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On what to do with downtime

There’s a fascinating post over at TCUK today about agencies building their own applications. We even get a mention in the intro with reference to Forkd. The comments get pretty heated too, with some people claiming agencies that have the time to do such things are over staffed while others are worrying about how to fit internal developments alongside client work.

So, given we’re mentioned, how do we feel about it?

It’s always going to be hard getting the balance of client work and your own projects right. We started work on Forkd in summer 2005 and launched it in early 2008. In that time the world and his wife had built a food social networking site and we were on the back foot right from launch. Keeping a focus on internal development ideas while working with clients work is always going to be a killer.

That said we have more in the pipeline and aren’t going to stop…

The reasons (at least for us) are threefold. First up, what better shop front is there than something that you made for yourselves? A real case of putting your money where your mouth is; new customers can see exactly what you could be making for them.

Secondly, scaling a technical agency is hard. You only have the person hour to sell, and growth only comes through selling more person hours. That is, unless you can “productise” some of your own work. And what better than productising something that you and your team enjoy making and using?

Third – it’s always best to learn new technology on something that isn’t so important that your business depends on it. That latest cut of your favourite app server from svn might look like it provides the killer feature (or bug fix) you need, but do you really want to try it on your current big client project?

And to those that claim agencies must be over staffed if they can do work like this… We all know that the entire team will have downtime whether it’s explicit or not (and all of you with “100%” utilisation just have a miserable staff hiding their downtime at the water cooler or on facebook). A shared goal to aim at during that downtime makes the downtime explicit and supported, which makes a whole let of sense to me, anyway.

And hey, who wouldn’t like to be the next Skinny Corp?