May I See Your Gold Card?

Steve Freeman reminded me the other day about the notion of a Gold Card. Briefly, this is a card on your kanban board that indicates a developer is working on a self-motivated task, not one prioritised in the normal way. Each developer has a fixed budget of gold cards (say one or two a month) and each card represents a strictly timeboxed period of work (half a day or a day, perhaps). During the gold-card time the developer can work on any feature in the product he or she chooses; often the task involves trying a new tool or process, or writing a spike version of a new feature. When finished, the developer shares what he or she learned from the task, and often the ideas developed turn into normally prioritised stories that the team can work on in the normal way.

One of our development teams has occasional short periods when everyone seems to slow down a bit and take a breather – this is probably healthy because no one can go at full speed forever, but we don’t have a good way to take advantage of this need for periodic change of scene. Thus when we hit one of these slowdowns, we just operate less productively for a few hours or a day until everyone recovers. Gold Cards may be one way to meet the natural human need for a break without slowing down overall progress.

Our other development team uses a different method – they have one planned slack day each iteration, when everyone works on one of a number of useful but not-prioritised product tasks. This seems to work well for them, though they are a lot smaller than the other team.

Can you tell us about other teams who have tried Gold Cards? How do you manage slack on your team?