Be a PM for a Hackathon Project

Can Ülker
Booking Product
Published in
6 min readMar 15, 2022

--

Hackathons are very common events in the tech industry to foster innovation, and at Booking.com we have our internal Hackathon every year. There is a general perception that it can be hard for Product Managers to contribute to Hackathon projects. You may ask yourself questions such as; ‘Will a team want a PM?’…… ‘I cannot write code, how can I be of use?’… ‘Will this be the most efficient use of my time?’…. ‘How can my skills help a team?’..

We wrote this post with Matthew O’ Shea to share with fellow PMs how you can and should get involved in a Hackathon project and explore the many benefits of this. If you are interested in learning more, please read on.

What’s in it for PMs?

Try out that wild idea

Ever wondered how that unconventional idea you had for the product might work? If you don’t try you’ll never know! The Hackathon provides the perfect platform to scratch that itch and work with colleagues across the organisation who are invested in your idea. It can be a very efficient way to validate a hypothesis and give it visibility across the business, outside of the standard planning and prioritisation process.

I love the fact that during hackathons we can unleash our creativity and realize our boldest ideas for our product, without the need to deeply think of prioritization, business constraints, dependencies, etc.

Hadas Harush, SPM Machine Learning

Contribute to a long term product investment

Many Hackathon projects transform into longer term investments for Booking.com. They provide the opportunity to define or get involved in a key strategic initiative that can become far more than a 2–5 day project. If an area/product idea is nascent, tackling it during the Hackathon can provide a great boost and showcase the need for future investment. This was epitomised in the Sustainability Hackathon project in 2021.

Hackathons provide an opportunity to expand your horizons and knowledge base by working on a new topic, or to execute on an exciting project that you couldn’t make happen otherwise. Both of these were true for me when I took on the Sustainability Hackathon project. Now, a year later, I’m the PM of the product team at Booking dedicated to Sustainability. It was the hackathon that set me on this path.

Noah Ruede, SPM Sustainability

Opportunities for Collaboration

As a PM it is easy to fall into the habit of focusing on a specific product area in which you can become an expert. It can be hard to make time for wider collaborations across the business as, in your day to day work, this may fall outside of your scope. Hackathon projects can enable collaborations across multiple business verticals and deliver products that can have a large impact on the wider business. In 2021, multiple teams worked together to help users get directions to their booked property. Projects like this can receive a lot of recognition because, as well as solving a key user problem, they can contribute to the business metrics of many verticals and can be scaled to multiple additional touchpoints with our users across the funnel.

A mockup design of how Booking.com provided directions to the property
Allowing users to get directions to their booked property

Improve and refine your craft!

The Hackathon is fast paced and the startup nature of the event can be a great opportunity to refine your PM skills: learn about other areas of the business, form a strategy and vision that makes sense for your project, help teams prioritise and make quick product decisions, and drive awareness and collaboration with other teams who may be interested in or potentially impacted by your idea in the future. The Hackathon can push you outside of your comfort zone and provide invaluable experience that you can transfer to your own product team.

Your skills are needed!

Interested in what’s in it for you? Read on to get some idea about what roles you, as a PM, can uniquely play as part of a Hackathon team.

Recruiting team members

Most Hackathon ideas get organic support from the participants, and commonly these ideas are commissioned and marketed by Hackathon sponsors, which means it’s relatively easier to fill in the roles for these “popular ideas”. What about the not-so-popular, longer tail ideas though? As a PM you most likely have worked with a large network of stakeholders, so you can use these relationships to engage others in the project and market the idea further.

Organising the team

Formation of a Hackathon team means you have a group of builders ready to ship who believe in an idea and dedicate three days of their time including blood, sweat and tears. It’s rarely a concern to get organised at this stage, but you can help the team navigate the ambiguity and be more efficient with their effort.

Having a PM on the team helped us clearly define the MVP for the get directions project and coordinate with various stakeholders to quickly eliminate any roadblocks that came up. The PM created and maintained the backlog of tasks, helped in prioritisation, made critical product decisions and organised regular check-in meetings to monitor overall progress.

Harshit Rastogi, Full Stack Developer

Engaging with stakeholders

Although most Hackathon ideas focus on shipping the entire piece internally as the team, in the context of Booking you usually are better off getting help from stakeholders with input like relevant data or work that has already been done that can enable faster progress for your team. As a PM, you can lead onf identifying and speaking to relevant stakeholders before the Hackathon starts and gathering data to shape the idea. A bonus of this is exposing your project, which can encourage support when public voting starts.

It’s also an opportunity to work with colleagues with whom I might not otherwise get to collaborate — and to bring resources into a topic that wouldn’t otherwise get them.

— Noah Ruede, SPM Sustainability

Rallying support

Speaking of votes, at Booking.com every Hackhathon has prizes for winners and just the excitement when you see your idea is upvoted, if not for the prizes, makes it special. Besides, who would not like to win a hackathon? As a PM, you can lead how to market the idea from day one, showcasing your work with storytelling and last but not least, hustling to get those votes.

Choose a memorable name and message and be consistent with it throughout the entire hackathon. In order to promote your idea, you can post it in relevant internal groups, prepare slides/one pager, video, or even a Tik Tok dance, true story.

Hadas Harush, SPM Machine Learning

Setting the idea up for continued success

Believe it or not, it’s not uncommon for a Hackathon idea to be adopted across the business for the long term. As a PM, you can identify the future plans for the product after the Hackathon and look to get investment from relevant parties in the business.

During the experimentation phase, the PM started a collaboration with teams to make sure we had all the right tracking to reach a successful outcome. Having a PM also helped the project get more visibility and buy-in from the leadership and other teams that is important to keep the whole team motivated throughout the duration of the work.

Harshit Rastogi, Full Stack Developer

Final Thoughts

We hope you have been inspired! As PMs, there are so many benefits to taking part in a Hackathon and little to no down side. Give it a go and you will thank yourself afterwards. After all, what else could you want other than building cool things, inspiring colleagues, and even winning prizes?

Career opportunities. Lots of them! If you’re looking for the next stage of your career, explore our Product Manager roles at Booking.com, because it’s more than a job, it’s a journey.

--

--

Can Ülker
Booking Product

Product, technology, start-ups, music, data, football and life.