10% lab days

“We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20 percent of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. […] This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.” — Larry Page 2004

The Environment

  • Great ideas may come from anywhere
  • The most practical ideas come from the people who do the regular work (as opposed to an isolated R&D department)
  1. Alignment
  2. Mandate
  3. Investment

1. Alignment

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality “ — Warreng G. Bennis

2. Mandate

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to to , We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do. “ — Steve Jobs

3. Investment

Sometimes to move fast you need to go slow.

The Risk

  • Someone may start a project that, unlike their regular duties they are passionate about and it can easily swallow more than 20% of their time and/or their most productive hours.
  • Company trade secrets and intellectual property may unwantedly leak to an open source project that comes out of an initiative
  • An employee may quit the company to start their own business based on an idea they started on the time that was paid by the company.

Implementation

Why 10?

What kind of work?

  • Some took online courses
  • Some fixed tech debt and improved code quality (may sound boring, but at least this was a regular change to improve the code)
  • Some including myself did open source projects (in a later post I’ll discuss how to set an open source strategy but if you’re in a hurry, here’s some great material)
  • Some created a new solution to an old problem and demonstrated their proof of concept.
  • Some managers read a book that would improve their leadership skills or understanding of the market
  • Some tried learning new solution technologies to see how it solves the problems at hand
  • Some spent time on improving thedocumentation
  • Some built automated tools to reduce toil
  • Some used this time to add more automated tests to the code base to cover edge cases
  • etc.

When to do it?

  1. If your idea needs more work, you can continue working on it over the weekend if you want. A big warning here: this was not an expectation but rather a flexibility to allow for continuity.
  2. Many of us who had on-call duty were free Friday the week after. Although we would miss one lab day, at least we knew that we’re not someone else’s dependency for regular work.
  3. Fridays are usually shorter and more cheerful, so why not add to the fun and let people do something they desire to do?

Who did it?

How Transparent?

While vision focuses on tomorrow, the mission statement focuses on today.

Caveats

Open Source

Productionalization

Some missed it

Balance: micromanage vs anarchy

The strategy is a plan of action while the policy is a set of common rules and regulations, which forms as a base to take the day to day decisions.

The net cost is less than 10%

It’s a perk

Conclusion

  1. Employees who are self-starters and take initiative
  2. Clear policies that helps them spend their time on what is impactful

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Sr. Staff Engineer, Knowledge Worker, MSc Systems Engineering, Tech Lead, Web Developer

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Alex Ewerlöf

Alex Ewerlöf

Sr. Staff Engineer, Knowledge Worker, MSc Systems Engineering, Tech Lead, Web Developer

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