Try this experiment: Give your teams time and space to play.
That’s it. Don’t expect something shippable. Don’t plan to judge their output on the basis of business value. There will be no “right or wrong.” There will be no award for “the best idea.”
Strive for few defined goals other than engaging, exercising, and letting their creative and innovative spirits run free.
Pure exploration – like kids with endless reams of paper and a full box of crayons.Every good work of software starts by a developer scratching a personal itch. Click To Tweet
What Good Could Possibly Come of Play Time?
The idea of exploration time is not new. You’ve no doubt heard of Google’s 20% time, Atlasssian’s ShipIt Days, Adobe’s Kickbox, LinkedIn’s 20% Time, the list goes on. What you might not know is that 3M launched a 15 percent program way back in 1948.
As Jurgen Appelo points out in “Exploration Days” – Chapter 5 of Managing for Happiness, we need to let our “self-organizing teams” also be self-developing and self-educating too. All work and no play…. we know where that leads.100% utilization drives unpredictability. —Don Reinertsen Click To Tweet
The benefits of tinker time are many:
- Sparked creativity
- Freedom to innovate
- Time to sharpen the saw
- Cross-team pollination
- Opportunity to exercise autonomy, mastery, and purpose
- Reduced risk of burnout
- Making failure acceptable
Go Ahead, Take a Risk
Yes, I’m sure somebody (maybe even you) has plenty of objections to “playtime”:
- The team has much more urgent things to do
- They have project deadlines to meet
- They have too many meetings to attend already and not enough dev time.
- What if they don’t actually produce something during playtime that’s worth shipping?
- What about all the carryover from the last sprint….?
If the above “impediments” are getting in your way of getting started, try reframing the experiment:
- Allow time during “work hours” to have a book club
- Consider attending a conference “exploration” time
- Set aside some slack time in the next iteration to experiment with a new technology
- Build a quick proof of concept or a prototype – one that you promise, promise, promise you don’t intend to ship.
Just do something that involves learning.
From Failure Comes Success
After that “safe small experiment,” proceed to expand the playing field. Provide space for uncaged innovation, unbridled creativity, and true experimentation. Give the teams the opportunity to build something just to throw it away without “sunk cost” concerns. Allow all teams unfettered freedom to bomb miserably, without the possibility of repercussion.
Agile teams … can benefit from practising failure, learning how to cope with it and how to benefit from it. Paul Goddard Improv-ing Agile Teams
The value of (quickly!) learning from failure and moving on is enormous. Playtime allows for that.
Let the Artists Run Free
- Whatever Days
- Disruptions Days
- Shop Time
- Exploration Days
Expand the open space to more of the organization. Make participation optional. Let ad-hoc teams form organically. Watch the discoveries happen.Pure exploration - like kids with endless reams of paper and a fresh box of crayons. Click To Tweet
See what crazy cool things they come up with. Do they chase rainbows? Slay ancient dragons? Trailblaze?
You’ll never know unless you try it…
- Exploration Days Internal Crowdfunding, Internal Hackathons, ShipIt days, Trusting your team
- Exploration Days, 20-Percent Time, and Innovation in the Workplace
- Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative
- The 20% Doctrine
- Dan Pink on Motivation