Several well known companies have slack time models of different shapes and sizes. 3M and Google are famous for their 20% model (engineers work 20% of thair time – e.g. every friday – on a self-chosen project). My former colleague Bernd Schiffer wrote a small blog post series about slack.
Recently an InfoQ article re-opened the discussion with interesting insights into Googles 20% slack model. It seems that at Google most employees don’t use their slack (self-chosen or management prohibited it).
That made me think of two slack models I have experienced first-hand – one at it-agile (every employee had 30 days slack per year) and one at a client (every developer had a contingent of something about 12 days per year using the Goldcard model). In my point of view both models failed to deliver what was expected: business relevant innovation. And I think I know the reason.
Imagine the typical developer working according to the prioritization of a Product Owner. Now we grant the developer 10 days per year slack time. He can use the day for whatever he wants to do. The developer thinks: “What should I do with my slack time? Hm. I can do, whatever I want. Let’s see, there is this new cool programming language. I will have a look at it.”
The effect is a technological focus of the slack time. In such a setting you can expect that developers know more new technologies. And that is fine if this has a relevant impact on your business.
But most of my clients primarily need business innovation. While knowing the newest technologies is important for a lot of business innovations it is not enough. You need to know customers’ problems and needs as well.
Google has an advantage here: Google develops products for consumers like me and you. Therefore the engineers might be potential customers of Google products and a now their own problems and needs. Ergo: developers were able to develop e.g. Google Chrome or GMail in their slack time.
But in most companies the developers aren’t potential customers of their own products. I think that a slack model has to have certain constraints to generate business innovation. One might be that the slack time has to be with and at clients (perhaps something like the sunglass iPad development at Nordstrom may be the result).
What di you think? What are your experiences with slack time models?