- Decide on what percentage of time the program will cover -- 20%, 10%, or less. There are no hard-and-fast rules, and you have to balance employee productivity with the less-restricted idea of innovation.
- Get management buy-in for any program that consumes a half-day a week or more, as that represents a 10% cut in time employees are focused on "real work."
- Make participation voluntary. Not everyone in your IT department may want to play.
- Extend participation beyond developers to the entire IT staff. Atlassian's biggest payoff came from an idea generated by a QA analyst.
- Apply some structure and milestones to ensure projects don't persist without results, either through peer- or executive-review.
- Consider how you'll support collaboration, either through digital techniques such as wikis for asynchronous discussions or physical techniques such as conference rooms where teams can work.
- Be sure to track ideas -- both successes and also discarded ideas that someone else may want to tackle later.
- Consider whether you want to set up a rewards system. True, you're already paying people to do their job, but when an innovation project results in a huge payoff -- like Atlassian's Bonfire did -- you may want to think about bonuses.
- Manage your own expectations and those of senior management. Supporting innovation may not present immediate results, and you should feel free to tweak the program based on feedback by the participants.
Atlassian, a Sydney-based developer of collaboration software, supports two different innovation programs -- a "20% time" program that started in 2006 and one that takes place quarterly over 24 hours, called ShipIt, which began in 2007.
The idea is to give employees the opportunity to itch something they wanted to scratch. Jay Simons, Atlassian
ShipIt starts at 4 p.m. on a Thursday and goes to 4 p.m. the following day. "The idea is to give employees the opportunity to itch something they wanted to scratch," says company president Jay Simons, adding that employees can work solo or in teams, usually of no more than five.
That project could be a prototype of a new feature, or a fix to an existing product, but whatever it is, it has to be able to be completed in 24 hours. "By compressing the time, it made the innovation target more bite-sized and achievable," Simons explains. "Because employees can design the scope themselves, they feel like they can do it in a day."