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I've also seen it fail the other way where the Skunkworks becomes the preserve of "high achievers" not producing a lot that's useful. Almost every 'Office of the CTO' I've seen has suffered that failure mode. Lot's of things get built but none are more than fluffy experiments and there's no path to actually putting any of those things into production. Once in a while they'll be forced through and the production team has to spend a lot of effort fixing and making the project actually work.

Isn't that just a lack of clear goals? Skunkworks had extremely ambitious deliverables and was not a science lab, even though they helped develop a lot of new technology.

I think that's a part of it but there's also the question of how they interface with everyone else. IME a lot of these teams end up working in isolation from everyone else. And the patronage of the team usually makes them somewhat untouchable or unquestionable.

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