International Hackathons: Tinkering Time, Freedom and Responsibility

Posted by Hazel Hollis on March 29, 2017

TOPdesk International Hackathon

What makes TOPdesk TOPdesk? When you ask around, it all comes back to our corporate culture. TOPdesk gives its employees freedom to explore and experiment, coupled with the responsibility to use this wisely. Just one example of this is our International Hackathons, where self-selecting teams work on a project of choice. At the latest International Hackathon, TOPdesk colleagues from all over Europe gathered together in Kaiserslautern for three days of innovation and fun.


Hackathons – An Agile Development Microcosm

International Hackathons at TOPdesk are a microcosm for the way that TOPdesk tackles the challenges of Agile Development. Nobody is going to breathe down your neck and tell you how to do your work. No, sir.

Instead, we give individuals the space to experiment. Teams look critically at their own processes, and select those methods that lead to the best results. You see this in the variety of tools and techniques in use at our (currently) sixteen Scrum teams. I want to share a few of the tools my International Hackathon team selected to make our project a success. Come, take a peek into the world of Agile Development at TOPdesk.


At the core of the TOPdesk culture are freedom and responsibility.


1. Connecting International Developers

We kicked off the event by forming teams. The team I chose to work with during the Hackathon comprised colleagues from three branches, four development disciplines and five nationalities.

As TOPdesk grows, it becomes more and more difficult for colleagues to keep up with everything that’s going on at our three Development branches. My team wanted to create an accessible and visual overview of what’s happening at other teams.

We decided to create a Twitter-style messaging solution. A rotating ‘What Is Going On Wheel’ sequentially displays keywords related to each team’s work. We can put the WiGo Wheel on a screen in the kitchen of each branch, making coffee machine encounters that little bit more informative.


2. Organising and prioritising work

Tools: Kanban Board, User Stories, Minimum Viable Product, Acceptance Criteria.

We started by making a simple Kanban Board to track our progress. User Stories in the To-Do column helped us create meaningful sub tasks. Next up we identifed the Minimum Viable Product. If we had time for additional features, fantastic! If not, we could still ship a working product that met the minimum Acceptance Criteria.


3. Creative Brainstorming

Tools: Cross Fertilization, Lateral Thinking, Multidisciplinary Teams, Pair Programming.

Next up, we further developed our Wheel of Fortune concept with creative brainstorming. We used techniques like Cross Fertilization and what Dr. Edward De Bono calls Lateral Thinking.

All TOPdesk teams are Multidisciplinary Teams. Our Hackathon teams are certainly no exception. Each Designer, Programmer or Tester, has their own unique skill set. Consequently, by brainstorming together we make the best use of everyone’s expertise. In addition, we implemented the solution with Pair Programming.

Feedback about possibilities and potential pitfalls is instantaneous. Furthermore,  we refine the product from several perspectives simultaneously. And this is what we all love doing: solving problems and figuring out a solution together.


By brainstorming together we make the best use of everyone’s expertise.


4. Designing for Real People

 Tools: User-centered Design, TOPdesk Brand Book.

We thought hard about the design and interaction. Would users want to swipe or click? Should we require login? How would users add a new message?

With User-centered Design, we continuously return to our end user to guide our decisions. Our solution will inform developers during their coffee break. It follows that the display should require little interaction. As a result, we ditched a separate team menu and decided to have the whole app on one page.

To personalize the screen, we selected a colour palate from the TOPdesk Brand Book (in beta at the time of writing). This initiative gives teams freedom in their design choices, without compromising a unilateral corporate identity. To encourage kitchen-goers to notice and interact with the screens, we incorporated movement and playful icons.


5. Pitching our solution

Tools: Story board, Promotional Film, Demo.

We had three days from start to finish to come up with a concept. All that was left was to sell it to our panel of judges. We wanted to demonstrate to the jury that we really understand the problems our customers are facing. Our solution will make a noticeable impact.

My colleagues put forward a Story Board: a graphical representation of a real-life situation experienced by our end users.  On the final day, we borrowed a camera and turned our story board into a short Promotion Film. The following morning, we gave a Demo of our results to the entire organization.


At TOPdesk, you are actively encouraged to take the initiative and share the results of your experiments, both the expected and the unexpected.


Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose.

My experience of  the International Hackathon epitomises much of what Daniel Pink describes in his book, Drive. Rather than large sums of money, Pink proposes that workers of the knowledge economy are motivated by:

  • Autonomy: Hackathon teams are self-selected and self-directed.
  • Mastery:  The Hackathon is a fertile ground for learning new skills.
  • Purpose: Teams are driven by the desire to make things better.

At TOPdesk, you are actively encouraged to take the initiative and share the results of your experiments, both the expected and the unexpected. The result is self-managing teams that continue to refine their techniques.

We are intrinsically motivated to improve each other’s and our customers’ lives.  In the fast paced world of Agile Development, this is what drives us forward.



About the author: Hazel Hollis

Agile Tester Extraordinaire. If it's fun or informative, I'll be there.

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