17 Nov 2014

FedEx Day: How to Deliver Innovation Overnight

In my role as Product Owner, I face the challenging task of channelling the creative genius of individuals in order to continually take our products forward and deliver value to our customers.

Earlier in the year I attended an Agile Auckland presentation, from the world famous in New Zealand, Trademe, on its self-organising culture and teams. Effectively employees, particularly within the development business, choose which team and projects or products they work on. While this sounds like a far-fetched idea and has taken time to develop, it originated from an initiative called FedEx Day that I immediately thought could have some value for SPM Assets.

The concept is a 24-hour period where employees are given the freedom to work on a project of their choice to deliver innovation to the company. It is called FedEx Day because you have to ‘deliver’ overnight. The only rule that applies is that participants have to present the outcome of their project to the company at the end of the event.

The aim of the day is to give people the freedom to be creative, try something radical, or scratch an itch that has been bugging them in their regular work. Encouraging a team approach to tackling issues or creating an exciting new feature, I immediately thought this would be an ideal opportunity for our development team to have some respite from my efforts to channel their focus. SPM Assets prides itself on organisational culture with collaboration and innovation being two of the company’s five core values. FedEx day is an ideal fit and complements this culture giving individuals the opportunity to innovate in their own way with the only constraint being the 24-hour time frame.

How does FedEx Day work
Two ‘brown bag’ meetings one and two weeks prior to FedEx day precede the event for developing and socialising ideas for projects. The day then kicked off at 2pm NZ time on a Thursday with tools down 24 hours later. Presentations followed with each team given three minutes to sell the benefits of their project before the winners were chosen by vote from all participants.

Individuals are given complete autonomy to choose their teams and projects, manage the project through to completion within 24 hours, and sell the outcomes to their peers.

Dinner was organised in the Auckland office on Thursday night as well as morning tea on Friday and the Sydney office went out for lunch at the completion of the presentations on Friday. All gatherings were a great opportunity to share the trials and tribulations of an eventful 24 hours whether it was during or at the completion of the event.

How the day went
I was a little apprehensive when selling the idea internally as to the value it would bring and whether it would be well supported given this was the first time we had held a FedEx Day or anything of this nature. The excitement was slow to build during the first ‘brown bag’ meeting. By the time the second ‘brown bag’ meeting was wrapped up and people were already starting to solve the world’s problems, signs were positive that people were really getting into it.

The day itself kicked off with a brief remote meeting between the offices and the teams were into it. Later on Thursday Darren, our resident cocktail waiter, served up some pre dinner cocktails to those that could drag themselves away from the coalface before the pizzas arrived. People slowly drifted off into the evening before the lights went out around 9:30pm in Auckland. SPM Assets Godfather and CEO Steve Lyons was fittingly the last to head home late into the night in Sydney. There was also an unsubstantiated rumour that a member of the winning team was up coding until midnight before heading to bed only to find that he couldn’t sleep as the ideas were still flowing so he got up and continued until 3am!

Friday morning saw a renewed focus with the realisation there was only a matter of hours remaining. Surprisingly few groups seemed to be stretched for time with most using the last couple of hours to prepare and polish their presentation.

The presentations were very well delivered with the only struggle for some groups being the three minute time limit. From a Pokemon theme to a song from a band called SPM the presentations had it all. Presentations ranged from software enhancements and new training guidelines to office improvements and strengthening internal communications. Votes were cast and ‘Activity Stream within SPM Assets’ and the ‘Nifty Noticeboard’ were chosen as the finalists. The two finalists were given another three minutes to buy votes before the final votes were cast and the ‘Nifty Noticeboard’ was declared the winner.

The ‘Nifty Noticeboard’ is an LCD screen in both offices used to broadcast internal information such as sprint burn down charts which show the stages of current software developments, project performance statistics and communicate other information such as company values, goals and objectives.

The day was a great success and every project conducted will undoubtedly deliver tangible value to the organisation, which is a real bonus on top of how the event helped reinforce our great team culture. The two finalists were amazing efforts with a deserved winner. Keep an eye out for the runner up being released as part of the product in the near future!

I had hoped the day would be successful and enjoyed by most thinking the first event could be a learning exercise, however my expectations were blown away. Our first FedEx Day was hugely successful from the buy-in across the organisation and competitiveness between the teams to the excellent outcomes of the projects, some of which are being utilised already. Timing of the sequel is to be confirmed but FedEx Day looks to be here to stay at SPM Assets!

Written by Nick Lampp