns during their early (brain) development. If you know me personally, I’ll drop ship it to you.
  3. Recognize, appreciate, and plan for the fact that you’re not in charge anymore. This has major implications for your work performance. This requires additional explanation provided below.

Should You Have Children

I don’t know. The best response to this question I’ve seen printed is by John T. Reed who says, I recommend you be a grandparent, and there’s only one way to get there. This is presented in his book Succeeding, which I recommend. It does seem interesting that everyone who has children seems to recommend it. I’ve also had a lot of first-hand experience with really motivated people professionally, who lost all drive after they had children. This may help inform when you should have children.

When Should You Have Children

I don’t know. Children are a major long term commitment and tend to refocus your priorities in life. There are competing interests here. You should have children as late as possible to provide time to develop your career, create some financial security, and become emotionally and mentally mature enough to be responsible for another person. You should have children as soon as possible because it’s nice to have youthful energy while raising children. You want to be in your twenties or thirties when you’re playing catch or soccer with your kids, not fifty or sixty. It’s a nice idea to not be a member of AARP when your kids graduate. People are physically built to have children young. If you’re a woman, your risks during pregnancy go up after 35 and drastically increase after 40. Practically, this means you want to be married before 30 if you want to have a family. That means no goofing off with boys who don’t want to be married or have kids after you’re in your mid/late twenties. Sorry.

You’re Not in Charge Anymore

Pretty much everything in your life changes after you have children. Professionally this means you need to plan a lot more buffer into your schedule. No more all-nighters before a deadline. Procrastination can now completely screw you. Let’s say you don’t start a project until right before it’s due because you’ll just work a few long days and get it in under the deadline. Well, this is when fate will decide you need to spend the night in the hospital with your kid who is sick, dehydrated, and has a 103 degree fever. This is when your two-week project that is due tomorrow and hasn’t been started yet caused you a career setback. It’s okay to be only 90% done when you’re in the hospital with your children, but not having started? That’s just irresponsible. It was always irresponsible, but now your children shine a light on that fact for you.

So, it’s really time to adopt some priority management skills and tactics to prevent the likelihood of this happening. I recommend a few concepts here which will be expanded over time.

  1. Watch Randy Pausch on Time Management.
  2. Read the Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. “First thing first, second thing never.”
  3. Read this summary of GTD, and think about reading Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Good luck!


Prepare for Your Technical Future with Dr. Richard Hamming

Prepare for Your Technical Future with Dr. Richard Hamming 549 526 Eric Roulo

hammin_102743951sm“FEA is for insight, not numbers” was the quote on the inside cover of the student guide for I-DEAS. I found out 15 years later that it was a misquote from Dr. Hamming, but that research led me to one of the great finds of my professional development. Learning to Learn is a 31 part lecture series that outlines the lessons learned from a giant in the field of science and engineering. Watch the first episode and be captivated.

The binder of Hamming’s notes contained the following, which eventually was published as a book.

The Art of Doing Science and Engineering and the ebook is located here.

The videos can be viewed on RCI’s youtube channel in a special playlist here.

“The purpose of computing is insight, not numbers.” -Richard Hamming