Introducing Buffalo Battles, Merge’s own FedEx days / 20 Percent Time

Nov 29, 2011 | Skip to comments » | Share | |

Two weeks ago, Merge closed its doors and turned off its phones for a day and a half to try something new.  Taking a cue from Atlassian and Google, we agreed to stop all client work during this time frame and experiment with an idea that will likely become a tradition at Merge.  After successfully completing our first run of FedEx/20 Percent Days, which we’ve dubbed Buffalo Battles, we’d like to share our approach and experience with you.

Will, after Team Two's presentation

If you are not familiar with Atlassian’s FedEx days or Google’s 20 Percent Days, they both involve allotting time for their employees to work on their own projects, rather than client or company work.  This might seem like a risky business move, setting aside so many non-billable hours.  However, the theory behind this idea is that it will allow employees to take a break and work on something of their own choosing, which will foster their creativity and teamwork, benefiting the company in the long run.  Each company has it’s own rules for their employee projects days. Google allows one day per week for employees to work on whatever they want, which has resulted in 50% of the products they offer. Atlassian holds their FedEx days once a quarter, and while they have a pretty open policy, they require that the work relates to the company’s products in some way, and they have 24 hours to produce and “ship” their idea.

Like Atlassian, we knew Merge’s project days had to have a few rules. The main objective of our Buffalo Battles was to come up with an idea that ultimately could be viewed as beneficial to Merge or its employees. We were split into three teams, and were given one day (lunchtime on Wednesday through 3pm on Thursday) to brainstorm, collaborate, and work.  From 3pm to 5pm, the teams met to present their ideas and vote on which we would continue to develop as a company project.  The teams were divided in a way that ensures they each had a relatively similar skill set, and to give everyone the chance to work with those they might not normally work with on a day to day basis.  The voting criteria went as follows:

  • Usefulness: How much value does the project provide to its customers or to Merge?
  • Doneness: Can this project be used next week? How much work remains to be done? How long will it take to implement?
  • Technical Accomplishment: Did the work address any significant technical problems?
  • Sellability: Does the project stand out due to its user experience? Was it presented well?

We met on Monday after work to discover our teams:

  1. Matt, Jeff, Kevin, and Kim
  2. Suzy, Will, Meredith, Gina, and Katie
  3. Adam, Eric, Mark, and Brad

Team Three, hard at work

Come Wednesday at lunch, we broke off to brainstorm for a few hours.  Since I am working remotely in Orlando, my team (henceforth known as Team Icebox) made use of Skype and Google+ Hangout to collaborate. This turned out to be pretty efficient, especially with the use of a whiteboard so I could view the meeting notes with the rest of them.  Each team member brought a few thoughts to the table, resulting in a wide and creative idea pool ranging from practical and silly apps to games.  Team Icebox chose to combine two ideas, which resulted in an exciting app that will be a valuable tool and resource to Merge and its clients.  Matt and Jeff were the brains behind the presentation and wireframes, Kevin was the superstar developer who brought our idea to life, and I branded and designed the project.

Team two created an unique and delightfully simple app that will benefit everyone in the industry. Team three developed a useful and collaborative social media tool that could be used internally by Merge to showcase ideas, projects, and creativity, as well as a marketing tool for others.

Team One, presenting their project

The outcome of the Buffalo Battles was a huge success!  We wound up with three fabulous ideas, had a bit of friendly competition, and most of all, had a blast. The “winner” was Team Icebox, although I believe everyone agrees that we would like to see all three ideas developed.

What I loved about the inaugural Buffalo Battle was the creative freedomwe had, and the chance to work with a group in which our regular Merge duties don’t normally give us the chance to work in. I definitely am looking forward to the next Buffalo Battles in Q1 of 2012, and I look forward to Merge further developing our projects to share with you.

Here are what some other Mergians had to say:

My favorite part was the challenge of making something cool that worked in a relatively tight time frame. Also it was fun hearing everyone's final presentations." - Brad Garrett, Digital Alchemist

It was the first time I had a chance to work with Eric and Brad. I got to see the true brilliance of those within our team as well as those on the other two teams. Merge is an incredibly smart and multi-talented bunch of people with a passion for the work and resolution to solve the task at hand." - Mark Gerardot, Creative Director

The fact that 4 people took an idea, created a working demo and implementation plan within about 10 hours was pretty amazing." - Matt McFadden, Director of Marketing


Wondering why it's called Buffalo Battles?  A quick Merge fact: We have an affinity for buffalo. Watch the Guy on a Buffalo series, or read this short Wikipedia article for some insight.



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