Friday, 28 June 2013

Fun Topic: Google 20%: Part 2

OK. So you like the 20% rule we talked about in Part 1 and it *makes sense*. So why doesn't everyone do it? I'd like to propose that in reality, allotting or allowing employees is not the problem, actually getting them to take advantage of it is harder than it looks.

The vacation site Hotwire in 2012 did a survey and found that Americans do *not* take advantage of 9.2 vacation days per year. (Marketplace goes onto say how this have a pretty scary negative effect on our health.) Employees as a whole are not always good at taking advantage of the perks offered us, which is sad, because the 20% rule I believe is a 'huge' perk. As we can see in this RSA video on Motivation the 3x big motivators of people are:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose @ 5:16

The 20% rule/Hack Days seem to provide this. It provides Autonomy in that you can do something without having to push it through the typical backlog process. It's Mastery as you work on it and potentially it's even Mastering something you don't day-to-day. Lastly it's Purpose, because people chose to work on things that have Purpose.

So let's take a look at the company is Atlassian (who Dan Pink loves for their "ShipIt" days, see below), the guys who make JIRA, which even us @ SAP use. There motto is:

"Build the Next Great Thing. Our software helps your team ship products – smarter and faster.

The great thing about Atlassian is that they are project management software people and they gave us some metrics as they tried to track the progress of their 20% of time initiative. Then they blogged about (somewhat sparely though) to give us further insights.

For the purposes of this blog I'll be looking at the following posts:

 Mike Cannon-Brookes, Co-Founder of Atlassian was very clear in his blog that he was "Unhappy" with innovation and he was going use 20% rule to re-jump-start innovation.
"In any startup company, innovation slows as the company grows." -  Mike Cannon-Brookes
Atlassian was willing to make a $1 million investment (20% * 70 ppl * 6 mnth) to see if this would work. However the *actual* usage of the 20% rule looked more like this:

1 Year (2x long as initially expected
48 Projects
248 Days of Effort* = “1.1% Time”
34 People*
So what did Atlassian think were the biggest problems?

#1 - Convincing people to take the 20%.

“Getting 20% time is incredibly difficult amongst all the pressure to deliver new features and bug fixes.”
Surprise, surprise. Just like 9.2 days of vacation left on the table, it doesn't a part of en-mass human nature to take advantage of the these types of perks. 

#2 - Tracking the 20%

"Another problem was accurate tracking of 20% effort."
Atlassian *are* the JIRA guys. They probably know project tracking better than anyone else. If they can't do it, I'm not sure how much hope other companies have.

The end of the story is that Atlassian put 20% out of BETA, meaning that it was successful enough for them to keep doing it. Their trial wasn't perfect, but it was more than enough to show its worth.

If you've read Part 1 of the post, I said that fear of failing is what prevented some features from being built. Ironically, this is what John Rotenstein said about the GA version of the 20% project:

Spelled out clearly is that "Failing is OK".He follows that up in bold with: "innovation is not guaranteed".

They added some check & balances and still recognize scheduling is main roadblock. However I think Atlassian is on the right track. Good for you guys!

Well, I hope you found this post interesting. Seen enough? Tempted enough to try to implement this @ your company?

Hope that helps...

Wayne Pau.

p.s. Dan Pink video I believe isn't actually talking about the 20% rule, but the programme called "ShipIt", which you can read about here:

"It’s also worth mentioning that our quarterly ShipIt Days also contribute to 20% Time but are tracked separately. They involve specific days set aside for innovation in a time-limited, competitive-like atmosphere." -

We didn’t mandate strict record-keeping and we don’t have reliable timesheet data since 20% Time got mixed-in with our ShipIt projects.  -

So similar idea, but it's not the same thing. This blog focuses on the 20%, not the 24-hr hackathon.

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