The Block Plan

My house is swimming in college brochures as we search for the perfect school for my son. I'm intrigued by the ways colleges distinguish themselves. There are a handful of schools that operate on a block plan, like Colorado College). I had never heard of this approach and think it's clever. Not just as a way to run a school, though, but potentially as a way to run a business.

The block plan works like this. Students take a single course at a time and the entire campus operates on the same schedule. The classes meet Monday-Friday and last for 3.5 weeks. They end at noon on Wednesday of the fourth week. Students have the afternoon off, plus Thursday and Friday, then start a new class on Monday (a few classes are "double-blocked" and continue for another 3.5 weeks).

With the block plan, students focus on one class and subject for the month. Professors have greater flexibility in when and where a class takes place since it can't conflict with another class (some are held off-campus or in the case of an astronomy class, meet in the evenings).

What would a block plan at work look like?

The block plan reminds me of development sprints which typically last for one or two weeks. I wonder what would happen if that concept was expanded to include the whole company (a small company, to be sure) and lasted for a longer period of time.

The time off provides a breather after a month of focused work dedicated to a large goal. It allows for short getaways, but also the scheduling of weekday tasks that are hard to fit into a work week. The entire company being off at once (when possible) removes the sense of missing out and the need to keep an eye on things. Plus, having just finished a project, minds are less occupied and have room for new ideas to percolate.

I think it could work in the right sort of company, but it would be rare.

What does the block plan accomplish?

People are trusted and valued. Each plays a significant part is setting the priorities for the month and is given the freedom to accomplish the goals as they like. A few days a month are set aside to focus on friends and family, exploration and relaxation. It's so important, in fact, that everyone is going to do it.

With the block plan, I believe more would be accomplished of more significance, people would be more invested in one another, there would be less of a sense of work being a treadmill of to-dos, and people would thrive.

Years after this post, my company started doing 6-week product development cycles followed by a 1-2 week breaks. It turns out, it works really well!