Reimagining Off-Project Time at Giant Machines

Chief Learning Officer Giant Machines
Danny Fenjves

July 13, 2023

Off project research and development
Off project research and development

Like any professional services firm, Giant Machines has uptime and downtime. There are periods where we are grinding – full capacity, firing on all cylinders. And then there are times when folks across our teams find themselves in between projects.

Historically, this ‘in-between time’ hasn’t been the most fun place to be. Yes, for a few days it’s nice to have some time to decompress from what can be intense client work. Yes, there is an opportunity to individually do some professional development. But overall, we’ve heard from our team: the bench has ended up as a place filled with uncertainty, ambiguity, and directionless-ness.

That’s why we’ve set out to change this. Every time I think about off-project time for our team, I get excited about the opportunity that the time presents for our company, our clients, and our team members. At any given point, we may have a handful of software engineers, designers, product managers, and design strategists waiting for their next client assignment. It’s time we use this bonus availability for everyone to work together, build, explore, and tinker.My hope is that we can reframe this time as a gift – a time to create and experiment without the pressure of client expectations.

After speaking with product, engineering, and design leadership, we’ve come up with some core principles for the bench, which we’re renaming the Studio. We’re investing in Studio to help it become our internal vehicle for research, development, and learning. Here’s how we’re thinking about this:

  • To start, we’ve landed on three main types of project: technical exploration, venture project, curriculum sprint.
    • A technical exploration initiative is exactly what it sounds like – it’s an opportunity to do a deep dive into a new technology or tool that has the potential to help our clients or grow Giant Machines’ capabilities. We’ve already run explorations into Metaverse technologies, and our initial work on Generative AI has already led to new opportunities with our clients. Regardless of what we’ve chosen to explore, every one of these initiatives will have a small project and demo at the end to show the broader team what is possible with the technologies we’ve delved into.
    • A venture project initiative is an opportunity to validate, incubate, and build a new business in house – it’s our equivalent of a venture studio. We look for business ideas that are strategically aligned with our vision to make tech that matters (with a specific emphasis on climate digital) and then run validation and MVP sprints to see if there is potential to spin the idea out into its own company. We’re wrapping up our first venture project now, and are excited to share what we’ve learned.
    • A curriculum sprint is an opportunity to document and build learning materials that are strategically important for the professional development of our delivery teams. If we’ve recently adopted a new tool or technology for our projects (say, for example, nest.js), a team in the studio will take on the task of building workshops, documentation, and videos that can be used for internal training as well as talks at industry conferences.
  • The Studio needs dedicated leadership: We believe that the studio will thrive when it has someone setting a vision, navigating the many needs of stakeholders within the organization, prioritizing key initiatives, and acting as the connective tissue between our core services: Build, Learn and Innovate. To that end, we’ve brought in a new team member to spearhead Studio as part engineer, part coach, and part project manager.
  • The studio will be organized into two-week sprints. Every project, every initiative, and every internal engagement that is run by the studio will have two week break points to determine whether to continue, pivot, or terminate a project. Why do this? We often have new engagements that start at the turn of a dime, and we need to be ready to deploy our delivery team with a quick turnaround. By limiting initiatives to two-week sprints, we’ll be able to tie up loose ends on a consistent basis so that team members can roll on and off projects without leaving the studio work up in the air.
  • We’re prototyping tools to facilitate our studio management. Sam Ha, GM’s director of product, has built an MVP of our Studio Management Tool – it tracks team members, initiatives, sprints, goals, and incorporates a learning library that we can use for knowledge tracking. We’re currently using Notion, and are excited about the flexibility it provides us to prototype our tool.

It’s early days here, and we’re still looking for the right balance of structured and unstructured time as we build out the Studio. We know it will take significant iteration and experimentation, but we’re excited about the potential of a space where team members can collaborate, build, and explore together.

If you work in professional services and consulting, how do you approach this time between projects? Do you have any tips and tricks? If so, I’d love to hear them.

About the author

Chief Learning Officer Giant Machines
Danny Fenjves

Chief Learning Officer


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