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To Deliver Innovation Don't FedEx It, ShipIt!

by Craig Smith on Jun 29, 2012 |

After seven years, over 500 innovation projects and high profile endorsements from Dan Pink and other leading publications that resulted in hundreds of organisations copying the concept, Australian software company Atlassian has had to rename its famous innovation day concept.

Atlassian are responsible for a number of popular software development tools including JIRA, GreenHopper, Confluence and Bamboo. Since 2005, they have been running quarterly internal hack-a-thons called "FedEx Days", which essentially give employees the opportunity to step away from their normal work and come up with new innovations which they must then showcase to the rest of the organisation after 24 hours.

The name for the event was inspired by the one company that “ships” more than anyone – FedEx - and their commitment to ship something in 24 hours. We liked the idea of applying that “ship in a day” concept to these internal innovation hack-a-thons, so we began calling them “FedEx Days” informally.

However, as described on the Atlassian blog, recently the popularity of the concept got the attention of its namesake:

Another organization that become aware of FedEx Days is…well, FedEx Corporation. They’ve asked us nicely to discontinue using their brand in connection with this event. It’s not something we asked permission for originally, since it was just a cheeky way to spike innovation internally and we never anticipated the idea would take flight like it has. We’re grateful to FedEx for being the great company they are and, even though the name holds pretty deep meaning for us internally, we’re happy to comply.

As a result, Atlassian put the call out to their customers to rename the practice and after hundreds of submissions the new name was recently announced to be... "ShipIt Day".

We believe ShipIt Day perfectly captures the ethos of FedEx Day ( in the same amount of syllables, no less!): a day of innovation with the goal of creating something you can demo to your fellow hackers–or, the “if it compiles, it ships” desperation during the sprint at the end of a FedEx Day.
For those not familiar with the "ShipIt Day" concept, it gained a lot of popularity as a result of mentions by Dan Pink in his popular TED Talk on the science of motivation as well as his book "Drive". Atlassian explain them as follows:
Atlassian's "ShipIt Day" is time set aside for developers to work on whatever they want with a skew towards our products.We tend to run "ShipIt" with a fairly open format where you can do whatever you want as long as you can somehow relate it to our products... The goals of "ShipIt" are:
  • Foster creativity. Atlassian is good at hiring smart people and we'd be mad to keep all that brain-power locked up.
  • Scratch itches. Every developer has something that bugs them about our products, or something they'd like to see them do.
  • Spike. Often, radical ideas don't get traction because we don't understand how they'd work or what benefit they'd provide.
  • Have fun. Institutions like ShipIt make Atlassian a fun place to work.
In relation to the name change, there were a number of other innovative suggestions from Atlassian commenters including:
  • Unencumbered Programming Sprint Day (or UPS Day for short)
  • Eureka Day
  • Tadpole Day (for ideas that are wanting to grow legs)
  • The Jack Bauer Challenge
  • Deviate (combining develop and innovate)
A number of commenters to Dan Pink's blog post on the name issue thought FedEx were missing an opportunity by changing the name. Jim Knight commented:
Maybe Fed Ex should reconsider. This seems like great free publicity for them and it brands them as a forward-thinking organisation. Hey, perhaps that would work: Forward Thinking Day.
Dale Halvorson had an alternate comment:
My first reaction to this story was “How can FedEx be so stupid!” This is a great viral campaign for them. It’s a great story that I’ve repeated many times and suggested to my own company that we try it out. A quick Google search, though, revealed that they were actually offering this as a service to other companies. While I still agree that the two of them should have worked something out I no longer think that FedEx is the devil.
More information on "ShipIt Days" and a comprehensive FAQ on how to run them can be found at the Atlassian website. What are your views on the name change? Does your organisation successfully run "ShipIt Days" or an equivalent?

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