Foster innovation within your organization through hackathons

  • Posted on June 29, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes
Foster innovation within your organization through hackathons

This article was originally written by Avanade alum Bruno Capuano.

In this fast-moving world, changes that previously would have taken years are happening in a matter of weeks. Avanade’s mission is to be the leading provider of digital, cloud and advisory services, industry solutions and design-led experiences via Microsoft.

Avanade CEO Pam Maynard recently said, “Innovation has long been part of our Avanade culture and our DNA. Today, it's more critical than ever and our clients are looking to rethink how they do business and we are partnering with them to unleash the next wave of bold, innovative thinking.”

As part of our internal continuous improvement process, we are always looking for new ideas, new products and developing new offerings to fulfill the market demands and help organizations to respond, reset and renew.

In these challenging times, everyone seems to be busier increasing the complexity of collective knowledge creation in anticipation of an uncertain, challenging future.

So how are we challenging the status quo and causing disruption at Avanade?
Hackathons are a design sprint type of event; often, in which multi-disciplinary people computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, domain experts, and others collaborate intensively on software projects.
You can validate an idea, try out new technology and even solve a large business problem. 

Unfortunately, hackathons have recently earned a bad reputation because the unhealthy and competitive nature, sets unrealistic expectations and are usually associated to “technology or coding problems.”

How do we apply this within Avanade? 
Through our Innovation Framework, we’ve combined design sprint, human-centered design, and other design thinking techniques in a disruptive and innovative way to revamp the hackathon concept and foster innovation within Avanade.

Avanade design thinking workshops are carefully structured to leverage and challenge collective knowledge, driving to solid strategies, clear decisions, and ultimately, innovative solutions. The way to get great solutions is not to come up with a handful of ideas and then pick the ones you like – you need to come up with 100, 200 or even 300 ideas. Then you can discuss the ideas, prioritize them, and add them to a smaller list to iterate and refine the best of those ideas.

Everything starts by defining a theme through a survey that is sent out to our market unit leads and industry SMAs. These leaders share the golden ring they are looking for in their markets and ideas to save a lot of people time and money leveraging the potential of Microsoft technologies.

We then choose who is available building a multi-disciplinary team and in just five days move from ideation to a real working prototype. 

Ideally, this would happen with everyone locked in a room, but given the social-distancing circumstances and to avoid travel costs, we leverage tools like Microsoft Teams and Mural to make this happen in a virtual world.

On the last day, we have a soft "go live.” Instead of waiting for an official launch to get the perfect data, we invite five different stakeholders to seek early feedback and get quick-and-dirty answers to our most pressing questions. Each team needs to present the idea summary and a demo to the leadership team simulating a TED Talk. Based on the feedback received, the team goes through a quick retrospective by creating an action plan to refine the prototype.

A special flavor of the hackathon is when we leverage Microsoft Power Platform, which enables data democratization turning ideas into organizational solutions and providing the ability for digital information to be accessible to the typical (non-technical) end user. Power Platform allows quick prototyping with a clear path from MVP to production allowing companies to take advantage of reduced licence costs and quickly establish the overarching vision, strategy, and governance of powerful citizen applications. It empowers every citizen developer to do more in their organizations by allowing them to create apps they need to solve process challenges themselves.

All the assets harvested during the Hackathons are submitted to our internal incubation team (aka the Avanade Garage) for deeper scrutiny and after being piloted through a few clients they become part of our wedge offerings which in turn reduces project costs and delivers results faster to our clients.

What does success look like?
According to a survey conducted at the end of the event, 90% of employees felt that this approach elevated their employee experience within Avanade. They felt inspired to learn something new and empowered to solve a business problem.

This generates synergy across Avanade, Microsoft and Accenture by allowing us to strengthen our working relationships and relevance.

Last, but not least, this model allow us to differentiate through products and services innovation increasing adoption of Power Platform and allow us to create accelerators and wedge offerings that can be rapidly deployed to our clients and support them to return to the “new” normal.

It is time to rethink your business. Contact us to plan your next hackathon. 
Learn more about Avanade’s capabilities to help you to respond, reset and renew so your business is ready for whatever comes next.

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