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We’ve finished our very first ShipIt day(s) last week. It was excellent and we saw some really great work created, lots of collaboration through the dev team and a real sense of enjoyment from those involved.

We took inspiration from the clever team over at Atlassian. More can be found on the roots and details of Atlassian ShipIt days here:

What is a ShipIt day?

In a nutshell a ShipIt day is when the development team get together to work on building something that is not directly on the product roadmap or considered a planned feature for the product.

Some teams may use this ShipIt time to tidy up areas which have been long standing frustrations, to create new tools which are helpful behind the scenes or to implement new features for the product. We did a mix of these.

The ShipIt day’s work ideas came from the development team (testers, programmers, product, managers). There is no strict approval process for the work, but we do have a few guidelines which I’ve outlined later in this post.

Our ShipIt day started on Thursday lunchtime and finished Friday afternoon with a great show and tell session to the wider business.

What? You take time out of developing core features to build…anything????

Right now I can imagine a few readers are wondering why we would take time out of the roadmap to work on stuff that isn’t on the roadmap. It sounds counter intuitive..right? Why would a team do that?

Here’s what Lyndsay Prewer, our development manager and one of the organisers of the day, had to say about ShipIt days:

“The goal of Ship It day was to foster a culture of curiosity and innovation. Great products come out of teams that have the time and the courage to take risks. Risk taking inevitably involves failure, so Ship It day is a time we set aside for people to learn cool new things and take big risks. The end result may be a prototype that leads to a great product/feature, or it may simply be a lesson learned. Whatever the outcome, the day strengthens a culture that is keen to learn and willing to take risks to succeed.”

ShipIt days have a number of benefits for those involved and NewVoiceMedia as a business.

It’s important to stress that these days also have a positive effect for our customers as many of the “ideas” revolved around improving our service, improving the product or adding new features.

Did you just decide to do a ShipIt day? What did the management say?

We didn’t just decide one day that we would do a ShipIt day. The original seeds of the idea and the push to move forward with the day actually came from our forward thinking management team.

Ashley Unitt, our CTO, encouraged us to start doing ShipIt days.

”I do believe it will make us more productive on the existing work if people are more motivated and engaged in their day to day jobs. ShipIt days can re-ignite this motivation. I hope it brings some new ideas that we had previously not thought about and this in turn will help us enhance the product, or the way we deliver the product to our customers. It’s also a way of enabling the team to think about the wider business of the product and not just the day to day routines and work.”

ShipIt days ultimately require the management team to buy-in to the benefits. It was actually awesome to see the response from the managers, directors and the wider NewVoiceMedia teams during the Show and Tell. It gave us good feedback that ShipIt days are valuable for all in the business.

Wyndham Hudson, our Release Manager and co-organiser of the event, had the following comments on why ShipIt days are important:

“ShipIt days are a great way to break the regular sprint cycle and work on something different. It’s great to see what you can achieve in a short period of time when it’s just the team, an idea and a deadline. They also give you the chance to work with people you don’t normally work with and probably out of your comfort zone which I personally really enjoy.

Some great and potentially game changing ideas can often come out of them as well. Take some of Facebook’s most popular services like photos, the “like” button and video which have been a result of internal hackathons (as they call them). One of the most important things for me though is that they also reinforce the idea that failure is alright, which is crucial for innovation. Your project isn’t going to be perfect but hey, you only spent a night working on it and you probably learnt a lot from it and had a good time doing it. Although at 3 in the morning you might not appreciate that at the time!”

Our product team thought ShipIt days were “awesome” adding that they especially liked how the teams gained a deeper understanding of different areas of the business like product and pitching ideas. They especially liked how the teams worked with other people within tight deadlines.

How often do you run ShipIt days?

This was our first ShipIt day and the success of this ShipIt day has certainly got us keen to run another one. We don’t expect them to be run every month, but maybe three or four of them a year. Let’s see how it goes. We obviously need to strike a balance between innovation and delivering on commitments.

Are there any guidelines around the ideas that the team work on?

The guidelines we offered up were as follows:

  • The work must be in some way related to NewVoiceMedia and the product set or work we do here
  • The work should be potentially shippable. It should at least be demonstrable in the show and tell session
  • The work may be thrown away, may be released, may be shelved, but the goal is to create something that could be used
  • The work must be done in teams of 2 or more
  • The work must be demonstrated to the rest of the team on the final day

How are the ShipIt days played out?

Here’s the rough plan of events for one of our ShipIt days.

Week 1 – Any day

  • Call for ideas. Ask the team to think about what they want to build.
  • They can prepare presentations or pitches.

Week 2 – Any day

  • Pitch ideas to the whole team.
  • Anyone can pitch an idea.
  • Anyone can pitch any number of ideas (depending on time).
  • No deep dive on the ideas. High level pitch only.

Week 3 – Any day

  • The organisers, in this case Wyndham and Lyndsay, mingle around the whole team finding out who is in support of which idea.
  • For an idea to be worked on there should be 2 or more people backing it.
  • Teams are defined based around support for an idea.

Week 3 – ShipIt day start

Thursday Lunch

  • The whole team gather to find out which ideas are to be worked on and who is in each team.
  • Guidelines are reviewed again.
  • Schedule of events is communicated.
  • Pizza arrives
  • People snaffle their intended working spaces (i.e. – desks, meeting rooms etc) and teams start forming.

Thursday afternoon

  • The teams crack on with creating something.

Thursday evening

  • More take-away food arrives.
  • Teams that want to stay can hang around late in to the night.

Friday morning

  • The teams continue to build, test and prove their implementations

Friday afternoon

  • The teams continue to build, test and prove their implementation.
  • The teams also start to think about how they will present what they have done to the whole team

Friday @4pm

  • The teams all gather back together and show everyone else (including wider business) what they have built.
  • The teams do a demo and short presentation. There were questions and general banter around each idea. Some teams presented lists of things they still had left to do, others gave experience reports of what worked and what was hard to do.

Prizes were awarded as follows:

  • Most innovative
  • Epic Failure
  • Best Presentation

The Outcome

The outcome of the ShipIt Day was that we had some amazing ideas pitched and worked on – some of which will be making their way in to the product. Others are being used behind the scenes to make us more productive and effective.

The innovation from all teams was amazing, but the truly great part was seeing people working and collaborating in groups they don’t typically work in.

The range of ideas was varied and the team enjoy the event. ShipIt days worked really well here at NewVoiceMedia and some of the ideas will be making it in to the product over the next few months once they have been through further testing and hardening.

I have no doubt we will run further ShipIt days – we’ve seen the value they bring first hand.

If you have any questions for us about our ShipIt days then just let us know in the contact form below. We hope to be able to bring you posts about the specific projects the teams worked on as they make their way into the platform.

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About Rob Lambert

Rob has been with NewVoiceMedia since March 2010 and works as our Test Manager within Development. His blog will feature software testing with various posts about the hosted telephony market and changes to our domain. Outside of work he loves nothing more than spending time with his wife and three children. He also helps run an online testing community and is the editor of "The Testing Planet".

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