Seminar announcement, July 10 2019, Skunkworks projects for organisational and technological exploration: The case of the Hybrid Air engine at Peugeot Citroën PSA, by Prof. Joaquín ALEGRE VIDAL, Dpto. de Dirección de Empresas ‘Juan José Renau Piqueras’, Universidad de Valencia, Spain
Literature on new product development and structural ambidexterity emphasizes the need for both exploration and exploitation activities, but the question of how a firm can implement a separate organizational unit for exploration to support its exploitation activities remains unanswered. This study explores a secret skunkworks project in a large automotive French company, using a qualitative survey with both primary and secondary data. The results show that the secrecy and autonomy that characterized the skunkworks project created conditions for ambidexterity at the project level. The firm was able to exploit the dual technological and organizational exploration successfully. However, due to secrecy and isolation, the skunkworks also suffered a “Robinson Crusoe effect”, looking like an island located far away from the continent. The skunkworks capacity to perform well in its environment did not facilitate its reintegration into the parent company. This paper includes a detailed description of a real skunkworks project as well as an analysis of its performance in terms of ambidexterity. This research thus makes several contributions to the literature: (1) we provide a theoretical justification for using secret satellite structures to deal with organizational tensions related to ambidexterity in a large organization; (2) we propose a new and different type of ambidexterity, at a project level, comprised of dual organizational and technological exploration; and (3) we describe and analyze the Robinson Crusoe effect: a barrier to the transfer of exploration outcomes between a skunkworks and the parent company. Finally, we discuss the implications for decision making: managers need to be prepared in advance if they want to face the Robinson Crusoe effect successfully and make the most of skunkworks projects.