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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:

 

 

  

   

  

 

   

I came to see, in my time at IBM, that     culture isn’t just one aspect of the game – it is the game. In the end, an     organization is nothing more than *the collective capacity of its people to     create value.” [Louis V. Gerstner, Who says elephants can’t dance?]

   

 

 

 

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

 

White Glass Bottles

By February 2010, we had been a bit more than 12 months into our transition to Lean and had gone through 8 -12 sprints with the majority of development teams. What was becoming apparent at the time was the phenomenon that going for one Scrum cycle after the other can become quite exhausting. If you are doing Scrum yourself, you can probably confirm this out of your own experience. Teams start to challenge themselves in terms of being more efficient (which Scrum is fostering) and a certain level of healthy “slack” – that you think you have introduced by “empowering the team” to be in charge of their Sprint planning – tends to be squeezed out of the development process by “the system itself”. As a result, there is little official time left for each Scrum Team member to spend on his or her own ideas, interests or even product features that weren’t important enough to ever make it to the top of the Sprint backlog. Who wants to tell the team-mates in the daily stand-up meeting that he has spent the last afternoon browsing the Web about some new and hot piece of technology rather than helping to “burn down” the team’s backlog? In the former days – when people were working individually – it was sometimes a bit easier to “take a break” and “wander about” a bit here and there from time to time.

It’s seems to be a fact that many great product innovations are happening because of individuals “just having” the right intuition or idea, being insistent to following up on them and turning them into great products or product capabilities. Great ideas and innovations can of course come from everywhere in the organization, not just the research department! What do you do with these ideas – or differently asked – how do you provide some space for such innovations to come up in a world where the process is streamlined around a prioritized product backlog?

 

  

 

Right now it’s only a notion, but I     think I can get the money to make it into a concept, and later turn it into     an idea.” [Woody Allen]

   

 

 

 

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.

 

“[…] all Google engineers are required to allocate 20 percent of their time working on any project idea of their choosing. The resulting “20 percent projects” will most often than not have nothing to do with Google’s current core business (one engineer’s project is to buy Iceland). Some may evolve into “Googlettes” and land up in Google Labs or discussed on the Google Blog. Google services such as Gmail and Google News started as 20 percent projects. (Ben pointed out that Mendel’s discovery of genetics was a 20% project).” [Innovation@Google]

 

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?

Good people, good products!” [Craig Larman and Bas Vodde:Lean Primer]

TGiFriday can serve as a big contribution to motivation, identification with your company and overall job satisfaction. It puts focus a bit away from doing a job “because you get paid for it” back to getting great things done “because you are excited about it, believe in it and want to make it a success”. It puts focus away from titles, roles and positions in the org charts back to working on the right projects building the future [Surprising Science].

From a change management perspective, when looking at all our various Lean transformation efforts, one recognizes that the biggest challenge is change of mindset (across the whole company, everywhere on the org chart, impacting all roles and functions) and approach – changing the way we do things in a sustainable way. Releasing your teams for a dedicated time during the week from a strict Sprint schedule, is a definite proof that management is also acting in a Lean sense of “empowering the teams” and showing “respect for people”. You get truly empowered employees, i.e. people who responsibly act in the interest of the whole, are intrinsically motivated, organize themselves and strive for mastery and purpose, if you treat them with respect. TGiFriday is one “8 ton” proof of treating people with respect.

 

You manage things, and you lead people. You control things, and you release people.” [E. Tilford; in: Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations, Robert D. Austin, p.112]

White Glass Bottles

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.

 

 

 

5. Conclusion

 

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.

 

 

  

   

  

 

   

The sky is full of clouds and
    my world’s full of people.
    You got the different kinds
    With different ways.
    It would take a lifetime to explain.
    Not one’s the same.

    [Different People by No Doubt]

   

 

 

 

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.

