Dan Pink’s book, Drive, is about motivation. The book includes a profile about Atlassian and our ShipIt Days and 20% time. Since the book was released, it seems that dozens of companies have been motivated to start ShipIt Days of their own, which we think is awesome. If you haven’t heard of Dan Pink or ShipIt Days or you’re looking to see how others have done it, read on.

What is ShipIt Day?

Atlassian’s “ShipIt Day” is time set aside for developers to work on whatever they want with a skew towards our products. We tend to run “ShipIt” with a fairly open format where you can do whatever you want as long as you can somehow relate it to our products. We typically start after lunch on a Thursday and work until 3 or 4pm Friday when we present what we have to everyone. In other words, people have 24 hours to deliver a project.

The goals of “ShipIt” are:

  • Foster creativity. Atlassian is good at hiring smart people and we’d be mad to keep all that brain-power locked up.
  • Scratch itches. Every developer has something that bugs them about our products, or something they’d like to see them do.
  • Spike. Often, radical ideas don’t get traction because we don’t understand how they’d work or what benefit they’d provide.
  • Have fun. Institutions like ShipIt make Atlassian a fun place to work.

Scrum Master – ShipIt style
One of the keys to the success of a ShipIt Day is careful planning. On the surface, it seems like you just pick an idea an start working on it. In reality, it helps immensely if participants have done some pre-work in thinking about the problem they’re trying to solve.

For each ShipIt, a developer is assigned the role of “ShipIt organizer.” It’s the organizer’s job to create planning sessions — usually 2-3 meetings over pizza lunches supplied by the company — to come up with project ideas. Those ideas turn into projects. Developers can work on the projects themselves or pair up.

Results of past ShipIt Days at Atlassian
ShipIt Day culminates in selecting a winner who gets a ShipIt Day t-shirt, a trophy, and serious bragging rights (at least until the next winner is crowned). Presentations are organized for participants to demo what they’ve built in the past 24-hours. Because Atlassian is now spread out across multiple continents, there are multiple ShipIt Day winners. In our last go-around, we organized a ShipIt Day World Cup. Each entry will be assigned to a pool (and pools are made up of five people) and make its way through the stages to the final to win the ultimate prize. If the presentation from your pool wins, the entire team wins the trophy.

Some of the projects from ShipIt Day are turned into features that go into production (e.g., FishEye’s side-by-side diffs). Others were built for fun and learning (Atlassian Invaders comes to mind). When you compare the results with the goals, every ShipIt Day nails it insofar as expanding people’s skills and creativity. Of course, it’s awesome when a ShipIt Day project grows beyond concept into something fully fledged, but we’re careful to maintain the spirit of ShipIt which is about having fun while learning and team building.

Iterations
Of course, this is what has worked for Atlassian. Mileage may vary from company to company. The key has been remaining fluid and experimenting with different directions. Some things work, some don’t. The World Cup idea may never be repeated after this year, we might grow out of it, and that’s ok with everyone. We’re here to learn. On our company-wide intranet (Confluence, of course), we have continuously updated a page on our learnings from each and every ShipIt Day so we can continually improve upon what works and avoid what doesn’t.

For more ideas and lessons learned, you can read an FAQ that was started by one of our developers.

RSA on Dan Pink on Motivation

RSA animators created a video of Dan Pink’s talk about the art & science of motivation after his talk at the RSA. Dan toured dozens of cities and gave countless interviews about his book and how companies are changing the ways they create incentives to motivate their employees. This killer illustration provides a nice summary of his research and Atlassian’s work on ShipIt Day.

ShipIt in the Wild

I did a Google search to see if I could find companies who have publicly discussed their efforts on FedEx Day. Here are just a few:
Sonar6

We’ll definitely be doing this one again: it’s a great way to clear those “It’d be nice to…” projects that never seem to grace the top of the to-do list, and to build a deeper understanding of other parts of the business while having a bit of fun.

Six Feet Up

We suspended regular activities from noon on Thursday to noon on Friday, allowing the individuals and small teams to concentrate their efforts on their ShipIt Day project. Dinner, breakfast and lunch were provided, and the office was open overnight. A brave few stayed until well past sunrise to complete their projects.

Ennova

Inspired by the guys at Atlassian and the principles that Dan Pink talks about in his talk on motivation Ennova is running its first ShipIt day. The purpose of the day is to foster innovation within the team and to have fun. We have two teams competing to deliver a new product in one day. Stay posted to see the results and what we learn as a team from this project.

SnowFlake Software
Watch and listen to their ShipIt Day on YouTube.
And others:

Drive

I highly recommend Drive (yes, I read it cover to cover) as a great primer — not just in how Atlassian runs ShipIt Days, but also in how companies can better manage and motivate their employees. Dan’s website.