Collaboration In The Name Of Innovation

by Jo Clayton

Posted March 24 3 min read

I worked for CDK (then ADP) 10 years ago and when I returned in 2014 I was really excited to hear about our Global Hackathon initiative. Through the videos I’d seen and word of mouth I knew this was something open to anyone, not just targeted at R&D like in many companies. And I was excited for the opportunity to work outside of my business area, with colleagues I might never normally work with, in a very different environment. I think collaboration is such an important element of innovation and it sits at the heart of our Hackathon events. The beauty is that whilst you might not have the expertise you need to turn your idea into a reality, you can go out and find people who do. And that’s what we did. In fact half of our team were based nearly 5,000 miles away in our offices in India. 

Working in Product Marketing, you can sometimes feel constrained by existing outdated processes or systems which do not lend themselves to being at all customer centric. A colleague of mine came up with the idea for our project. Working closely with customers, he had identified that there was a missed opportunity to promote the developments we are constantly making to our products in a friendly and engaging way, which would allow our users to get the most from them. 

That was the magic thing for me. Having an opportunity to address a very real business challenge and doing it in collaboration with some of the best people in our business whose skills ranged from training to software development. 

You’d think that in order to collaborate and to collaborate successfully as part of a 24 hour Hackathon event, you should: 

  • Work in a team of people that you know well
  • Be in a face to face environment to feed off each other’s energy
  • Have an established relationship so you can get the most out of that 24 hours. 

Our team broke all of those rules. 

Most of us had never met before. We were from not just different countries but different areas of the business. And due to the nature of the work we do, and time zone differences, we didn’t even have the opportunity to do any pre-Hackathon preparation or bonding. 

But that didn’t matter. Last year we were crowned the winners of CDK’s Global Hackathon 2016. It was a rollercoaster 24 hours but here are a few things we learnt as a team along the way: 

  1. Work with different people. Don’t be afraid to form a team of people you’ve never met before and don’t feel like you have to stick to a set number of team members (we had 17!). 
  2. Planning is everything. Even though more team members means that there are more skills available, a bigger team is a bigger project management challenge. Don’t be afraid to use up a considerable amount of your hacking time making a plan. We spent almost all morning planning and defining roles and responsibilities before we even started. 
  3. Communication is key. Obviously we couldn’t talk face to face but we worked around this and booked in hourly WebEx calls, using our video cameras to build a little bit of rapport (there was a lot of waving!) 
  4. 24 hours doesn’t mean 24 hours. Some of our team were hard core coders and decided to stay up for the whole thing. Others needed to get home and get some sleep but in return delivered care packages in the morning and were there to motivate the team to get through to the end.
  5. Global teams are great! The difference it made having team members from different countries was enormous and the experience taught me that even though you’re sat in two different countries and you might never meet face to face, you can actually build a really fantastic working relationship.  Working with the team in India who have a completely different culture was a real eye-opener, good fun, and their positive ‘can do’ attitude helped massively. 
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Since the Hackathon we’ve achieved several milestones and are pleased to have received some positive feedback from our vehicle manufacturers, our customers, and our employees: 

“Much clearer and easier to digest looking forward to end result.”  VW UK 


“Excellent – high level summary, and the search and archive will be a very useful tool.”  Paul Bussey, Ford Dealership


“This is a great addition to the monthly release notes, and is a quick snapshot of what is in the monthly release.” Gillian Pollard, CDK Customer Care Representative

…And personally I’m already thinking up brilliant ideas for the next one!  

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