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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

 

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]

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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