Friday freedom – why we go off the trail one day each week

24th April, 2019

Please stay on trail
via flickr/Tony Webster

One of the most important parts of my role as Product Manager is making sure we stick to our roadmap. There are thousands of directions we could take our products in, and I’m here to make sure we focus on solving the right customer problems.

So when I joined Cambridge Intelligence, I was blown away to learn about Friday Projects. Every Friday, the development team stop working on the roadmap, and instead get to work on anything that takes their interest. That’s one day in five when my carefully laid plans take a pause and anarchy reigns!

But it turns out that our Friday Projects initiative is one of the most exciting things about Cambridge Intelligence, and it’s made me rethink the role of innovation in product development. In this blog I’ll show you why.

Finding the next big thing

Listening to customers is at the heart of what I do, but sometimes our customers don’t know what to ask for. We’re in the business of creating visual insights from complex information – the visual feature that gives an analyst that Eureka moment – and it’s hard to express that as a tightly scoped requirements definition.

Friday Projects mean I can share the challenges our customers face, and ask the developers to come up with brand new ideas for creative ways to solve them.

Some of the visualizations our talented team created as Friday Projects. Could one of them be our next big feature?
Some of the visualizations our talented team created as Friday Projects. Could one of them be our next big feature?

Staying current

Nothing moves faster than the web development landscape. That makes it exciting but also overwhelming – a JavaScript framework or rendering technology that’s popular today could be outdated within 12 months.

There’s huge scope for experimentation. Developers could be rewriting our code for a new framework, or trialling a new feature of WebGL that might squeeze even more performance out of the humble browser.

By giving people the freedom to try out the technologies that excite them, we get to widen our horizons and stay ahead of the game. We can ask ourselves, “Is there something coming down the line that’ll make our products better?” And if there is, we’ll be ready to use it.

To keep up our record of stunning client-side performance on large datasets, we need to stay on top of the changing technology landscape

Getting the best from people

Sometimes you have to fit the people to the roadmap, but it’s even better when you can fit the roadmap to the people.

At Cambridge Intelligence we have an amazing team, with a wide range of skills and interests, from the mathematical to the artistic. It’s great to see what’s possible when you give people the opportunity to work on things they’re passionate about.

Whether it’s reading a scientific paper and having a go at implementing it in a prototype, or turning an interesting dataset into a compelling visualization, anything goes on Fridays. And the results can be useful, funny, surprising and enlightening.

Brexit, Game of Thrones and the spread of a 17th century plague epidemic all featured in Friday Project datasets
Brexit, Game of Thrones and the spread of a 17th century plague epidemic all featured in Friday Project datasets

It’s an unusual and special thing to give our team this kind of freedom, but it comes with risks. After all, we’re a commercial company with hundreds of blue-chip customers who rely on our products and their roadmaps. But the technology landscape moves too fast to have your eyes glued to the trail.

You need to leave the beaten track now and then, to see what’s possible and get a new perspective on what you’re doing. Keeping a culture of innovation at the heart of what we do is incredibly important, and our Friday Project system is a wonderful way to do that.

If you’re a developer and this sounds like the kind of environment you’d like to work in, have a look at our openings.

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