At Red Gate we have "Down Tools Week" a few times a year. This is the same idea as the ShipIt days at Atlassian or the 20% time at Google; it's a chance for employees to have free reign to work on some project, approved as being semi-business related, with the chance to present their work to the company at the end. I think it's a really cool idea, though I've yet to come up with an idea that I'd want to take a week off to work on.
When I look at companies and think about the time spent on various projects and efforts, I think much of it is useful, but I'm not sure it's critical. All too often we get caught up in the idea that getting project X done or finishing a piece of software will make or break a company. The reality is while the item might be important, most of the time it will be later than scheduled, and the company will survive. I'm sure there are exceptions, but they're rare. Most of the time things run late, which makes me question whether or not managers should be pressing so hard to get every project finished on time.
What if you shelved all work from your developers (or markers, business analysts, etc.) for a month? What if you let them think about what they could do to make the company better, or improve operations, or maybe just find a way to make their job easier? Would they innovate or just waste time? 37 Signals did just that, taking the month of June off to let people that weren't running day to day operations work on whatever they wanted. They got a lot of ideas, some of which they are going to implement.
It sounds crazy, but if a small company can do it, one where everyone wears multiple hats, couldn't you do with with your department? I'm sure you could. Now if you can only convince management that "thinking time" can be just as important as the rest of your daily job.
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