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Curious Minds, Better Solutions

(This is a slide show. You really won't get 
anything out of it unless you have a graphical web browser with graphics turned 
- All work and no play makes for unimaginative problem solutions. Serendipitous discoveries during idle diversion often drive tomorrow's business solution.
- Such "discretionary hacking" often turns up entire solution patterns that can be re-used for business purposes. Solving a particular business problem under schedule pressure usually results in lower re-use than does recreational programming, as developers feel they should be coding when they are under schedule pressure, rather than figuring out how to do things.
- There is a tricky balance between discretionary hacking and getting real work done. Given absolute freedom, half your team will end up spending all their time writing tools, the other half will end up reading network news. To strike a balance:
  • Define a certain percentage of developers' time as discretionary and require regular informal reports on what is discovered in such time. Let it be known that if it is abused, it will go away.
  • Keep a "job jar" of interesting, but low priority tasks that people can play with in their spare time, such as "menu improvements," "new GUI ideas," "audio interface," etc., and volunteer these out as time allows.
  • Similarly, define a few broad guidelines for those who would be toolsmiths, so they end up playing with things that have potential project use, instead of working on a personal software toy.

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