Working a normal day job is hard, right? It’s pretty much the same every day, all week long. Everyone is looking forward to Friday for the weekend finally to come. But not at karriere.at. We are looking forward to Friday as well, but not for the weekend to start, but for NarF!
What is this NarF?
NarF is an abbreviation for “Not a regular Friday”. It’s scheduled every second week on Friday and it’s a day where we focus on topics that didn’t get enough attention because everyone is focused on daily business. It’s a day where ideas can be elaborated, prototypes can be implemented or a proof of concept can be established for any work related context. It’s also possible to educate and improve our skills in a special topic or software.
Of course something like NarF is not an invention of karriere.at but big players, like Atlassian, have implemented similar projects as well. In case of Atlassian, it’s the so-called “ShipIt” day. But other than working just about six hours on an idea Atlassians take it one step further: Teams are allowed to work a full 24 hours on a project of their choice. These projects are presented later on and a winner team is announced. ShipIt day started small and since then has grown massively over the years. Since its beginning it has opened a lot of possibilities for the company. Most of the elaborated and implemented ideas are now key features for Atlassian and they are continuously improving these projects as a part of their daily business. Also the employees at Atlassian benefit from this day as they can focus on topics off of their regular work, improve their skills as well as self-organize their teams and projects completely free.
Another company that has done something similar is Google. They introduced “20 % Time” where Google encourages their employees to work 20 % of their time on pet projects. Every employee can do anything within 20 % Time. Unsurprisingly, the computer scientists and engineers focused on topics very close to the Google’s core business. The results of some of these 20 % Time projects are now well known and highly used like Google Maps, Gmail and Google News.
Chapter-day and why it didn’t work
Before Narf karriere.at had something called “Chapter-day”, which was very similar to Atlassian’s “20 % day” or Google’s “ShipIt day”. Every second Wednesday developers, testers and designers were able to work on tasks they normally didn’t have time or resources for during daily business. Wednesday was considered the most suitable day of the week for most employees as it was the weekday with the fewest meetings scheduled during the day.
It was also decided to create a ticket board for Chapter-day to visualize what people are working on and how many ideas there are in general. So if anyone had a good idea during the week he/she would create a ticket and put it on the board. Anyone interested could just grab the ticket on Chapter-day and start working on it either in a group or on their own.
It started quite well. There were lots of ideas, tickets and motivated people and everything seemed fine. And then over the next months, slowly but steadily tickets not only from developers but stakeholders and product owners appeared in the board as well. Requirements and issues were created with the idea of being small and easily implemented, just quite right for Chapter-day. But, nevertheless, the teams had some meetings and daily business to do on Wednesdays, so half of the day was possibly blocked. The tickets for Chapter-day, even though they appeared to be small and not time-consuming, couldn’t be implemented in half a day. Which meant that people started to implement a ticket but weren’t able to finish it by the end of Chapter-day. As Chapter-day was scheduled every two weeks, these tickets then weren’t touched for 14 days, which was of course not ok with the person bringing this ticket in. This resulted in a bad cascade.
The pressure of finishing tickets from stakeholders or product owners grew, no one would choose to implement these tickets which in turn upset the person who reported the task. Also attending Chapter-day was totally optional for every person. Fewer and fewer people wanted to do something on Chapter-day, because they were expected to work on topics they weren’t even interested in. And why should someone want to work on anything that he/she is absolutely not interested in? Especially on a day that was created to encourage people to choose his or her topic of interest. So as a result there were fewer and fewer tickets in the board and finally just a handful of the developers were motivated for Chapter-day in general, as it had become a normal day basically. We finally stopped doing Chapter-day as the motivation sank to a minimum.
What does NarF do for karriere.at
What was left after Chapter-day was gone? The motivation and the desire to have some time for individual education and projects during work. And of course some kind of solution had to be found. We wanted to do something around this concept of a person being able to choose freely on what kind of topic he/she wanted to work on. So we started all over with almost the same concept as we had for Chapter-day. We named it NarF – Not a regular Friday. But this time we decided to include a few more rules:
- Rule #1: No Tickets – To lower the barrier and make it easier for someone to participate in this kind of action we would communicate our ideas through a simple text list. Everyone could add their topics with a title and a small description and others could take a look at the list and contact the person who had the idea if he/she was interested in working on the idea.
- Rule #2: NarF is completely optional. If you don’t want to participate, you won’t have to. You just work as if it was a normal Friday, daily business.
- Rule #3: Show others what you did. The results (no matter what kind of outcome) of the different projects are presented to the whole development team.
As soon as NarF was announced the people started to talk about it, got creative and even came up with old Chapter-day ideas that they wanted to redo. Some of us were sceptical about the project and questioned if we had learned anything from the failure of Chapter-day. But the sceptics were proven wrong. Nearly a year into NarF and the benefits for the whole development team and even the whole company are clearly visible.
One advantage for us, the developers, is that we have the opportunity to work on our own open source projects. We can also fix bugs or implement features in open source projects that we as a company have in use. Anything that makes work easier or productive is appreciated. The biggest advantage of NarF is that it is perceived as a team building event. Developers, designers and testers from different teams, who normally would not work as close together, combine their talents because of a common interest. And as NarF proves, it does not necessarily mean that we have to write production code all the time. We also do interactive workshops where, for example, a tester explains how he/she works. Learning-by-doing and helping your colleagues with stuff that you know very well helps every team member to improve their skills and to find solutions in a more unusual way (which is kind of nice sometimes).
But what if someone does not want to implement anything on this day? Well, we have a room in our office that is called the “Mini Bib” which could be translated as “very small library” where we store books related to coding, agile processes, SEO, product management and many other topics. So if someone is interested in a topic and there is a book about it in this room, he/she can grab a seat and spend some time reading. As long as the outcome of this day is work-related everyone is able to spend a whole Friday on a topic he/she wants.
Even though product owners and other stakeholders don’t get something done for their main project on NarF, the developers only spend half a day (since Friday is only six hours for most of us) every second week on a different project. That is a situation the POs (product owners) can absolutely work with. No one is mad anymore. Everybody likes the experience and gets things done in time.
The fact that karriere.at chose Friday for NarF is awesome because of multiple reasons. First of all, most of the teams do not have any appointments on Friday. So there is enough time (at least half a day, depending on how long one wants to work on a Friday) to get into a topic and make some progress. If a project or task or whatever an employee did on Narf couldn’t be finished, well, he/she continues on the next NarF, because there are no deadlines. Secondly, as Friday is only half a day for most of us we feel more motivated to get something good going within six hours. And last but not least: It’s Friday. After NarF you can head into the weekend knowing that the next NarF will be just as good as the last one was.