Reflections as a coach for the ISPE Emerging Leaders Committee’s first virtual International Hackathon

Recently, I was asked to be involved with the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE) Emerging Leaders Committee’s first virtual International Hackathon. ISPE run regular hackathon events as networking and learning opportunities for emerging leaders in the pharma industry; this one was targeted at students and recent graduates.

This year’s event was a little different due to it being affected by COVID (like everything else in this world!). However, organizers continued to make arrangements for the event to move forward. They decided that instead of 24-hour events, the hackathon would run over four weeks, with remote teams working to develop a solution for a problem statement provided by Bayer.

The problem statement was: provide an idea for how paper records (e.g., log books/batch record papers/thermal paper records/protocol reports, etc.) could be transformed into a digital and readable format. The teams had limited (fictitious) money, and some other constraints to ensure the integrity of other processes. Aside from suggesting a solution to this problem, they also had to decide how they would implement and support it.

Participants had to self-organize, establishing their skills and roles in the team. They were diligent in holding each other accountable to ensure they had a solid answer to the problem statement within three weeks of the hackathon starting. Whilst this sounds like an elongated period of time, participants also worked and/or studied full-time during this period, meaning work for the hackathon happened on weekends and in the evenings. Teams were motivated and determined to answer the problem statement, pulling a lot of late nights and collaborative sessions.

As a coach, seeing the evolution of the team was a rewarding experience. The determination and capability of the team were astounding. To begin with, there was some hesitation about what they were being asked to do, but quickly they formed ways of working, structure and a vision for their work.

With the remote nature of this hackathon, it was crucial to ensure the teams had access to virtual tools. This included Slack, for instant messaging and broadcasting of information from the ISPE. My team also used Miro to collaborate and develop their ideas, along with other tools.

Representing Emergn – and knowing how we help teams build better products through Product Management, Agile, Lean and Design Thinking practices, as part of our VFQ body of knowledge – I introduced the team to some tools and concepts to help get them started. These included Lean Canvas, Customer Profiles, visualizing unknowns and testing assumptions through Test and Learn cards, prioritizing ideas and prototyping tips.

The team experimented with some of these tools and created a Lean Canvas for their idea, ensuring they explicitly stated their assumptions and highlighted their hypothesis. They also considered their solution from the perspectives of Design Thinking: ‘Desirability’ to the customer (explicitly having a period of their implementation to observe customers and understand needs, along with an iterative rollout period of functionality), ‘Viability’ for the Business (considering cost reduction and change management) and ‘Feasibility’ of the technical solution.

Aside from tools, I was super impressed with how my team also considered a cultural change in the implementation of their solution. They considered mindset, embedding behaviors through leaders and getting regular feedback from those involved with the changes through co-creation of the solution.

Congratulations to my team and all the hackers! Click here to learn more about the team or watch the recorded video of their solution below.

ISPE Website screenshot

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