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January 20, 2014

Flipping the Factory Week Model

January 20, 2014

Factory Week started as a way to tackle a long to-do list. Going full-throttle on client work week-in and week-out, we realized we'd neglected ourselves. We needed a better balance to make space for innovation, to learn new things and to meaningfully invest in our own brand and web presence. Occasionally, that included having a strategic discussion and making decisions, but mostly, it meant building things we already knew we needed.

As we prepped for each Factory Week, we crammed it as full of projects as we could bear. We wanted to make the most of it, to be sure we could look back on the week and know it had been worth investing a full week of our team's time. Reflecting on the sum of the last five Factory Weeks, it's pretty incredible. We have a lot to show and tell – we built a content wrangling tool, a video game, the current version of smallboxweb.com – and so much more.

Aside from the sheer awesomeness of getting things done, we noticed all kinds of side perks to Factory Week. Our team collaborated in new ways, got to test out new skills, and everyone got a chance to lead at some point. But if there's one pit fall to knowing you have another Factory Week around the bend, it's this: you begin to stock pile. It's too easy to look at things that need doing and say, "Perfect. We can do that during Factory Week." Pair this with that desire to make sure we were making a good investment with the week, and we have the perfect recipe for overload.

We'd managed ambitious Factory Week to-do lists before, but in the summer of 2013, fueled with pre-Factory Week optimism and that stock-piled list, we set out to complete 35 different projects. It felt a little unrealistic, but we'd always surprised ourselves with how much we could get done in the focus of Factory Week, plus, our team had grown in size and efficiency. In the first day, we realized our mistake. Several projects got killed off. A handful had significant progress, but presented lingering to-dos to attend to (even months later in some cases). We still got a lot of stuff done, but we also felt exhausted. What was intended to be a recharging of the creative wellspring had turned into burn out city.

Nick having a contemplative moment in the craziness of FW Summer 2013

When we began to plan for this Factory Week, we all agreed there would be no giant laundry list and no building things in a frenzied sprint. We wanted a whole new approach. We decided that this Factory Week must:

  • Provide depth and focus - Rather than being divided by too many tasks, we'll be focusing more deeply on fewer things.
  • Be organic in structure - We have a planned starting point and a vision for what we want to accomplish throughout the week. How we get from point A to point B may shift.
  • Allow for reflection - Since we won't be packed full of tasks, it should be easier to have space for openness and reflection.

We're totally flipping the model for what will be our most contemplative Factory Week yet. Our starting point: a set of questions we'd like to answer about who we are now and who we want to be in the future. Our vision for what we'll accomplish: defining a mature SmallBox, creating a shared vision for who we'll be in 10 years.

In many ways, I'm not surprised we've landed here. We've spent the last year focusing on being a more strategic partner for our clients, on answering big questions first, and building second. We've built out processes around discovery and strategic planning. And while we've invested in being strategic for ourselves in short sessions or four hour off-sites with our leadership team, we've never spent a full week with all of SmallBox on this type of thinking.

This edition won't be marked by the same "Ta-da world! Here's what we made!" unveilings that have end-capped most Factory Weeks. We usually blog and tweet our progress along the way, but as we focus on answering questions and deep thinking, we expect we'll be a little more quiet than usual.

We don't know exactly where we'll end up after this, and while that's a little scary, we're going with it. As a reminder to ourselves that it's okay if we get a little lost throughout the week, we have a purpose statement for this Factory Week: "Embrace ambiguity to create clarity."

Winter '14 Factory Week takes place January 27 - 31. You can follow along on factoryweek.com and @factoryweek.

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