Every day should be Fedex day!
5 things that happen when you let ‘em loose …
Last Friday we had Fedex day at Trade Me. The aim of a FedEx Day is to complete something deliverable within a 24 hour period, i.e. to go from idea to a shippable product within a day. It was fun, lots of great projects saw the light of day and I enjoyed doing some hands-on work for a change.
It was a joy to see an entire organisation self-organise into small teams and work away on projects of their own choosing. We were roughly 80 people across 15 teams and worked on 15 projects that all somehow benefitted Trade Me. Everyone was highly motivated, enjoyed the experience and got shit done.
To me it was also a study in what happens when we give a group of people complete freedom to work on what they think is important, with whoever they like while using any approach they think will get the job done.
Here are some of my observations:
- People naturally form small, cross-functional teams. Teams were between three and six people and team composition was based on skill rather than role. We didn’t have one person per skill and t-shaped people who are good at collaborating were in high demand.
- No one chooses to work on more than one team or project. Time and again organisations fall into the trap of optimising “resources” rather than focusing on outcomes. We often believe multi-tasking, having people work across several projects and focusing on resource utilisation is the key to success while really, it’s not. It was interesting to see that when people were determined to ship no one thought it was best to do more than one thing at a time and nobody thought they were more valuable as specialists across teams than as generalising specialists within one team.
- People communicate best face-to-face. There were no discussions about process or how to communicate. People just talked and co-ordinated and collaborated as needed. We were all sitting together, working on the same thing at the same time; we didn’t need to write things down to communicate asynchronously. We used very few documents – Trello and a whiteboard – and once our planning was done we barely needed to look at those anymore.
- A shared, compelling goal makes everything so much easier. When people buy into the goal and know which problem they’re solving and why, things become a lot easier. It is easy to make decisions and to reach consensus when people understand and support the objectives and constraints around a project or product. Selecting which project to work on worked wonders for ensuring that the team had a shared and compelling goal.
- Constraints help minimise risk. As the product owner I knew I had 24 hours, 5 people and $1000. Knowing and understanding these constraints made it easy for me to constantly prioritise and re-prioritise my wishes and to make sure we had the most important parts covered. Tight constraints made it so much easier for me to focus on the important features, give clear direction and constantly manage risk. I also think it was valuable to be able to relate to these constraints. Had someone given me $10 million we probably still wouldn’t have anything to show for it (aside from that I’d be living on a tropical island by now).
Something about that Fedex Friday really worked. It showed what people are capable of if they are given the freedom and responsibility to self-organise and work in any way they want to.
To create awesome and successful companies we need to find a way to incorporate these principles and ideas into our organisations and to make sure we don’t lose the spirit of responsible freedom as we get bigger and have more time, money and people.
So, maybe we should just back off and let people choose what they work on and with whom. Our job as managers and coaches is to create the environments where this can happen.
What do you think?