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Indianapolis Consultants Pull An All Nighter

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After another round of the 24 Hour Web Project was over, it was time to comment on whether this was generally a good business process and a healthy business practice. Our answer in two words: Yes, sometimes.

First: a heads up on what this is all about. From the website:

The idea for this project is: find a local non-profit, gather a team, make said non-profit a useful web site in 24 hours, raise community awareness and maybe get them some donations in the process. The team gets to revel in losing sleep helping out for a good cause, the non-profit gets to benefit from their new site. Win-win, all around.

The event is organized and staffed by SmallBox, an Indianapolis web design firm. The team did double duty one year, producing impressive websites for both the Earth House Collective and INDYCOG.

At first glance, it’s easy to be skeptical about a marathon, company-wide effort. If we look just at the raw details out of context, this might seem like a recipe for disaster. In fact, the 24 Hour Web Project does include some of the classic hallmarks of what industry veterans call a “death march”:

  1. Incredibly short deadlines
  2. Exceptionally long hours
  3. No tangible revenue

If these were the most significant factors for a project at your company, it’s pretty easy to predict your future.

So why are the SmallBoxers staying up long past their bedtimes once a year to build websites? Are they crazy? To understand why this is rare example of when extreme conditions actually work, we need to look at the primary cause of the traditional, soul-crushing death march. To quote Ed Yourdon (author of the definitive work on this topic) in an interview:

More often than not it is the result of an arbitrary deadline determination by management. Management decrees that something will be done in a very aggressive fashion, and then they stubbornly refuse to back down.

Or, in the language of Dilbert:

business consultants talk about Dilbert

So why is the 24 Hour Web Project not an example of a death march? One reason above all others: the arbitrary deadline is not a management decree.

The SmallBox team decided together that it would be loads of fun to set out to build a website in only twenty four hours. They have set parameters for the project to ensure success—such as requiring a client-approved sitemap before starting the clock. And of course, they are only building websites for non-profit causes, which helps keep everyone’s spirits up.

If you’re considering extreme working conditions at your own company, you might be tempted to use the 24 Hour Web Project as an example. After all, if the SmallBoxers can load up on Diet Coke and churn out two websites in a single day, what’s wrong with expecting your team to put in a couple of sixty or seventy hour weeks?

The answer is that anyone asking their employees for long hours is asking the wrong question. The right question is the one SmallBox has answered on their company culture page. The right question is asking: “How should we work together?” The SmallBoxers decided that part of that answer was the 24 Hour Web Project. The answer for you may be something similar or different, but only if you’re asking that question.

So to summarize: is it good for the company to stay up all night working on a crazy project? Yes, sometimes. Only if you’ve decided—all together—to change your working parameters and see what amazing results you might produce.

Congratulations to the SmallBox team on their success with the 24 Hour Web Project. And an even bigger congratulations to the SmallBox team for building a collaborative working environment where such fantastic ideas can be part of a healthy workplace culture.

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