 

 

  

   

  

 

   

The only way of finding the limits of     the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible.
[Arthur     C. Clarke]

   

 

 

 

Looking   forward to your feedback on Twitter (@_bgoerke)   or as comments to this post here on SCN.

 

 

Björn Goerke | Technology   & Innovation Platform Core

 

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12 Comments

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  1. Tobias Hofmann
    but only because my creativity is high on Tuesday to Thursday. Monday and Friday … busy doing company things.

    Scrum puts some really high pressure on developers. A sprint done means the next is already going on. Justifying your work every day, growing backlog. Hard to get some time off to celebrate what was achieved. Even great work gets rendered to something tiny when you look at the sprints coming and the backlog.

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  2. Mark Finnern
    Hi Bjoern,

    Love this concept and the implementation. I actually heard that the first company to give their employees some freedom was HP in the early days allowing their engineers to tinker on Fridays with open access to tools and supplies. Could not find a reference, but may be someone else does.

    For me the key feedback/take away is from SAP’s employees is: “provide better forums to present project outcomes and turn great ones into new products or product features.”

    Currently it is such a missed opportunity, similar to the great ideas bubbling up from the InnoJams all over the world.

    We need a dedicated team that is smoothing the ramp from prototype to product. Their only taks is to give the prototyps the rockets they need to lift them to our customers.

    Can’t wait to discuss this during during our public SAP Mentor Monday Webinar 27th of February http://wiki.sdn.sap.com/wiki/display/SAPMentors/SAP+Mentor+Monday

    Join us then, Mark.

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    1. Bjoern Goerke Post author
      Hi Mark,

      absolutely. The good thing is that all the innovations that happen close to the existing products pretty easily make it into the next release. It is more the topics that are a bit off the usual product tracks, that need more nurturing and we have started to think about means to make them happen. But even here: with the right people pushing their idea, you can make it happen.

      Looking forward to our SAP Mentors Monday Talk on Feb 27th…

      Björn

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  3. Graham Robinson
    Hi Bjoern,

    thanks for this great series of blogs.

    If I ever get the chance to interview you again for SAP TV we wont be talking about technology – we will be talking about organisational change.

    Very interesting stuff.

    Cheers
    Graham Robbo

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    1. Bjoern Goerke Post author
      Hi Graham,

      thanks for the positive feedback. But you don’t want to tell me that it’s not interesting to talk with me about technology, or do you 😉 ?

      Looking forward to our next SAP TV interview sometime :-),
      Björn

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  4. Vijay Vijayasankar
    Right off the bat, I love your blog series.

    I am just curious why you chose Friday afternoon as the time for employees to take for themselves. Were the employees asked what 10% of the week they would like to use for their own innovation work?

    Most people are pretty tired by Friday afternoon after a hectic week’s work – and will not be very productive. The last thing I (probably isolated case) would want to do on a Friday afternoon will be innovation.

    I can understand from a management point of view that this is the least risky time in the week to give employees to do their own thing, since there is already a chance they are not very productive in that window. It might even be a psychological boost for people to do something useful in a generally unproductive time.

    But, since your blog gives me the idea that people have made good use of the TGIF – maybe my “management point of view” theory above is not true.

    Looking forward to understand your thinking behind choosing Friday afternoons

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    1. Bjoern Goerke Post author
      Hi Vijay,

      thanks for the feedback. Very valid considerations.

      First of all, let me emphasize that being innovative is of course not limited to TGiF time on Fridays. Creativity and innovation should have a place the whole week long. It is only a matter of when you arrange some time for all people to “wander off” into topics that are not that closely related to innovation in their usual product space.

      Now we’re not all having TGiF at SAP and obviously we have to consider that normal business has to efficiently continue. So taking Friday (afternoons) where normal meetings are usually less likely to happen is just easier to do than taking a Wednesday afternoon where business is in full steam. Having all people take the same day comes with the same motivation — less interruption of “usual business” and also more likelihood that people’s TGiF time is not eaten up by cross-team alignment meetings, steerings, etc.etc.

