IPMA International Project Management Association
19 October 2020 / 10:00

Insights into our hackdays: Yes, we gained many experiences regarding self-organizing our teamwork!

During the 8th IPMA Research Conference in September 2020 – the first virtual one – we (team 7) participated in the organized Hackdays or Hackathon, which lasted two days and worked on the topic “Mindset, Culture and Atmosphere for Self-Organization”. In this contribution, we would like to share our experiences with you.

Before we come to our learnings, our “Dos” and “Don’ts“, let us shortly describe the task, we were facing and how we get it.

After an online-introduction into the Hackdays, every participant had to choose three topics, he or she was interested in. Based on these preferences, teams were composed by the “Hackdays-organizers“. Furthermore, we got the following “process and timeline-slide” assisting our team-hacking:

  • Phase 1: “Think the work”, including choosing a topic and defining a meaningful and relevant question that should be answered during the Hackdays.
  • Phase 2: “Plan the work”, including selecting a project leader, agreeing to checkpoints and distributing work.
  • Phase 3: “Work the plan”, including converging and finalizing the deliverable as well as the presentation for phase 4.
  • Phase 4: “Share the work”, including presenting the work and answering the judges‘ questions.
  • Phase 5: “Winner announcement and showcase”

In addition, we received information about the scoring criteria and it was announced that the teams might publish their work after the research conference, e.g. as white papers.

Even before the Hackdays started on Wednesday, our team of five hackers passed the phases 1 and 2: Quickly, a project leader was selected. In the beginning, a topic was chosen and the work was organized and planned. Our project leader invited the team to Microsoft Teams and we discussed all contents of phase 1 and 2 via video conferences. We agreed on scheduled checkpoints – also video conferences – and one team member developed a storyline that we used as a big picture and that guided our work. Furthermore, right at the beginning, we agreed on the final presentation: we wanted to create an explanation video!

After our work was planned, on Wednesday and Thursday, we worked on phase 3, during which we had our “ups and downs”. Even during this short period of two days, we experienced the team-building phases forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning (according to Tuckman). How amazing and energizing it was, to go through this process within only some hours! On Wednesday, we worked for ourselves or in small groups and discussed the first results and drafts during our checkpoint conferences. On Thursday, we mainly collated our work and finalized the explanation video. We finished our phase 3 with “a high up”, all of us thrilled by a feeling of elation. In the end, we fought against the last minutes, but we managed to finish our result and submitted it in time. Relieved that we had submitted the link to our web-based video to the chairs of the Hackdays in time, we were looking forward to sharing and presenting our explanation video.

What did we learn about our work, our self-organization, our team?

Our “Dos”:
We were lucky to have our project leader who organized our working environment and supported the team to succeed. The project leader coordinated the self-organized team by making sure that at any time, everyone was on the same page. All of us paid attention, that comments and contributions of the team members were noticed in an appropriate way. Furthermore, we all had a good start in our team and felt welcomed. To work towards a common goal, it was useful to have the big picture and it was helpful to listen to the views and understandings of all team members. In the beginning, the knowledge levels concerning our topic were quite different in our team but by explaining and listening to each other, we were able to build a collective mind concerning our topic. We respected each other with our different backgrounds, talents and behaviours. In this working atmosphere, we were able to get involved in the team, we were motivated (e.g. by our checkpoints) and we were able to benefit from our individual competences – and regarding the competences in our team, we were simply lucky. To sum up, we felt a pleasant atmosphere for our team. This lets each of us unleash what could be contributed to the team. Thereby, we really explored some important findings of our topic within the Hackdays by ourselves! As we were all in different situations and worked only virtually together, we gave room to each other and we all participated as much as we could, without any discussion. In our team, we were able to decide quickly and to keep on working. Of course, we benefited from the time pressure as well as from the set final presentation. Moreover, quick decisions were supported by sometimes standing back and by postponing difficult questions or details into our upcoming white paper. Nevertheless, we gave space to everybody’s’ private situation and circumstances that affected each of us outside of our common work. Once a team member needed to shorten a meeting because he had to visit his neighbour, who celebrated his 99th birthday. We gave room to talk about this extraordinary situation and this man, showing interest in this event. After his visit, the team member shared a photo, have a look onto this admirable locally well-known gentleman. Another team member was working with us while he was on vacation with his family. Having a little baby, he used to dial into our conferences out of his car in front of the vacation house he had rented with his family. He explained that the walls of the house were very thin. Therefore, he went outside the house, so that the baby could find sleep. The same team member, sitting in the back seat of his family car, cut our film, while his wife was driving. Not only was his wife driving, but she also supported us by giving some hints and explained, how to handle the tremendous data volume via technical exchange to send it to the Hackdays chairs. The little toddler maintained our team by screaming loudly from time to time during their trip. In addition, we did not know if that internet connection would remain stable. That situation was exciting for all of us. In the end, we were happy: the line kept! Finally, we were lucky to work all in the one-time zone and speaking one language.

Our “Don’ts” or “What we should do differently at the next Hackdays”:
Feeling a bit stressed, we were not clear enough about our product (as we always thought about our video) and we liked the idea of our explanation video so much, that we tend to forget about the scoring criteria and the given hint that judges will ask questions. Maybe we would have needed a “judge role” in our team or at least a “judge hat”, which sometimes should have been put on in order to remind us of their expectations. We had a good time at the end of phase 3, we really felt “the flow”, but we had a lot of (too much?) time pressure. Moreover, tasks that could have been prepared in advance had not been prepared and we had not thought through the delivery of the result (dispatch, file). Based on our immense time pressure at the end, we worked on a plan B, but, to be sincere, we should have done this earlier. In the end, a lot of pressure lasted on the shoulders of our video producer and it would have been easier if at least some pressure could have been shared. Furthermore, we learned: everyone should create a working environment that is needed to fulfil the task to one’s own aspiration.

To come to a conclusion: our Hackdays were exhausting, exciting, we had a lot of fun, we learned a lot and the last two or three hours of our phase 3 were simply great! Watching our film by ourself, underlined by an affecting sound was an emotional moment for all of us. Our team won the second prize. Nevertheless, we were in such a good mood that we all would have been happy about any prize. Being part of our team and experience such team spirit recompenses our dedication totally and we are proud of our result, our video.

Working on the topic of “Mindset, Culture and Atmosphere” and having the impression that we learned a lot during our “ups and downs”, we thought about how we could structure, present and discuss the mindset and atmosphere we felt. Curious? We will share our evaluation in a subsequent contribution. Stay tuned in this blog!

The authors:

  • Pia Herrmann (Lead Author)
  • Sonja Armatowski
  • Maximilian Müller
  • Norbert Schaffitzel
  • Reinhard Wagner

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