Zalando Hack Week - Making Innovation Visible

by Bastian Gerhard - 2 Dec 2014

Five years of extremely fast growth and continuous success lie behind us. Always forward-focused, we hardly had time to look left or right. But for one week in late December, our Technology department made a full stop and let the year wind down with playful innovation and experimentation. Say “Hi” to Hack Week – one week for over 400 people to brainstorm and execute their very own ideas without limits across teams, functions and several office locations.

Our software release train and the project business halted for an entire week. Collaborative hacking took the place of releases and project launches. The term “hack” thereby did not refer to hackers and was not limited to software or hardware development. Instead, anything in one way or another contributing to Zalando’s core business or the improvement of our everyday office life was welcome.

In order to push the creativity within the teams, eight beautifully handmade trophies were announced early on and then awarded to the best projects at the closing event (see below for a list of the award categories and final winners). Furthermore, a first among our established prototyping processes, the design thinking method was utilized extensively by some of the teams to better understand the context of a problem. This systematic innovation process enabled us to generate more meaningful insights and creative solutions.

Hack Week was accompanied by numerous side shows, including daily warm-ups, video games, infusions (our platform for various types of knowledge sharing) as well as a movie night, foosball tournament involving dozens of teams, and an office chariot derby. On Wednesday night, to celebrate half-time achievements, we all gathered at Zalando’s Sky Lounge over the roofs of Berlin for a little Christmas party – genuine only with almond cookies and Glühwein (traditional hot wine punch).
Ultimately, this long week of insane prototyping concluded with the final award ceremony. In sum, the project presentations were much more entertaining than any feature-length game show out there and created a great spirit before everyone left into the holidays. The most memorable moments of the week were captured on camera (see video below).

Impressive outcome

It is fair to say that the big turnout and passion displayed for Hack Week exceeded our initial expectations. At the outset of the event, almost 150 project proposals were given. Two-thirds of them turned into active teams. And half of those presented their achievements on stage at the closing event. Aside from all the fun and late night action, we now see numerous follow-up initiatives that will very likely help to improve Zalando’s customer experience, underlying business processes and our office culture as a whole.
The award winners should provide a rough understanding about the overall quality of Hack Week’s outcome:

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What we learned for next time

Hack Week brought a lot of creative potential to the surface and helped us to reinforce Zalando’s innovation culture. We have seen a great passion among the teams combined with an eagerness to improve various aspects of the business and to demonstrate personal achievements. In this respect, Hack Week promoted team-building and provided an opportunity to recognize and reward ideas for improved staff satisfaction.
For next time, however, we are planning to encourage more interaction with other Zalando departments to amplify the overall outcome. By providing more business insights to the teams, we believe to create an even better alignment of customer experience and cutting-edge technology.
More impressions of Hack Week are available on Flickr.

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