Atlassian’s 20% Day
After writing about Google's 20% time commitment to personal projects, I wanted to be sure to point this out. Mike from Atlassian reports on what happened when he gave the same idea a try at his company. (I suppose instituting radical new policies is easier when you're the founder.)
They called it FedEx day (motto for the day: "We Deliver"), and out of it came some really kick-ass feature additions for Atlassian's products, several of which will ship in the very next versions. [Which must be getting close by now…. right, mate?]
Since Mike gave his developers free reign, they added more than just features. There were also improvements made in tech support automation, in infrastructural code (like exception handling), in distribution methods, and in diagnostics. Several of the developers developers took the opportunity to make their jobs easier.
You might argue that they should have focused their efforts on providing immediate user-value. But think about how these investments will pay off in the long run: every minute a developer is able to shave off dealing with tech support is another minute spent coding. And those saved minutes, over a year, will add up to far more features than anyone could have added in a single day.
It those kinds of investments that are not immediately noticeable on the bottom line, but are perfectly suited to programmers' discretionary time. Too often, developers are too busy just trying to stay ahead of customer demands to spend time on making themselves more productive. We have a developer on our team who spends a great deal of his time on non-feature related code, and our whole team has seen enormous productivity boost because of his improvements.