      Also, if the energy level has a tendency to go down towards the end of a busy week, going for your TGiF passion on Friday perhaps allows you to let the stress of the week calm down and do something that you particularly enjoy because it is “yours”.

      BTW, our colleagues in Israel do an TGiS (Sunday) as Friday is weekend. So they actually start the week off with their Innovation time…

      There’s probably not one right way to do it… We also had questions whether not to allow people to take a full sprint in the year rather than half a day every week… But finally, let’s put it that way: it is not for granted that we were able to carve out this TGiF time. So we have to always consider the impact on “normal” business… And believe me, sometimes our internal (and external) stakeholders don’t care that much about us being overly creative and just need to get certain functionality/capabilities delivered in a solid manner 😉 …

      Regards, Björn

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  5. Michelle Crapo
    When given 5, 10, 20% extra time to look at technology innovation, what do you do?  I wonder.  I think the most common comments I hear is that xyz does not have the time to learn the technology.  Therefore, xyz will never use it.

    And so…  At what point do you move from it is a technology project to do ABC.  To the project is a success, everyone should use the new technology when faced with mno problem?  Or do you?  Is the bases of creativity simply letting each person do something different?

    Technology projects are tricky.  They do not bring in more revenue.  Most likely your company is not a technology company.  So getting the troops excited about it, maybe a bit of a challenge.

    Just some thoughts – looking forward to more of these posts,

    Michelle

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  6. Tom Cenens
    Hello Bjoern

    Thanks for these blog series. The blogs are very interesting reads and surely inspiring.

    I’m looking forward to the SAP Mentor monday webinar that is coming soon. I might be watching the replay due to the time difference but rest assure I will watch with great interest.

    I have to pick this up and try and do something with it so I will do exactly that and I hope I can get it introduced in our own organization.

    Best regards

    Tom

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  7. Jochen Guertler
    Hi Björn,

    thanks for sharing your thoughts about this topic.

    When we started the Innovation Center team here in Walldorf we also had longer discussions about “free innovation time”. As most of the team members came from NW knowing the TGiF this was no surprise for me.

    We agreed on more or less half a day in the week. The only “wish” from my side was that everybody shares his ideas from the very beginning with the others (e.g. in the daily standup). This was not about controlling them but to ensure that everybody in the team knows the ideas from others and – even more important – could also inspire the others with some other ideas about the ideas of the colleagues.

    Over the last year several ideas were created and some of them were directly integrated into our “offical” projects.

    One idea I would like to add to this: providing a Wiki is for sure good. Looking to all these very interesting ideas about “co-working labs” (e.g. betahaus in Berlin or also AppHaus within SAP) it could be also very interesting if colleagues working on an idea could come together in some “co-working areas” also within SAP to work together during the “free innovation time”.

    Not at their regular desk but in some “innovation room” where they can collaborate with other colleagues. This is for sure also possible in the standard rooms but if we would have “co-working areas” also within SAP this could even push these ideas further.

    Betahaus in Berlin is a good point to learn as in such locations almost everything is about “sharing ideas, working on new ideas, learn from others, combine ideas to new ideas, be inspired from others and inspire others” …

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  8. Douglas Amaral Cezar
    I’m a consultant, a programmer and I have a deep passion for learning new things. So I keep myself busy reading 2 to 4 books a month exclusively to learn new things, varying from ABAP skills, to funcional skills, until negotiation, strategic and communication skills.

    One of the best concepts I’ve found is the concept of “Manage your energy, not your time”, which can be found both on an article publicized by HBR and also on a book, from same authors, called “The power of full engagement”.

    Since I began to read the book I managed to have longer periods of relaxation, reconstruction and, why not, re-inspiration. It it’s paying way too much good!

    I highly recommend reading this book to anyone interested in understanding and becoming capable of boosting individual and organizational human performance.

    Share your toughts!

    Best regards,

    Douglas Cezar
    SAP SD and ABAP Consultant
    Brazil

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