I’m sure you’ve heard of the 20% doctrine implemented by companies like Google.
In a nutshell, they encourage their developers to spend 20% of their time working on anything they want. The purpose is to inspire innovation and help keep developers engaged at the company.
I ran across this article in which the author makes an argument against using this development incentive. He argues that “100% of work time should be used for work and side projects should be done on your own time.” I’m sure I could write pages arguing both sides of this statement, but don’t worry, I won’t. I will however, examine one specific comment he made: “… it’s better to find the right fit in a company that gives us work we’re interested in 100 percent of the time.”
I recently had the opportunity to be on a team that was given a “free week” to develop whatever we wanted. The only requirement was that we have something to show at the end of the week. Our team chose to work together and create a social game. We used the latest technologies integrated with web and mobile, and utilized various UI templates and tools. It was a fun week! The ideas were flowing, the energy was high, and everyone on the team was excited to be working on the project. Many team members even worked extra hours simply because they wanted to, not because they had a deadline to meet. This exercise was intended to create newfound energy and motivation that would carry over into our existing work. Unfortunately, it only took a couple of weeks until we were back in the same old routine as if our week of innovation had never happened. In fact, it’s fair to say that overall motivation only slightly increased.
A few months later, our team was given a fairly significant feature to design and implement in our product. Between all the design meetings and research, I noticed a familiar excitement making its way back into the team. There were more conversations, noticeably more enthusiasm, and a solid 110% effort dedicated to the development of the new feature. At the end of our project, we had something we loved and couldn’t wait to show off.
From my experience, if a team is truly engaged in their work, the same signs of excitement and motivation should be present as when they are allowed to work on a “fun” side project. So maybe there is middle ground between the 20% doctrine and Andrew’s argument for 100% work – developers need to be interested in the work they do. For my development team, this interest was created by giving us the freedom and time to design a new feature.