The Management Hackathon


In today’s hyper-dynamic economy, the biggest risk to sustained success is an overly-hierarchical, bureaucracy-infested management model that undermines resilience, stifles creativity and saps initiative. You’ve already re-engineered your operating model for efficiency, speed and responsiveness. Now it’s time to retool your management model for adaptability, innovation, engagement and customer centricity. We can help.

A bold new approach for
making organizations more
adaptable, innovative, engaging,
and customer-centric

The Management Hackathon harnesses the power of open innovation to accelerate change and build tomorrow’s critical organizational capabilities today.


New Aspirations

Hackathons can help to coalesce a broad commitment to solving the organization’s most pressing challenges and build critical new skills.

Breakout Thinking

By involving new voices in the change process, and challenging participants to question conventional wisdom, hackathons bring bold new solutions to the fore.


The transparency of the hackathon methodology breeds commitment and increases the odds that recommended changes are positively embraced and rapidly implemented.


Throughout the Hackathon process, individuals are encouraged to learn from vanguard organizations and from the MLab’s experienced faculty and facilitators. As they engage with experts and peers, participants hone their skills as management innovators and become co-architects in the change process.

Lasting Change

Many change programs are superficial, and the benefits fleeting, because they don’t address the core management processes that influence values, behaviors and choices. Hackathons focus explicitly on the core management processes (such as planning, budgeting and talent management) that are the key to building deep and durable advantages.

Efficient Change

Cost-of-impact and speed-to-impact are critical in all change programs. By distributing the responsibility for systemic change across a broad range of internal constituents, Hackathons capture unexpected insights, foster real alignment, and generate rapid progress.

Risk mitigation

Top-down change programs, when rolled out, often produce unexpected consequences. Hackathons, by contrast, utilize low-cost prototyping, local experimentation, and rapid iteration to significantly reduce implementation risks.


The hackathon methodology is scalable. It can be used within a single business, function or geography, or across the entire enterprise. It’s the polar opposite of resource-heavy corporate change programs.


Core Assumptions

Management Hackathons are based six core beliefs.

The need to reinvent management for a new age

Tomorrow’s winners will be the organizations that migrate their management models faster than their competitors—in ways that make them more resilient, inventive, inspiring and customer-centric. Accomplishing this will require fundamental innovation in management practices—how organizations are structured, how they set direction, allocate resources, reward people, and more. The goal: a “post-bureaucratic” organization.

The advantages of socially-constructed change

In the future, every change program, whether cultural, strategic or operational, will need to be open and participatory from the start. In an authority-phobic world, where everyone expects to have a voice, leaders can no longer think of change as an “alignment” exercise; instead, they must view it as an “involvement” exercise. To be effective, change can’t be “rolled out;” it has to be “rolled up.

The value of collective intelligence

Employees and stakeholders, rather than functional experts and traditional consultants, are often best placed to understand the limits of current management practices and to suggest alternatives. If invited, individuals at every level will eagerly contribute to a process that gives them the chance to “re-engineer” the core management processes that shape their work environment, shape the corporate culture, and determine economic performance.

The virtues of being both radical and practical

It is possible to rapidly and effectively upgrade a company’s management model without taking undue risks. This can be accomplished by building a suite of focused management “experiments” that leave existing processes intact (for the time being), are designed and run by volunteers, and operate within tight time and cost parameters. The goal: revolutionary change through evolutionary steps.

The power of distributed problem-solving

A Hackathon is much more than a series of “brainstorming” sessions. Hackathons are highly facilitated, multi-stage, problem-solving efforts that involve learning, diagnosis, priority setting, idea generation and ranking, prototyping, experimentation and feedback. They represent the state-of-the-art in applying open innovation principles to complex, systemic change.

The power of new models

Most of us have grown up in and around organizations that fit a common template, and therefore often have difficulty in imaging dramatically new and more effective ways of leading, managing and organizing. Hackathons draw on the hundreds of detailed, “bleeding edge” case studies that have been assembled through the Management Lab’s Management Innovation eXchange. In every Hackathon, participants have the chance to learn from the most progressive companies on the planet.


Approach & Impact

While the design and execution of MLab’s management Hackathons are uniquely tailored to each organization’s situation and context, the typical approach follows four steps.

Weeks 1–2 
Energize and Enroll
  • Build enthusiasm for the Hackathon challenge through open communication (via executive blogs, videos, town halls and other means).
  • Invite individuals to join an initial discussion around key priorities and barriers.
Weeks 3–6 
Imagine and Invent
  • Introduce participants to vanguard organizations with the goal of raising their expectations and unfreezing old mental models.
  • Elicit an initial set of “mini-hacks”—radical yet practical ways to address the Hackathon challenge.
  • Work proactively to help communities form around the most promising mini-hacks.
Weeks 6–10 
Evaluate and Elaborate
  • Using a combination of expert review and peer review, identify a cluster of high-impact hacks for further development.
  • For the high-impact hacks, recruit teams who will flesh out the hack further (e.g., creating a “storyboard” for each hack that describes the impact of the proposed innovation from multiple perspectives).
  • Invite individuals from across the company to suggest improvements and refinements to the proposed hack.
Experiment and Embed
  • Based on the work of Phase 3, winnow down the list of potential hacks to the ones that promise the highest potential impact.
  • Develop detailed 30-, 60-, and 90-day experimental designs for the short-listed management hacks and launch experiment in organizational units that will act as hosts.
  • Create a program management system that captures ongoing feedback and refines experiments.

