Firebreaks on GOV.UK are similar to Google’s 20% time or Spotify’s hack week. For 1 week every 3 months, teams disband and everyone is given a chance to have some self-directed time to improve GOV.UK. We’ve had 3 firebreaks now: June, September and December 2017. This blog post explores why we do them, how they work and the benefits they bring.
Our teams work using iterative agile methodologies, and aim to deliver value to users incrementally and often. This way of working is intense. Nobody can sprint all of the time. People need some time to pause and recharge.
Firebreaks are not just for taking a break. They’re also an excellent opportunity for staff to pursue other work that’s of interest to them and of value to the organisation. This includes things such as prototyping innovative new features, fixing technical debt and trying out new technologies. There are a lot of talented people working in government, and we believe that giving them this creative freedom will generate value for us and make them happier and more productive.
Firebreaks also serve as a natural breakpoint as teams wind down their old missions and prepare to start their new ones. This gives us a bit of a buffer in which to resolve any niggling team formation issues that remain for the next quarter, and do other disruptive chores, such as seating reorganisations.