Our 20% investment time - the background storyvaidy
January 21, 2016
One of the things that Google became famous for in its earlier days, was their policy of 20% investment time. One day in a week, you could choose the project of your choice and work on it.
You would still be held responsible for that and would need to demonstrate progress to your colleagues. But the fact that had a choice to work on whatever you felt would be most useful for Google piqued your interest was a big deal.
GMail, News and AdSense are famous products that were born out of that 20% time.
Multiple other companies have since followed suit with the objective of accelerating innovation at the workplace.
We did too. Last year. 7 years after we started Multunus, back in 2008.
The rest of this post talks about why we did it, how we executed the transition to our “4 day workweek” and what we expect from this transition.
Why we chose to make less money
Our folks are a smart bunch. They know how to keep themselves on top of things - with regular skill practice and research.
Considering they already know how to keep their axes sharp, why was it needed for us to invest additional time at the company level?
We’re in the services business. Which means time is money. Literally. We bill our customers a standard 40 hours per week. Introducing a 20% investment time would mean scaling back our revenues by the same number.
In summary, our situation:
Our team’s skills were pretty good and they were getting better, because of self-investment
Our profits would decrease significantly if we decreased our billing hours
So, why did we do it?
While practicing your skills independently is great, honing your craft with your colleagues at work is better. Here’s why:
Learning together is a much faster process. You’re surrounded by a team of people with varied levels of experience and skills. That’s a fantastic opportunity to discover, share and learn new things faster, than just by yourself.
Craftsmanship. That’s one of our core values here at Multunus. Building a great company culture requires regular investment in the values that we believe in.
We want the highest levels of engagement in our team - so we can deliver the best value to our customers. For this to happen, our team needs to be happy and deeply satisfied with their work.
And the 20% investment time is what we’ve chosen to help us hone our craft of building software product, faster and together as a company.
Once this key decision was made, the council came up with a plan to roll out the 20% time across the company, in phases.
The most difficult challenge - telling our clients
- “We’d like to take a day off from billable work.”*
Client:* “For this week?”*
- “No, forever. One day each week.”*
The next step was to tell our customers. While we’d made the internal decision to reduce our billable time by 20%, this was not going to be possible without a nod from our clients.
A possible argument in our favor: * Since we would only be charging for hours billed, and we’re not "employed" by our clients, this was a fair ask. Right?*
It’s more complicated than that. The kind of work that we undertake with our clients is almost always critical to their business. For some of our clients, we’re their only dev team. For others, we’re their augmented team - working very closely with them on their core products. For still others, we interface with our client’s customers and service them directly representing our client.
So, what did we do?
Our council worked with each team to help them negotiate with their respective clients. The key message that each team conveyed was this:
That this was something that we were very serious across the entire company
That our clients’ businesses would not be negatively impacted in any way
- It’s hard to back this up with data, but we feel confident that a motivated engaged team can achieve more in 4 days, than what a less engaged team can achieve in 5 or 6.
Is it working?
Certainly seems like it. Here’s what’s happened since we switched to this system:
Successfully deployed OneMDM[our open source Mobile Device Management solution] in production for a rural health project in the Sabarkantha district of Gujarat.
One of our teams chose to invest in building their Machine Learning skills. From the looks of it, the day is not far before we start doing serious ML work for our customers.
We launched the MVP of a new product - that we’re now dogfooding. This is picking up enough steam to eventually warrant some serious dev investment in the coming months.
We created more content on our blog in the last few months than we’d done in a very long time before that.
You get the picture.
2015 was a year of bold experiments. Here’s a few of them:
The 20% investment time
Self-determined rate cards [More on this in the coming weeks]
The book“Drive” by Daniel Pinktalks about 3 key aspects of an engaged team:
Autonomy:Going beyond empowerment and trusting our team to do the right thing.
Mastery: Continually investing in sharpening our axes
Purpose: Our goal is to be the happiest workplace on the planet. When we're working on creating something that endures us, that brings in the sense of deep purpose along with it.
Are we engaged yet? What do you think? :) Tell us in the comments.