Friday, December 09, 2005

R&D Time, when developers work on what they love and get paid. - Part 1

Inspired by the companies that came before us, such as Google, 3M, and now JotSpot, we were inspired by a research and development time for all development staff.

While Google is famed for giving their developers 20% of the week to work on their own projects, we're not quite Google (yet). So the way we fuel our developers' fires is that every Friday afternoon, we shut down our internal projects and move into complete innovation mode. Google calls it the 20% time, JotSpot calls it the hackathon, Microsoft calls it "Do something special that's above and beyond the call after your regular 12 hour work day, or you're fired" time.

BubbleShare calls it R&D Time, or as I like to sometimes call it BS R&D.

Why does this concept of giving everyday development staff free time to explore make sense? Why should a company pay people for doing what they want to do, even if it's not going to make its way into the next product release? What about companies who aren't Google or Microsoft--can they still afford to do this?

Even startups (maybe especially startups) can't afford NOT to give up some scheduled time for free R&D time for two good reasons:

(1) You'll get your best ideas/features from bottom-up skunkworks projects that would NEVER be "justifiable" under the company road map;

(2) In order to keep truly great people around on a "startup" salary, you need to not only provide an exciting vision to work towards and fun environment to work in, but you need to provide an "outlet" which allows great developers and designers the freedom to express their own creativity and passions outside the immediate product goals that are sometimes restrictive due to corporate priorities.

It's working for companies like Jotspot and Bubbleshare, and it could work for you. In this Always On interview, Jotspot's Joe Kraus explains why:
We recently did this thing called a hackathon, which is a really effective way of reintroducing innovation. Startups are supposed to have two advantages over large companies: They're supposed to be faster and more innovative. But I asked myself the question, is that really true? And I think the answer is that a lot of startups--especially as they start to get a few customers—stop innovating because the become so focused on customer-driven development. They get a year-round product roadmap, and suddenly every engineer is locked into it, and nobody is thinking relatively.
I couldn't agree more.

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