Management Hackathons are...

Designed to yield a portfolio of groundbreaking, yet highly actionable, management experiments.

Supported at each stage by facilitators from the MLab, along with client coaches, who supply expertise, encourage involvement and work to improve the quality of the management “hacks.”

Typically open to anyone in the organization who has an interest in contributing. This can range from a few hundred individuals to several thousand.

Designed to bring together “communities of passion” that work collaboratively around the most promising management hacks and take responsibility for their implementation.

The MLab Hackathon Advantage

MLab Hackathons

A distinctive point of view about the future of management (key management challenges and their solutions)

Thought Leadership

An extended network of the world’s most progressive thought and business leaders

Agile Development

The ability to quickly tailor the hackathon platform and provide flexible solutions to solve a wide variety of management challenges

Community Activation

Leading-edge tools, processes, and facilitation skills to bring communities together in solving complex problems

Change Management

An established track record of helping organizations practice “lean change,” leveraging the initiative and insights of all stakeholders


Getting Started

Professor Gary Hamel and the MLab team support hackathons and the sponsoring organizations in three ways:


In order to define the most effective hackathon, we start with short design phase to:

  • Develop a baseline view by conducting a round of interviews and reviewing relevant internal documents and analyses.
  • Orient the leadership team on our hackathon methodology—including its principles, critical pre-conditions, and resources required (e.g., IT platform, facilitation roles).
  • Frame the specific goals and approach for the initiative.
  • Detail key roles and responsibilities that will be critical to executing the initiative

Hackathon execution

During the hackathon, Gary Hamel and the MLab team will remain involved to ensure effective execution. Support will likely include:

  • Building and training a small team from the sponsoring organization to co-lead the hackathon.
  • Communications and content curation (e.g., preparing launch communications, synthesizing insights from the hackathon, pushing teams to elaborate their insights further)
  • Community management (on-line and with in-person workshops)
  • Platform customization (e.g., hosting environment, design and features, tech support)
  • Leadership engagement and alignment


Once the hackathon produces the first wave of ideas and experiments, we can remain involved to scale the best ideas and helping execute additional hackathons. These include targeted workshops, regular check-ins, ongoing content support, ongoing web support, and access to a community of other organisations to share lessons.


The Management Lab works with leading-edge firms to help them create tomorrow’s new practices today. Our aim is to support these pioneering companies in creating genuine management innovation.

MLab brings together some of the world’s leading business thinkers, academics, executives, institutions and organizations to invent the management processes and practices that will define competitive success in the 21st century.

The MLab Team

Gary is a world-renowned author, speaker, and thought leader on strategy and the future of management. Hamel’s landmark books, Competing for the Future, Leading the Revolution and The Future of Management have appeared on every management bestseller list and have been translated into more than 20 languages. Hamel’s most recent book, What Matters Now, was published in February 2012. As a consultant, Hamel has worked for companies as diverse as General Electric, Time Warner, Nestle, Shell, Procter & Gamble, 3M, IBM, Microsoft, and Chevron. His pioneering concepts such as “strategic intent,” “core competence,” “industry revolution,” and “management innovation” have changed the practice of management in companies around the world.

Prior to co-founding the MLab and the MIX (Management Innovation eXchange), Michele was an Associate Principal at McKinsey & Company, where he directed engagements focused on organization, strategy, and innovation for leading global institutions. He was a leader in McKinsey’s Organization and Strategy Practices, working on major research efforts at the intersection of organization and technology (most recently with a McKinsey Quarterly article on how to "crowdsource" strategy development). Michele also spent five years as a policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, where he advised senior policymakers on national security issues such as global terrorism and NATO’s strategy. He also published widely on these topics.

As cofounder and editorial director of the MLAB and the MIX, Polly is putting her passion for making the realm of human endeavor more productive and more fulfilling to the test. Polly is the co-author of the bestselling book Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win and was a member of the original team of Fast Company magazine (where she was senior editor for the better part of a decade). Polly’s blog, the Fresh MIX, is widely syndicated (on Harvard Business Review online and, among others). Polly has delivered hundreds of keynote addresses around the world and has served as business and innovation correspondent for CNN.

Prior to joining MLab, Bruce was the Director of the O'Reilly Network, one of the first sites providing technical online information for IT professionals. Bruce managed the editorial and technical teams there as well as helping support O'Reilly's conference business. Bruce is responsible for managing the technical aspects of the hackathon platform, from development to delivery and customization for specific projects. He received a BS in Computer Science from Sonoma State University back in the days when computer programs were written on punch cards and the Internet was accessed by Gopher, and he has remained actively involved in the technology sector throughout his career.

Other MLab Initiatives

The Management Innovation eXchange (MIX): MLab initiatives include the Management Innovation eXchange—the world’s largest open innovation platform aimed at reinventing management

The MIX Mashup, an annual gathering of the Management innovation elite.



Do you want to make your organization nimble as change itself? Make innovation an all-the-time, everywhere capability? Are your change efforts hampered by incrementalism and lack of follow-though? Are you looking to leverage the the full potential of your employees and stakeholders?

Please reach out, we’d love to connect.