Every few months, a team of Zappi developers get a free pass from business as usual to unleash their talents in long nights of coding . The sole objective is building a working product and driving as much of a business impact over the course of just 5 days. The tech lingo for it is “Hackathon”.

To make things even more interesting, our latest one that took place earlier this February was a deeply cross-functional one, bringing together 15 or so Kantar TNS and ZappiStore product leads, sampling experts, marketers and sales folks to deliver not just an end-to-end product but also the commercial roll-out plan to go with it .

At Zappi, we follow an Agile process of software delivery (in fact, Agile goes wider in our organization, with teams like Marketing and Sample adopting Scrum to manage backlogs). That said, even for a team as in touch with Agile methodologies, the new hackathon approach certainly pushes the boundaries of our standard process.

Source: ScrumAlliance.org

Scrum Master Amaia Lasa, who was overseeing the project (some form of our “hack-boss”,  if you will), warns: “hackathons require flexibility, focus and energy to tackle the unique set of challenges they bring – it’s not for the faint hearted, nor for the unprepared.”

Kantar TNS, are you ready to get automated?

The requirements were clear from the outset: 1 week  to optimize our survey design for large numbers of stimuli, and deliver the final survey tool, based on the research methodology by Kantar TNS.

When considering the user experience, our partners at Kantar TNS flagged an important point – how do we guide users of the automated platform when their stimuli are too similar? This quickly got the team thinking and put them to work on a prototype image recognition tool, and just like that, we had our second key goal for the week. 

Agility drills

The team worked ahead of time to pull together a proof of concept leveraging public image and text recognition libraries  and were able to kick off the hack with a demo of their prototype, getting that first round of feedback in.

Continuing to iterate throughout the week, they were able to refine the model enough to account for foreign text, and having access to a library of global stimuli from both the Zappi and Kantar TNS side meant they could continuously test and adjust for edge cases. 

Fast and steady wins the race – for now

Under our previous sprint-based system, it may have taken a few months to gather all of the necessary requirements, with most new requirements coming in every two weeks (Zappi’s standard sprint length). Having all of our stakeholders in the same location meant that feedback was instant and early stage ideas were quickly given the thumbs up  or down  before valuable time was spent on delivering them. Communication amongst all participating teams became seamless and blockers were addressed as soon as they came up.

This was also echoed by our Kantar TNS partner David Soulsby:

Coming into the hackathon, I was quite skeptical considering the ground we had to cover. I’m very encouraged by the progress over the past couple days, and the hack environment seems to have worked great in that. Being able to bounce ideas off instantly has been key.

With all the praise for hackathons, this intense way of developing is far from sustainable longer term. This powerful sense of vigor that fuels the late nights and propels the project forward can only take you so far when it’s already day 4 and the coffee is running low. 

So when it comes to keeping momentum moving forward, our best bet is adapting our Scrum process to pick up the key learnings from the hack model: tight communication and rapid feedback loops. Through more frequent office visits and face-to-face time with our partners, we can continue the feedback cycle and keep the momentum train going all the way to launch – with the odd pit stop at the caffeine stash, not least.

Alkistis Chatzidimitriou

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Alkistis Chatzidimitriou

Alkistis is a Director of Product Marketing at ZappiStore.

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