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FCW: What makes hackathons work

03 Sep 2021
Academy of Management Journal article explores how to increase the chances that a hackathon will actually produce a working product.

Originally found at FCW, The Lectern, by Steve Kelman.

If you work on IT in the private sector, especially if you are at a small firm or actively involved in open source projects, you may have had experience working on hackathons — a word whose semi-outlaw connotations give a feel for how these are nothing like business as usual.

Hackathons are sort of like agile software development sprints on steroids. They are time-limited events — often but not always three days — where a small team stops everything else they are doing and works fulltime (sometimes around the clock) to develop some new product on deadline. While hackathons are associated with the private sector, there have been occasional hackathons in government, at NASA, the General Services Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs and elsewhere.

Think of hackathons as the polar opposite of the sadly typical pace of software development in government.

Three business-school based management scholars — Hila Lifshitz-Assaf of New York University, Sarah Lebowitz of UVA,, and Lior Zalmanson of Tel Aviv University — have written an article on hackathons in the Academy of Management Journal, the premier management journal publishing empirical work. Titled Minimal and adaptive coordination: How hackathon projects accelerate innovation without killing it, the article explores how to increase the chances that a hackathon will actually produce a working product.

The authors looked at 13 design challenges, all involving technology, that had to be completed within 72 hours. Members of the teams had never met before. Each team was provided with the same tools (such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and electrical equipment). The teams were all left to their own devices in how to organize the task.


Continue reading the original article at FCW.org.

Read the original research in Academy of Management Journal.

Also read this AOM Insights summary citing this research.

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