10% time at Hooroo

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Recently the team at Hooroo got together and identified that our regular 10% time, every Tuesday arvo from 1pm, was falling short of the benefits and results we were originally aiming for when we put it in place over a year ago. We decided this wasn’t on and have made a few changes to help reinvigorate this valuable part of working at Hooroo.

Firstly, we asked ourselves why we have 10% time in the first place and agreed that it’s an opportunity for experimentation, to discover the benefits of new tools and technologies and to generally demonstrate what we can achieve with our own initiative. It also gives us some head-space from our current projects in play, which in turn provides time to reflect and assess better ways to deliver solutions.

There was some uncertainty within the team about what a good 10% time experiment is. We decided that “experiments” needed some clarification:

Experiments, by definition, must start off with a hypothesis. This should be something that can be reasonably related to the objectives of our delivery team (development, product, design) and the direction of the wider Hooroo Group in general. Whilst we want this time to be fun and free of the pressures of regular “work”, we need to remain mindful that 10% time experimentation should relate to a potential benefit for Hooroo. That still leaves a massive amount of flexibility for us to innovate.

We can do things like:

  • Investigate the relevance of a new JavaScript framework that we think will boost our productivity
  • Create new internal tools or improve existing ones to solve problems/inefficiencies that we or our colleagues experience
  • Create additional measurements to understand the size of a known problem or opportunity
  • Scope-out an MVP for an entirely different way to engage a subset of our users
  • Hack on some hardware to investigate the place of physical devices either for us or our customers

Along with the unclarity about what a good 10% time experiment was, there was some confusion about the expected outcomes from the rest of the Hooroo Group. Some team members were feeling pressure to always work on an idea that would be relevant or interesting to everyone within our company.

We quickly realised that outcomes was another area that needed clarification. Highlighting that it’s ok to fail was the key message amongst the team and is a huge part of our learning and experimentation process.

If we’re picking suitable experiments, then the output mechanism should be obvious depending on what we’re investigating. For example, we don’t expect people to showcase a new highly-concurrent HTTP framework to the entire company, but we would expect to see some fruits from that labour. Even if it’s a 10 minute brown bag session with a few slides or a demo for the technical team.

We identified a number of different ways that 10% time projects may be communicated:

  • Release it for the team to use
  • Demo at a showcase
  • Brown bag session with a few slides
  • Email and explain what you discovered
  • One-on-one catchup with specific stakeholders
  • Reports / data to feed into another project or another experiment

‘Failed’ experiments shouldn’t be excluded from this communication. Demonstrating what failed and why is a valuable exercise and needs to be shared.

So what are we changing with 10% time at Hooroo?

1. Move to Tuesdays fortnightly, all day (instead of every Tues arvo). This should allow us to be more focused from the moment we arrive at work in the morning. It was clear that kicking off a 10% time experiment every Tuesday afternoon was ripe for distraction. A clean “cut over” from our regular projects in play was becoming more and more difficult each week. Having a whole day for 10% should fix that.

2. Create an “In progress” wall. We’ve put up cards and avatars for visibility and we’ll use it much like our regular wall to track how things are progressing and what’s ready to have outcomes communicated.

3. Have a dedicated 10% time stand up. We’re going to use the end of our Monday 4pm tech session for this as that’s when we’re all together already. It will also allow us to hit the ground running on Tuesday mornings with no requirements to be at a stand up or huddle etc in the way.

4. Sit in pairs away from our usual desks and project areas. We’re going to try gather around a common area of the office and create a good atmosphere. This also communicates out to the rest of the Hooroo Group that 10% is underway and it’s being taken seriously.

Really looking forward to seeing how these changes impact the success of 10% time at Hooroo. If you have any questions, feel free to ask via Twitter.

Thanks Stu Liston, Hooroo’s Development Manager, for helping out with this post.