The Exploration Continues…
At SICK in Linköping we are very proud of the “fika-culture”, where most of us spend a few minutes having some coffee, talking and sharing ideas. The topic for this post is about one of the days during the year with the most innovation, idea-sharing and learning and yet curiously also one of the few days where the break room is empty at 9 o’clock (our usual liquid-fuel-of-your-choice break-time). No one is found at their usual desks and looking around you usually find co-workers, with vastly different day-to-day tasks, wildly discussing some idea around a whiteboard or a handful of developers mob-programming in one of the conference rooms. The reason for this is that this is exploration-day and the motivation and energy is at an all time high.
A few times a year at SICK Linköping everyone at SICK Linköping stop their day-to-day work and spend a full day on self-improvement, collaboration and innovation. This is our exploration-day, a recent addition to our traditions, one which is, at least by me, highly appreciated. The idea behind exploration days, also sometimes known as Hackathons or ShipIt-days, is to increase cross-team collaboration, innovation, learning and, not to forget, fun in the work environment. At SICK Linköping we do this by taking a day where our whole site spends the full day working together on explorative topics.
The exploration day actually starts a few weeks before the actual day, when people are asked to write suggestions for topics and a few days before the day everyone whom have ideas get to give a one minute pitch for their idea. This is mostly so that some of the organization can be done beforehand, so that people can start straight away when the exploration day finally arrives. At the end of the day we present each groups findings to each other, this can be a demo (for the brave!) or a small talk and a presentation. The evening event is usually accompanied by some food, snacks and drink.
These days are usually scheduled with plenty of advance notice (several months) and with the clear message that everyone will be able to take time to attend. This is important, because the spectre of ‘I am too busy to do that’ is one which from time to time sneaks up on all of us, and managements clear message on the importance of the day is necessary to get everyone to take time out of their day for this.
In our line of business, most of us are required to do quite a lot of exploration and learning each and every week. This process is however always directly tied to a need or an issue that needs solving related to our work. It is more rare to be able to investigate a technique which you have no idea if it solves any problem at all. Or perhaps this is a useful technique or topic, but it’s not part of what you are paid to do. Both of my selected topics for the two exploration days I’ve attended have fallen into this second category, topics which are related to the core business SICK does, but not something which I would normally do. In addition, it’s perfectly okay to fail to produce during an exploration day, as long as you learned something and/or had fun. My first exploration day was spent on Fast Global Registration of PointClouds in PCL. It did not work particularly well, but I learned a lot about PCL.
Except from the exploration days being very appreciated by me and my colleagues, there are several beneficial ideas which have been prototyped during the exploration days. For example, on our most recent exploration day one of the topics a few of my colleagues tackled, ended up directly in a beta-release for a product a few weeks later. A feature, that without this free form exploration would most likely never have happened, since it was pretty out there, and not really certain if it would be useful (it proved quite useful).