Downtime is a bit of a dirty word in my business, and in the context of our web product: CreditHQ being “down” is inconvenient to our customers and a major cause of concern to us.
But there’s another type of downtime which we have deliberately built into our business, and which we find is incredibly helpful. As a software company, we run a process called Scrum, which means that every two weeks, we take a day to deliver back everything we’ve been working on for the previous fortnight, review it all together with our chairman and key stakeholders and then plan what we’re going to do over the following couple of weeks.
What we’ve found, is that even the parts of our business that don’t really follow this two week cycle (operating our our marketing campaigns for example, which don’t take a day off ever!) do benefit from the opportunity for a bit of downtime.
So why is this helpful? Well we can all understand that a small and rapidly growing company is a pretty “full on” environment – there’s always a long list of things to do. Building in a two week cycle though, delivers three real benefits to us:
1: We are human! That means that as well as a daily cycle where we work, rest and play, we also really benefit from a longer cycle to vary the level of stress we operate under. Sure we work hard and have to deliver on deadlines, but if we tried to do that all day every day, we’d burn out our team members pretty fast, and that’s not good for anyone.
2: We need perspective. When your nose is right up close to the detail, it’s easy to lose perspective – to lose sight of the big picture – and that means that people miss stuff, which is bad for business.
3: Stuff changes. The key advantage that any small business has is its ability to respond quickly to changes in the world around it. A small business can take advantage of a change in the commercial environment, a new technology, or a new business model far more quickly than a larger business can, but only if the people in that small business take a moment to stop and look around. We have found that the deliberate practice of stepping back periodically gives everyone in the business a chance to take on board changes – sometimes just a small nudge in the right direction, but sometimes a more significant course change.