Play Time… What is it Good For?

play timeTry 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. Share on X
If you feel the need to establish some constraints, put a timebox around things.

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% timeAtlasssian’s ShipIt DaysAdobe’s Kickbox, LinkedIn’s 20% Time, and 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 Share on X

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 collective 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

And next, get a little buzz going behind things. Maybe you come up with a creative name for this “playtime”:
  • 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. Share on X

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…

If you need some game props, check out a few idea starters online.





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