Google’s “20% time” program is not working as well as it should. I love the idea of giving passionate engineers the opportunity to invent and build, but the policy needs tweaking. Here is my recommendation:
- Engineers can submit projects to the Google management team.
- Managers can approve projects.
- Approved projects get resources, including engineering time, to achieve their vision.
- Google invests 20% of its engineers’ time to these projects.
- Managers’ approvals are tracked, plus bonuses for good records.
Why? Lots of reasons. Not every engineer should spend 20% of their time on side projects. Some engineers should be spending 100% of their time on their side projects, others 0%. Managers who demonstrate years of good decisions form the teams who lead Google into the future.
For Google to maximize the potential of its great teams and ideas, it needs to embrace a more flexible and competitive policy. This plan turns Google managers into a sort of investment committee, the result will exploit competition and align incentives to optimize performance.