Side projects as an employee KPI

Working long hours — at the office, a coffee house, or at home — is one of the more obvious indicators that an employee is dedicated to their job, but is it indicative of how productive or how good they are?

It’s possible the long hours are a sign that someone is struggling to accomplish in 5 hours what could or should have been done in 1 or 2, and if that’s the case, the job is encroaching on their personal life, which in turn would have a commensurate negative affect on their work like — and that’s when the downward cycle begins. Unchecked, these long hours would have negative consequences for both employer and and employee alike.

Gmail, Google Maps, Twitter, Slack, and Groupon started started as side projects, as did Under Cloud, the digital research assistant, which I’ve since spun out as a startup of sorts.

Side projects should be considered key performance indicator of an employee, something I imagine Google figured out a long time ago, giving rise to their famous 20% time set aside for their employees to focus on side projects. The powers at Google are no fools, and the fruits of that 20% me time become Google products, but that needn’t be the case for everyone else.

“Should I tell my boss I have a side project?”

… is a question I see asked a lot while on a number of groups for entrepreneurs, developers, and designers to talk, share ideas, and learn from their peers. If it were me, I’d want to know if an employee had a side project, not because I’d feel threatened, but because I’d like to help, where possible. As an employer, I see side projects as evidence of some notable qualities:

  1. proactive, forward thinking, and a willingness to look beyond their immediate environment;
  2. inventiveness, and a mind for both identifying and fixing problems, or seeking out new and novel niches;
  3. and a demonstration of a commitment to self improvement, and a desire to learn.

These are commendable qualities that are beneficial to the employer, too — more so if these side projects are work-related activities. It’s feasible an employee could be working on a side project without me knowing — and that’s not a problem in and of itself — but it’s inconceivable that their out-of-hours dedication to their craft wouldn’t be of benefit Octane to some extent, since they’d either be:

  • learning new or honing existing skills;
  • collaborating with others and improving their own project management and communication skills;
  • and perhaps learning to make more effective use of their time, and — through trial and error — create a productive work-life balance.

I’m sure there are other benefits, so what’d I not include, and what do you think of side projects?


The case for digitising and optimising our workflows

I doubt most businesses restrict themselves to the one task, so imagine the savings after optimising two or three.

This speaks nothing of the fact that we would have made reductions in data error, loss, and duplication, too.


Define the new normal and stand apart from the crowd


Planning ahead: Think big, begin simple.


Olympus has fallen: The rise and rise of digital innovation

Olympus — much like their photographic brethren before them, Kodak — both luminaries in their field, both innovators, both stumbled and then failed to get up again. If we take one thing from this, it’s this: Size is no insulation from failure, and a failure to foresee and then respond to what comes next.

While at college during the 90s, I had the chance to use Apple’s first venture into the then nascent digital camera market, the Apple QuickTake — and it was awful. But then, in fairness, most digital cameras at the time were.

Fast forward a few years and digital print emerged — and it was awful. But it served low-end print material, like fliers and leaflets, carving out an existence for itself. As the quality improved, it began eating into the other business collateral, and then came letterhead, business cards, so on and so forth.
In both cases, digital cameras and print started out like most other nascent technologies — terrible at first, but hinting st some promise and enormous potential.

As for Kodak, it’s mistake wasn’t that it failed to innovate per se, but that it believed it had created sufficient inertia from its vast portfolio of innovations to insulate itself from the inevitabilities — and vagaries — of change.

Olympus, on the other hand, zigged towards the mid-range market, when it should have zagged to avoid the vast assortment of mobile devices equipped with digital cameras that would devour that exact market.

Yes, hindsight isn’t a true guide to anything, but in each case, looking at technologies for clues as to the future of things was less revealing than considering the possible future needs of the customer — it wasn’t as if “transistorisation” hadn’t happened.
So what do these camera-related calamities reveal for thee and me?

  • In terms of digital transformation, put the needs of the person or the team first and then wrap the technologies around those needs, where the fit is best.
  • Now that artificial intelligence is on the cusp of becoming a commoditised service (both in terms of software-as-a-service, and the requisite hardware), consider what services within the business could benefit from or be threatened by it, and then begin making plans now.
  • Technologies are changing fast, it’s perhaps best to have a loose coupling of business activities to digital services and their providers, to insulate — or, to some degree, mitigate — against rapid and disruptive changes in the provision of those services.

How we respond to change is a measure of how good a job we’ve done in anticipating it, or accepting that change is the one constant in life, love, and business.

Octane helps small businesses with big ambitions deal with big business problems.