For the last few months we have been experimenting a slightly modified version of Google's "20 percent time" policy here at Netsparker and it seems to be working quite well.
"When you're hired at Google, you only have to do the job you were hired for 80% of the time. The other 20% of the time, you can work on whatever you like – provided it advances Google in some way. At least, that's the theory."
Today I want to share our experience in this blog post.
Google has pioneered this policy but later on, other companies like Apple (Blue Sky Project) and LinkedIn (InCubator Program) has adopted similar strategies to give their workers chance to work on projects that will somehow advance the company and also make the employees enjoy what they do. With the same spirit our employees are also free to work on what they are pleased to work on their 20 percent times. These pet projects could be:
- A utility application not directly related with our business domain but will make our daily lives easier (see FogBugz Pivot)
- A proof of concept work that would replace some inner machinery in Netsparker with a better design
- A security research on a cool emerging technology that would eventually be integrated into Netsparker
- A minor, low priority fix/enhancement to Netsparker which would never be implemented otherwise (We have these tasks marked with "Implement If Time" priority level and as you may have guessed, we do not implement much of those)
- A blog post like this one
Members of the team should submit a brief description about what they are working on now or may just reveal a code-name of their project with no extra description to make other team members curios. You may form pairs/teams to work on a project too. We then schedule a day where we are presenting each other what we have done. We are currently experimenting a time frame like 2 months to do these presentations so every 2 months you should come up with something to present to the other team members. We are not expecting that every pet project should succeed with great results, we are seeing these as experiments and gathering the failure reasons is also valuable as succeeded projects.
My personal experience shows that the time I have spent for these kind of pet projects go beyond the 20% of my time at Netsparker and I find myself working on these projects in the evenings, at the weekends. You can guess how it feels better when you are working on a project that you enjoy as opposed to working on that damn dreaded finance report feature. Also having flexibility on feature set and technologies you use, you feel more free while you are developing.
This is another thing that we spend our 20% time on, but this time collectively. On Fridays, we spare one hour or so to watch training videos on topics where we feel team members have lack of knowledge. During these sessions, we stop the video and having discussions on the topic and sharing ideas. This helps us to make sure all team members are on same page for that topic. If you are already familiar with this topic, you are getting more insight while you are trying to explain it to your peer and answering their questions. These sessions collectively increase the technical knowledge of the team and helps us to consume the training materials we have subscribed which otherwise would stay untouched.
For the time being, although it is too early to say, this strategy seems to be working for us and suggest you to give it a chance.