[Slack to the Rescue] The Future

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Innovation and Motivation: Slack to the Rescue

So far, so yay! Employees enjoy slack, organizations enjoy innovations resulting from employee’s slack, and teams are formed to drive innovative ideas. But what happens if an idea originating in slack is successful? With all those innovations some ideas have to be successful eventually, right?

Beyond Slack Time

Different companies, different strategies to cope with slack success: Atlassian had 16 out of 48 slack projects which where incorporated into products, and there seems to be no special strategy how they would execute this transition. Google, on the other hand, introduced a so called “Founders Award” with up to $10 million reward for innovative products.

“The Founders Award are based on the premise that an employee shouldn’t have to join a start-up to get rich.” — Gary Hamel in Future of Management

Gore with its dabble time (their so called slack) and its 1000+ projects introduced a separate process to deal with hopeful innovations:

“Once a project moves beyond the dabble stage, there is a cross-functional review process that periodically puts the development team through an exercise called: “Real, Win, Worth.” — Gary Hamel in Future of Management

What does it mean (and how long does each stage in this process last)?

  • Real: Does it solve a customer’s problem? (Check now!)
  • Win: Can we make money with it? (Analyse the new business!)
  • Worth: Will we benefit from it in a long-term? (Observe over a long period of time!)

At it-agile, whenever someone thinks she has a good idea, she tries to convince a majority of our employees that we should invest in that idea. It’s as simple as that – and much harder than it sounds.

Future of Slack – Google’s and Semco’s 100% slack

More and more companies are jumping on the slack bandwagon. But what’s the future of slack? The idea is simple: If 20% is a good thing, than why not increase the slack time?

Rumour has it Google wants to introduce full-time slack for their elite employees:

“… Google is contemplating launching an in-house incubator, where some of the company’s smartest smarty pants will get to work on their own inspirations full-time.” — E.B. Boyd in Why Google’s “20 Percent Time” Isn’t Stemming Its Brain Drain

Phew, think about that job for a minute. Nobody tells you, what you have to do, all the time. You’re free to experiment with whatever you want. Failures are being welcomed as are learnings. You are able to work with the brightest brains Google has to offer. But of course, the downside could be lot of pressure to invent the next wheel.

Actually, this idea is not new at all. Semco experimented with a small group of people on the subject of full-time slack, called Nucleus of Technology Innovation (NTI):

“Their idea was to take a small group [of 3 people] raised in Semco’s culture and familiar with its people and its products … and set them free. Removed from day-to-day activities, they would no longer worry about production problems, billing, inventory, machines that didn’t work or subordinates who wanted a raise. They would have all their time free to think. They believe that, thus liberated, they would invent new products, refine old ones, devise market strategies, unearth cost reductions and product efficiencies, even dream up new lines of businesses.” — Ricardo Semler in Maverick

Semco established 5 rules for the NTI:

  1. No boss for them.
  2. No right to hire anyone.
  3. Freedom to set their own schedules, job descriptions, own activities.
  4. Report twice a year to the partners. Partners decide about their membership in the NTI for the next 6 months.
  5. Salary was lower than before (as senior managers), but they got a share of whatever they invented (even from saved costs or selled consultancy), and they decided about their share.

NTI was very succesful within Semco, e.g. they saved costs due to process changes, or they invented new products.

Lookout

So, maybe that’s it then, the future of slack: more slack. But, for the vast majority of companies out there, the future of slack will probably be in having some slack at all.

Do you have more stories to share about slack? Would love to read them! Please consider leaving a comment.

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About Bernd Schiffer

Bernd Schiffer is consultant, trainer and coach for Agile Software Development in Melbourne, Australia. Learn more about him on his personal homepage, have a look at his company Bold Mover, or contact him on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, XING or LinkedIn.

2 Responses to [Slack to the Rescue] The Future

  1. Kai says:

    Thanks for this series, it’s been very interesting and gave me lot of useful information beyond the oft-quoted “Google Employees use 20% of their time on their own projects”.

    Now to use this information to convince people around here …

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