OSS Skunk-works

Executive consultant at specialist software development consultancy ThoughtWorks Leslie Barry says the skunk works division becomes a safe place for experimentation.
“You do that to attract a different culture that wants to try new things, get stuff done and get it out there faster,” Barry says. “It is about attracting smart, engaged people and giving them a space to work in. And they will almost hack their way around the existing culture of the organisation.”
However, he says it is important that the role of the skunk works be well understood within the organisation, and that mechanisms be put in place to harness the output it creates.
“You use the knowledge to invigorate the existing business,” Barry says.
“You can’t lose sight that there is an existing business. You have to bring the existing business along on the journey
From an article by Brad Howarth on “Business Spectator”.

Brad’s article also quotes Steve Vamos as saying, “Now we live in a networked, volatile world. So if you want to transform your organisation, you have to undo 100 years plus of industrial age conditioning.”

These factors of change are often overlooked by organisations that are implementing OSS projects. OSS projects have the habit of bringing about such fundamental changes to an organisation and its culture that they end up being a larger barrier to success than the technological changes being implemented.

Many of the organisations that we implement OSS projects for do indeed have 100 years plus of industrial age conditioning that we need to work with (and around) to successfully implement change. After all, many have risen from government-run monopolies, have survived privatisation and are now coping with innovation at the speed of software.

I often speak of sand-pit environments as being vital to help an organisation make the technological transition to the new OSS world post-implementation. I really like Leslie Barrie’s suggestion above about extending the sand-pit to a skunk-works where cultural and organisational change has an opportunity to transition from industrial age to information age and beyond.

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