Zalando Hack Week - A Driving Force in Innovation

by Bastian Gerhard - 2 Jul 2014

Earlier this year, we reported about Hack Week, the first open innovation week where Zalando Technology experiments without limits. Now, in the middle of June, we have “celebrated” it for the second time, again with very positive outcome and new learnings. We are quite excited to see how Hack Week has grown from a fun little side show into a cornerstone of Zalando’s innovation culture. This time around, Hack Week also involved a few other Zalando departments and attracted a lot of attention from the executive board, journalists, bloggers and even the state government.

It all started with a little kick-off event reminding everyone about the process and schedule. Each day was again accompanied by a few side shows that helped to strengthen the team spirit – video games, office golf and public viewing of the FIFA World Cup opening match.

Hack Week ended with the closing event where again ten handmade trophies were awarded to the most distinctive projects along with our special guests from the Management Board – Robert, David and Rubin. Two new awards were presented this time – the Bridge Builder award for projects fostering collaboration across departments, and Andy Warhol for the most creative project or optionally the most creative presentation.

Putting the event together was much easier this time. The organization team was already experienced, and the staff knew the whole ideation process and what to expect from it. The atmosphere was very open, playful and laid-back with people brainstorming everywhere. All project teams were very focused on delivering results and thus devoted themselves to whatever they pursued with a lot of passion.


And the winners are...

Ultimately, we have seen over 100 project proposals and more than 80 teams working together. The award winners are listed as follows:

Award Category Winner

Dream Team

Team player award for most diverse team


Visionary concept of an improved logistics automation system developed by a very large, interdisciplinary team.

BSD 4.3

Best software coding project

Machine-learning supported (ZMON) checks

Improved monitoring of mission-critical IT systems and software components utilizing historical data.

Mars Rover

Best system/hardware prototyping project

Las Vegas Bookshelf (a.k.a. Sort by Light)

Working prototype of a “smart" logistics cart equipped with Wi-Fi and LEDs to visually indicate storage positions of scanned stock items.


Best non-engineering project

Zalando Technology Hackweek Masters

A little fun golf tournament within our offices.

Cheap & Cheerful

Awarded for going after “low hanging fruit”, i.e. best cost-benefit ratio

Movement sensors to find vacant meeting rooms

Network of simple, cost-efficient movement sensors to find vacant meeting rooms within our offices.

Nikola Tesla

Awarded for best innovation

MyFeed Borderless

Working prototype and visionary concept of a lean-back Zalando shopping app for Internet-enabled TVs.


Awarded for the most geeky project

Big Bash

Parser written in Bash that takes SQL as an input to query large log files without persisting them in a database.

Bridge Builder

Awarded for working across departments

Zalando Models

Working prototype of a curated retail storefront where Zalando employees endorse their favorite fashion styles.

Andy Warhol

Most creative project or presentation

Payment change after delivery

Inspiring presentation of a concept allowing customers to change payment methods after the delivery of shopping items.


Open innovation is daily business

A lot of these Hack Week projects help us to innovate the customer experience. They have an impact on how customers perceive and interact with Zalando – now or in the long-term. Even more so they help to make our internal processes much more efficient. Be it logistics processes at our warehouses, or within our engineering department through the development of internal tools and little helpers that improve the way we plan, build and test software features (see one example here).

Additionally, Hack Week is all about thinking outside the box and working across teams and boundaries. Therefore it is crucial that people with different backgrounds and ideas develop solutions together – all that without the bias, blinkers and pressure imposed by daily business. As a result, we achieve a very positive impact on our work environment and company culture – characterized by teamwork, creativity and playful innovation – that we do not want to spare in this rapidly growing organization.

But Hack Week is just a tiny little extract of a full year's worth of innovative capacity. Therefore our goal is to take open ideation to the next level and enable such groundbreaking collaborations throughout the year. An update on how to make that part of our daily business will follow.


More impressions of Hack Week #2 can be found on Flickr.

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