Hackathon is a portmanteau word that combines the words “hack” and “marathon.” A hackathon’s objective is to team together people from different technical backgrounds to solve a problem. Generally conducted over a period of 24 hours, the uninterrupted and captivating nature of the activity makes it highly productive.
Large technology organizations such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft often conduct internal company hackathons. While hackathons are less common in global in-house centers, (GICs), they can be equally powerful, enabling talent to be hired from the market (when external participants are allowed), increasing employee engagement, encouraging collaboration among functional silos, improving connections with the parent organization, and encouraging entrepreneurship to create a culture of innovation. From an overarching perspective, they allow the opportunity to experiment with different ways of working together.
Hackathon best practices
Following are Everest Group’s top tips for making a GIC hackathon a resounding success.
Plan well and encourage participation across all functions of the organization including development, testing, the project management office (PMO), information security, and the business. Each function can play the role to which it is best suited. For example, business users can provide realistic problem statements for the teams to solve, and supply the teams with resources to help work on their ideas. Or, business users can participate in various teams, and mentor them on fine-tuning their thoughts and ideas. The PMO can be involved in the logistics and event management.
Conduct your hackathons in an informal setting to enable participants to have fun while getting their creative juices flowing. We know of several organizations that have experimented with associating certain social causes with their hackathons.
With the advent of the digital journey, GICs must not only support their parent organization but also lead the way for digital transformation. This in turn requires building strong innovation capabilities and a talent pool for digital. It will be interesting to see if GICs use hackathons as one of the means to this end. Note: we encourage it, for all the above reasons.
Has your GIC held a hackathon? Have you participated in one? Our readers would love to hear your experiences!
What if a service provider could build itself from scratch based on the learnings from the past two decades? Liberty Source, launched in 2013 as an impact sourcing provider, is trying to do just that in the highly competitive finance & accounting (F&A) outsourcing market. It has agreed to share its story with us as its business continues to scale.
Our first discussion with Steve Hosley, CEO of Liberty Source, provided an overview of their journey and in the second and third discussion we focused on the talent model. Our fourth discussion focused on the principles behind the culture of Liberty Source. We continue the discussion on culture in this fifth blog.
Eric: In an earlier conversation, you described the culture that Liberty Source has intentionally adopted and why it has chosen to focus so much on culture. I would like to understand more about what Liberty Source has specifically done to structurally build the principles into how Liberty Source operates. What are some of those elements that have been designed into Liberty Source’s operating model?
Steve: The cornerstone of the culture program, and first group we kicked off, was our affinity group, LSVS (Liberty Source Veteran and Spouse) team. This group drives all of our community outreach activities as well as our internal engagement programs. It also allows spouses and veterans the ability to mentor other Liberty Source employees. A big part of ensuring Liberty Source continues to effectively scale, resides in our ability to access top talent, so the LSVS team created a Liberty Source Ambassador program, which is a volunteer rotational assignment where our spouses and veterans, represent Liberty Source at recruiting events on bases and within the community. Although we have a standard recruiting process, we encourage our spouses and veterans to simply be authentic and talk with folks, telling their Liberty Source story. Empowering our employees in this capacity is powerful and engaging. To hear spouses speak of their specific roles at Liberty Source and then speak about the company at the enterprise level is powerful and in the process, that simple exchange has placed their personal credibility and brand upon the enterprise brand of Liberty Source. It also is a big reason that, even after two years, we are still very proud that over 50% of our new hires come from internal referrals.
A second team we established is focused on getting the right tools and establishing the environment. We have an open, productive, and inviting work environment and our shipmates have all the necessary tools to be successful in their job. We are a laptop-driven open environment with no offices, which promotes our employees to exercise one of our operating principles of “Own it,” allowing folks to simply get up from their seat and walk over to another team to get something solved. Pretty basic, but once your employees feel empowered, this basic open concept can be a powerful instrument. Our operations center resides in Virginia, where southern hospitality is alive and well. This polite nature proved to be problematic at times because our shipmates were not culturally equipped to tell a fellow shipmate that they could not talk right now because they were in the middle of something. This committee developed flags for each desk and when the flag is up it signifies the “door is closed and I am busy.” This indicator helps prevent culturally awkward interactions.
Eric: Great idea! I need to get a flag for my office door to keep our CEO away while I am trying to get work done. Beyond the affinity and the committee for design of the environment, are there other elements you have designed into the operating model?
Steve: Yes, there are three other elements that come to mind – a training coalition, our monthly employee communication, and a medals and ribbons program.
Eric: Would you mind describing those in some more detail?
Steve: Certainly. At Liberty Source we have a standard training program that we continue to enhance each year in support of the skills we deem e necessary today and in the future. This group is chartered with developing a supplemental training program focused on tracking and managing on-the-job training experiences and skill achievements. They have targeted a few key areas, roles, and skills, and they work with the folks currently performing the functions to practice and formulate a way to convey what you do to others. They then schedule and arrange job shadowing opportunities for fellow shipmates to learn from each other. This group also finds opportunities for Liberty Source employees to exercise a development skill in “friendly” non-client facing situations, such as putting into practice their PMM certification by running and leading our annual holiday party. Although the military community embraces formalized classroom certificate driven training, and Liberty Source has its share of that, we believe the classroom work needs to be reinforced or validated from seeing and doing real work and achieving and demonstrating tangible skill development. In the works right now, this team is developing a new program to target and track when shipmates demonstrate skill achievement through the attainment of visible badges or metals. This will allow our folks to track their development inside formal classroom settings as well as skill proficiency achievements outside the classroom.
From a communications perspective, our communications team ensures that we have established outlets that allow personal and professional information to be shared on a regular basis among shipmates. One of the key instruments of this team is the monthly LSVS outreach publication that profiles individuals, accomplishments, what’s ahead, and how to get involved. This group also orchestrates quarterly skip level meetings to make sure there is a transparent exchange of information.
The last item I mentioned was medals and ribbons. In the military, they clearly know the value and importance of recognizing individuals for great accomplishments. The commercial world can learn much from the military in this area. What we have learned is that the way you deliver recognition of achievement is actually just as important as the reward that may come with it. Taking the time and thinking through the interaction and exchange of the actual recognition and reward is very meaningful. One of our biggest events is when we reach the first anniversary of a new client. We invite the client to our Operations Center located at Fort Monroe in Virginia for a formal “coin” ceremony. We have a special coin minted that honors the client and its dedicated delivery team at Liberty Source. In the ceremony, we “coin” the Liberty Source employees in honor of their hard work and dedication, which includes transitioning, launching, stabilizing, and delivering for the client day to day. In the same ceremony, we have our spouses and veterans “coin” their client counterparts and key client personnel in recognition of their thanks for all the support over the past year but, even most importantly, for their commitment and belief in the spouses and veteran community. Needless to say this is a powerful recognition event on many levels.
Eric: Very interesting to hear these examples and how the alignment to the military culture has provided an opportunity to extend culture design into business operations. Thanks again for sharing, and I look forward to our next discussion. Might you be ready to explain the automation program and learnings for that effort?
Steve: I think we are about ready to share our learnings. We have automated processed at two different clients and are capturing some powerful learnings. Let’s speak in a few months and we will be happy to share these.