Dissecting a hackathon – Thoughts I

I recently had a brief participation on a hackathon. This is something I have been planning to run during this year, and I think the time has come to realize it by the upcoming year. There is no doubt that you need to be around people that help you engage on your intentions, making them actionable.

Working as the bearer of New Technology for Scania, inside the Architecture Office, there is no question that all new technology must be seen by all. Scouting adds no value if there is nothing after that process. So, I have decided to organize a hackathon to help the entire organization have a hands-on experience, believing that this will not only benefit Scania’s investments on technology that empowers its digitalization strategy, but will also increase employee morale.

First thing we did was trying to understand why “Hackathon”. I had never searched the definition for “hack” before. It turns out it simply means “to chop something down”. It is nothing we don’t already do when developing a software: we basically dissect problems down to a codeable action and then build up an application that will be part of a Solution.

Chopping things down to innovate

Great, we have a portfolio of technology, some more mainstream, highly used and with a lot of expert users in the company, while some very powerful but equally underutilized. We have to list them down to bits and motivate the whole audience to be aware of its existence. This will help them have insights of what they can do with that piece of technology.

To do that, we sat down as a team, and:

  • listed every bit of technology we handled in the past two years;
  • then, we discussed if we had any plans or if there is anything interesting for us in those tools;
  • listed Meet Ups we could organize internally to explicit the capabilities of those tools/technologies throughout the year, before the hackathon;
  • tried to come up with names within the organization that could conduct those Meet Ups (eventually someone outside the organization could also be good).

We are in the last point at the moment. I believe that having a series of Meet Ups will create the intended atmosphere (or part of it) of innovation. And our definition for innovation is important as well. For us, it will simply be the ability of doing something better, in a way that enables us to have a glimpse of what we can do better in the future once we find the use case and be slightly confident with that piece of technology and that is cost-effective.

To exemplify, let’s say we are always reporting our time for our timekeeping software. This time will be then billed out of our customers. If this time reporting process takes too long, could we do it better? Maybe someone creates a piece of hardware that helps us timekeeping using Raspberry. We did something better, we reached a level of innovation. We now have a glimpse of what we could do in a broader scale, once we are certain that we can maintain a solution like that and that it is cost-effective.

Keeping traditional thinking with innovative thinking

Scania has performed two Editions of Inovathon. A logistics hacking marathon with the purpose of not only creating a good school-business partnership, but also improving branding. There is the side-effect of increasing employee morale, by involving them in a series of social media posts, and having them mentioning the pleasure of working for the company. Check news about Inovathon here, as well as on its official Inovathon page.

Inovathon is not focused in a single purpose like having the best employees to be hired. It brings a new sense of relationship with the community. Traditional thinking will expect a very clear set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to be determined. For that reason, since there could be traditional-thinking decision makers along the process, my idea is to use parts of my Gamification Anticipation Framework to guide us through the effective implementation of this event, as well as providing KPIs of the Hackathon (assuming a Hackathon is a gamification tactic for technology adoption) to them, and hopefully make them convinced that this can yield some result.


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