Minimal and Adaptive Coordination: How Hackathons’ Projects Accelerate Innovation without Killing it

67 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2018 Last revised: 6 May 2020

See all articles by Hila Lifshitz-Assaf

Hila Lifshitz-Assaf

New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business; Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Sarah Lebovitz

New York University, Stern School of Business

Lior Zalmanson

University of Haifa

Date Written: April 20, 2020

Abstract

The innovation journey of new product development processes often spans weeks or months. Recently, hackathons have turned the journey into an ad hoc sprint of only a couple of days using new tools and technologies. Existing research predicts such conditions would result in failure to produce new working products, yet hackathons often lead to functioning innovative products. To investigate this puzzle, we closely studied the product development process of 13 comparable projects in assistive technology hackathons. We find that accelerating innovation created temporal ambiguity, as it was unclear how to coordinate the challenging work within such an extremely limited and ad hoc time frame. Multiple projects worked to reduce this ambiguity, importing temporal structures from organizational innovation processes and compressing them to fit the extremely limited and ad-hoc time frame. They worked in full coordination to build a new product. They all failed. Only projects that sustained the temporal ambiguity – by working with merely a minimal basis for coordination and let new temporal structures emerge - were able to produce functioning new products under the intense time pressure. This study contributes to theories on innovation processes, coordination, and temporality.

Keywords: innovation, hackathons, temporality, new product development, coordination

Suggested Citation

Lifshitz-Assaf, Hila and Lebovitz, Sarah and Zalmanson, Lior, Minimal and Adaptive Coordination: How Hackathons’ Projects Accelerate Innovation without Killing it (April 20, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3280219 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3280219

Hila Lifshitz-Assaf (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business ( email )

44 West 4th Street
Suite 9-160
New York, NY NY 10012
United States

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Cotting House 321A
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Sarah Lebovitz

New York University, Stern School of Business ( email )

New York, NY
United States

Lior Zalmanson

University of Haifa ( email )

Mount Carmel
Haifa, 31905
Israel

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