I concluded my previous blog post – “Good Riddance” – with mentioning one of our NetWeaver R&D “8 ton” lighthouse showcases in our transformation to Lean and Agile Software Development: “Technology Group Innovation Friday” (or TGiFriday). As you will probably make similar experiences as we did when transforming our NetWeaver R&D organization towards Lean/Agile methodologies, TGiFriday – while still an experiment in a way – might be worth a thought for you as well.
I used this quote before, but it is so amazingly adequate to what I am writing in this blog post, that I dare to repeat it:
1. Our Situation
When we started our massive transformation in NetWeaver R&D towards Lean & Agile Software development in early 2009, we were basically acting out of a strong sense of urgency: the global economy was shattered by the financial crisis, hitting our customers, hitting SAP and finally also hitting NetWeaver R&D as a consequence. We started to ask ourselves very fundamental questions about our product portfolio and the way we were developing it. We concluded that in order to better set us up to address our customers’ needs – now and in the future –, we needed to first fix our working mode and – with that being tackled – then address the future of our product portfolio in close cooperation with our customers as a second step.
2. Our Problem
3. Our Approach
For me, the proposal of “TGiFriday” has been a means to address the two problems mentioned above. Luckily and after quite some discussions, we were able to get a “Go” “from on-high” for piloting the concept in my unit “Technology & Innovation Platform Core” for one year. The pilot officially ended in December 2010 and we’re still applying the concept today in all of my organization. Now what is it?
The basic idea behind TGiFriday (i.e. “Technology Group Innovation Friday” – or to the more desperate ones amongst us – “Thank God, it’s Friday!” 😉 is by no means new or rocket science. We just allow all developers to allocate a certain percentage of their working time on a more or less arbitrary, self-selected project idea (arbitrary? Well, it has to serve the larger SAP vision and mission – which is broad enough a field for most of the part). It can be anything from learning something new about software development, developing the next great product idea, improving your standard product with a few new features you were hanging around with for a while. If you team up across scrum team or unit borders: perfect! If you want to have colleagues contributing to your project: make it public (we actually have a dedicated Wiki space for this purpose), show enough entrepreneurial spirit to create enthusiastic followers to your idea, present to management if you want to get official funding or turn it into an official part of the product portfolio. Until then, every single developer is allowed to officially spent Friday afternoons on working on her project: no need to justify this specifically with your Scrum Team, your Product Owner or Line Manager. That’s all. Ready? Set? Go!
We have taken the freedom to get inspired by Google’s “20 percent projects”– which is not to state in any way, of course, that we want to compare SAP with Google from a business model perspective. But one has also to see that both companies are sharing the desire to be #1 in their markets, need a constant feed of innovative product ideas, have both the ambition to attract a growing number of users to their products and – in order to do so – win or at least retain the most skilled and motivated employee base possible.
While this might sound as a nice, relaxed atmosphere at Google, Google is putting quite some pressure behind getting results out of this process. Google runs a very stringent business internally according to B. Iyer and T. Davenport [Bala Iyer and Thomas H. Davenport: Reverse Engineering Google’s Innovation Machine; Harvard Business Review; April, 2008].
4. Our Top 3 Motivations
In short, our own motivation behind introducing TGiFriday was driven out of the current Lean implementation considerations, based on our SAP value system and our company history and culture, the permanent need to sustainably work on employee motivation in times of a global “hunt” for talent and in order to provide some “sunlight and water” to “grass roots innovation”.
But here are a few more background thoughts around it:
Reason #1: TGiFriday proves the Lean vision of “respect for people” and “team empowerment”
Is there any more powerful expression of respect for people and team empowerment than trusting your employees to spend their full potential on elaborating “the next great idea” for your customers’ success and hence your company’s future?
Yet another argument is brought up by Henrik Kniberg [Scrum and XP], consultant for Agile Development practices, that Scrum can be an exhausting experience for the team, so you must provide official time to “rest” from the Sprints and do things “off topic” like “read up on the latest tools and APIs, study for a certification, discuss nerd stuff with colleagues, code a hobby project, etc.”
Finally, if you believe in “respect for [your] people” and think of your own team as you probably think of yourself, then you will probably agree that the following holds true:
Reason #2: You have hired great people all over the place
Why not give them some more freedom to bring their full potential to life?
Great ideas can come from everybody anywhere – not only separate research organizations. In fact, many brilliant ideas made it into existence not by sheer managerial and analytical will, but by fostering creative “accidents” – just think of Tesa adhesive tape, Post-Its, Penicillin, X-Rays, Teflon, Nylon or porcelain, to name just a few of it. TGiFriday can be such a “breeding ground” for “grass roots” creativity and innovation.
Reason #3: Don’t underestimate the value of collective learning
If people start engaging in self-organized, community selected, meritocracy-based projects, they learn from others outside their current team or organization, they meet with people from different backgrounds, they have to think entrepreneurial, they think outside their organizational boundaries, become used to change in topics, learn something completely new, exchange their ideas with colleagues, think outside their title/roles/place on the org-chart, get to know other working approaches, etc..
As cited before: “Good people, good products!” [Craig Larman and Bas Vodde: Lean Primer]
In order to promote collective learning – “the learning organization” – the effect of TGiFriday projects is probably priceless. We couldn’t think of any aspect SAP promotes in terms of employee development that would not somehow be promoted by “TGiFriday” projects as well.
I agree that some of the above statements may sound a bit idealistic to one or the other person. Perhaps even irritating. Also, it is still to be proven how many real innovations – and not just ideas and inventions – are created with TGiFriday in the long run.
Our internal Wiki shows around 100 TGiFriday projects, from colleagues sharing their research about best practices of quality assurance in Lean environments, Web Sockets protocol support for the ABAP Application Server, a Javadoc plugin for Maven, an ABAP JIT “experimental compiler” to evaluate potential benefits through JITting, Quartz scheduler integration into Lean Java Server, a lightweight “JMS” look-alike for ABAP, a Web-based toolset for consumption-driven service discovery and adaptation, and many more. And there are likely even more projects around that just weren’t listed in the Wiki.
The feedback we have received from our colleagues based on our assessments/surveys is very positive, but there are also requests to e.g. provide better forums to present project outcomes and turn great ones into new products or product features. So there are always areas to improve.
While we allowed each and everybody in the organization to spend 10% of their working time on TGiFriday, it turns out that less than 5% of capacity gets actually invested. Not everybody is participating, even though they could. Which is fine. For most, one may assume, to know that they could if they wanted to, seems sufficient. Different people. Furthermore, if there are critical deadlines dooming or commitments at risk, people normally know how to set priorities: product and company comes first – which is also an indicator that people do actually act responsibly with the empowerment and freedom given.
So TGiFriday remains – admittedly – an experiment that we carefully watch. But it is safe to say that it was and is an important ingredient in our NetWeaver R&D transformation to Lean and Agile.
Looking forward to your feedback on Twitter (@_bgoerke) or as comments to this post here on SCN.
Björn Goerke | Technology & Innovation Platform Core