I had a talk today with a business owner who was struggling with a compliance audit. They knew that there were two ways to do things: the traditional way or the innovative way. When presented with which approach to take they decided to perform both in parallel. The traditional audit program would continue as it had for many years, but the innovative program (much smaller and more efficient) would be a “skunk works” project.

The traditional audit would find deficiencies and attempt to resolve them by applying the traditional approach of “patching the system”. Sometimes people like to patch multiple system at once and they call this approach “strategic”. Either way you wrap it, you are still patching a system instead of trying to change the system to one that does not need a patch.

The reason authors of business/management books will have jobs forever is because there is nothing wrong with business-as-usual. Companies need a balance of both innovation and (a strong core of) standard business processes. As a result, companies fluctuate back and forth between wanting innovation and wanting features. Google is experiencing this shift right now as they move to “features, not products.”

The initiative’s primary goal is to make Google products easier to use, especially by packaging disparate products. For example, said Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, Google plans to combine its spreadsheet, calendar and word-processing programs into one suite of Web-based applications.

There is nothing wrong with business-as-usual until it needs to change. Sometimes you need to appease two masters: one that mandates results under the current regime and one that expects growth and change. For those situations, you don’t need the A-Team, you need a “skunk works” project!