Software Engineering, Security, Management & Leadership. I work for Microsoft as an Application Development Manager (ADM). Views are mine.


Start your own Software Skunkworks

23rd February 2017

It's great if you get to do new development all the time, but for a lot of developers their job is to add new functionality or maintain an existing product. Maybe a few colleagues get to play with nice new shiny tools or do the R&D while the majority of the team carry on with their same day-to-day tasks.

If this sounds like your department then one way to re-ignite the team’s passion is to start your own Software Skunkworks.

You might ask what a Skunkworks is. Google says

an experimental laboratory or department of a company or institution, typically smaller than an independent of its main research division.

Getting teams mixed up, to step out of their day role and to do something completely new is the goal. It's almost like a hackathon but just during working hours.

At my company, I suggested that our team spends 2-3 days every two months to get together and do something new. The costs and risks to the company are low, yet there are some great benefits.

  • Engagement increases as the team have fun doing something new
  • Turnover decreases as staff  remain more engaged
  • Productivity increases as everyone knows there is a break coming soon
  • Burnout decreases as the 2-3 intense days clears the mind of normal thoughts
  • Teamwork improves as people work with a different group of people
  • Knowledge improves as new tech is tried
  • The code and R&D could be taken and reused in future projects
  • Innovation throughout the comoany improves
  • You gain a competitive edge over your competitors

Beware that you might find you encounter some resistance who don't sahre your enthusiasm. There might be scheduling issues (which are a genuine concern) but increased engagement and higher productivity might negate any time lost. This might be perceived as creating code just for the hell of it. This is true and one of the reasons why this is such a good idea. It gets people away from their boring day tasks to do something completely new and awesome!

You may also want to incorporate your Skunkworks into your employee engagement programme so that the effects can be measured. You may well find that you are able to prove the success of your Skunkworks. It might be financial in the form of a sellable product, but it might well be in reduced turnover or higher productivity.

I'd be interested to know what you have tried, what worked or didn't work. Leave comments below or e-mail me.

Skunk works is a registered trademark of Lockheed Martin.

Software Engineer with interests in security and business processes.

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