About a month ago, on my personal blog, I posted about a FedEx day idea and our attempt to organise it here at Symantec.cloud. When all emotions went down I was dog tired but happy. We did it and what a great success! I hope my reflections will help you to organise a FedEx day in your company.
Three Weeks Before
I've been thinking about organising a FedEx day since I've read Drive by Daniel H. Pink. It took me couple of months to convince management that they can afford letting bunch of developers to abandon projects for a day and a half. Finally when I got an uncertain consent I could start planning.
The first FedEx was scheduled on 1st December and I had just about three weeks to make it happen. There was a lot of confusion after the first communication went to all developers. People started asking a lot of questions wanting to know more. Great, that was exactly the kind of reaction I hoped for. They were hooked.
Now I had a lot of work to do, a website, FAQ, communication and so on. It took me over a week of hard work to have everything ready and also left number of questions. Will it work? Will people be actually interested?
One of concerns was the Toronto office. I had two options available, either I would let Toronto to run the FedEx day themselves or we will try to accommodate time to have it running somehow together. I wasn’t keen on the former option. Hey, if I’m not sure how to run this thing how they would do if they just heard about it for the first time. Luckily the time difference allowed setting start at 2pm in UK which was 9am in Toronto. Whilst we would have Thursday afternoon and Friday Morning, our mates in Toronto would have the whole Thursday. The final presentations were to be held at 3pm in UK and 10am in Toronto. Yeah, that should work just fine.
The last thing was to ensure all interested parties were informed and people will have relative peace of mind during the day. To my surprise project managers were very understanding and accepted that some of us will not show up on a meeting and will work for a day on something entirely different. That was good sign.
One Week Before
Following Atlassian’s FAQ almost to the letter (those guys know how to do it) I run the brown bag meeting over lunch a week before the day. Lunch time was good as no one could complain they have a meeting or whatever. The same meeting was run a few hours later in Toronto. Our meeting was recorded and the recording was sent to Toronto just before their meeting so guys over there would know the drill.
That was our firsts step and a promise of something great. In total we’ve collected 36 ideas. This was amazing. I expected no more than 20 and had my managers ready to step in and start suggesting ideas, just in case people will sit silently. To my surprise that wasn’t the case and having another half an hour we possibly could get to 50 or more. That was simply awesome but also showed me that people are actually thinking about making things better and the whole FedEx day idea may actually work.
All ideas were documented captured on the forum for further discussion. Over the next week people were asked to think about those ideas and pick one to implement if they wanted to participate in the FedEx day. I asked them to write details of their project and whet they expect to achieve within one day.
Meanwhile I started looking for a prize for a winner. Finally I’ve decided to go for something funny instead of dull monetary reward. The honey badger is our internal joke but I suggest you to Google for it and you will get an idea.
One Day Before
The last check.
I’m getting excited. All seems to be ready but I still have a feeling that something is missing.
FedEx Day, Morning
So the day has come. I’ve sent a quick reminder to everyone giving the last chance to pick up or even post the idea. That was good thinking. My manager decided to support us and posted one more idea he will implement. That made 12 in total, cool.
I did the last run through the check list. All seems to be ready.
FedEx Day, 2pm
It’s show time. At 2pm sharp I’ve sent an email to everyone that we are starting shouting around the office, feeling like a clown, but hey, this supposed to be fun.
After the few minutes of initial buzz the room went quiet and stayed like that pretty much till the end of the day. Everyone was so focused on their work they refused to answer any questions and reacted angrily for any interruptions. To be honest, I haven’t seen my mates working so hard and so concentrated before. It was like they were in a trance. As end of the day approached most went home but a few, including me, stayed a bit longer but no one was so unreasonable to work over night. Or so I hoped so.
I haven’t heard anything from Toronto though and I hope they will be fine.
Presentation Day, 9am
The day started with a buzz. Everyone was commenting on what they were doing, what they did so far and what they will expect to have done by lunchtime. A couple of them also admitted they were working late night at home. Hmm, I wasn’t expecting that commitment.
Presentation Day, 2pm
After the lunch I’ve sent another email confirming that we are done. Everyone had now an hour to prepare themselves for the presentation that was about to start in just one hour. A half an hour before the presentation I run downstairs to set up everything. Laptop, network, big screen, live meeting, conference call, web camera, all was ready just when people started arriving.
With all interested cramped in a room way too small we started. After a very short summary we started presentations. Everyone had just five minutes to show their stuff. With no more than two minutes for questions and one minute for changing the speaker we should be done within two hours.
Once we started I was in awe. We actually did it! One idea was not completed and one presenter was called to an urgent issue but that didn’t change the fact. We did it, and we did it damn well. Over the next two hours I’ve seen things that blew my mind. I think everyone, not just me, was totally astounded by effects of just one day. From ten ideas presented four or five were ready to immediate implementation. A couple more would need a little bit of work and will be ready.
At end of the meeting, everyone was presented with a voting card. Our colleagues from Toronto were voting online. A quick counting and we had a winner. Actually we had a draw and in this moment I blessed myself for ordering two t-shirts. Both winners were presented with the Innovation Champion t-shirt to wear proudly.
The next week after the day I asked my manager, who initially had a lot of doubts in the whole idea, if he thinks it was worth of spending about 20 man days. His answer was very quick and determined “yes”.
It’s been now two weeks since we finished our first FedEx Day. It was the best experience I had in this place, if not the best ever. I restored my faith in people and innovation and I’ve seen power of motivation.
I’m now slowly getting ready for the next one in February. I’ve learnt a bit or two from the whole experience and hope to improve the next time. First of all I need to work more on the fun factor. Get some cakes, beer, pizza and so on, take pictures, maybe even walk around with the camera and produce a video at the end.
I also need to sort voting for remote participants that will be slightly better than sending an email. But at end of the day I think it was a great success and can’t wait till the next one.
The cherry on the cake is the competition run by Atlassian right now. Of course we will participate and, fingers crossed, if we win this will be just unbelievably awesome.
If you managed to stay that long and read the wall of text above I hope you are actually interested in the idea. Please, please let me know emailing on firstname.lastname@example.org or otherwise if you are planning to run FedEx day yourself. It’s not easy but I can assure you that it’s well worth of your time and effort.