The 2-hour, 2-hundred-dollar rule

I’m not a big believe in golden rules, generally. But we have 1 golden rule at work that supersedes all other rules. And that’s our 2-hour, 2-hundred-dollar rule. Which goes like this:

No one shall spend more than 2 hours or $200 on any one thing without first discussing it with the team.

I can’t claim to have created this rule, although I wish I had – Jeff did. I wish I had created this rule because I think it accomplishes two simple but great things:

  1. It speaks to the face we’re all equal in our responsibility to the company – Jeff and I follow this rule, all our staff follow this rule. We’re all equally free to explore, to think, to create – with a set boundary
  2. It provides some freedom to our staff to make their own decisions about what bugs they want to fully explore, what topics they want to read more about, when they want to push something to focus on perfecting something else.

I’ve used this rule to justify buying a particular ebook, ordering some new software and spending a morning optimizing 1 site by a few hundred milliseconds – all within the past 2 quarters. Nothing major, nothing ground-breaking, but allows me some freedom to just explore something of interest to me.

This same rule has also prevented me from spending all day improving the usability of a feature that is only used occasionally by a client, and already had an existing, functional interface. I simply brought up that I wanted to explore this, and that I thought I needed 4 hours. After discussing with the team, we determined it just wasn’t worth it, so I left it alone.

And that last, the case wherein the request to spend additional time is rejected may in fact be the most useful – because it forces the proponent to defend a position, it forces all of us to get up to speed on a project and to think critically about not only what’s best for us as a company, but what’s best for our client.