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A skunkworks project is a project developed by a small and loosely structured group of people who research and develop a project primarily for the sake of radical innovation. The terms originated with Lockheed's World War II Skunk Works project.
Everett Rogers defines skunkworks as follows: "[It] is an especially enriched environment that is intended to help a small group of individuals design a new idea by escaping routine organizational procedures. The research and development (R&D) workers in a skunkworks are usually specially selected, given special resources, and work on a crash basis to create an innovation."
The term originated during World War II when the P-80 Shooting Star was designed by Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects Division in Burbank, California, under similar circumstances. A closely guarded incubator was set up in a circus tent next to a plastics factory in Burbank. The strong smells that wafted into the tent made the Lockheed R&D workers think of the foul-smelling “Skunk Works” factory in Al Capp’s Li'l Abner; the job no one wanted: to be the inside man at the 'Skonk Works' (as called in the comic).
Since its origination with Skunk Works, the term was generalized to apply to similar high-priority R & D projects at other large organizations, featuring "small team taken out of their normal working environment and given exceptional freedom from their organisation's standard management constraints."
The term typically refers to technology projects developed in semi-secrecy, such as Google X Lab. Another famous skunkworks was the lab of about 50 people established by Steve Jobs to develop the Macintosh computer, located behind the Good Earth Restaurant in Cupertino.
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