Twelve Key Learnings from PagerDuty People Team’s Generative AI HackWeek
Sometimes innovation requires ideas unconstrained by traditional structures and removed from day-to-day responsibilities. It was in this spirit that PagerDuty’s People HackWeek–a friendly competition to explore how generative AI might impact the future of HR–was born.
Our People HackWeek idea was conceived from an ongoing conversation between myself (PagerDuty’s Chief People Officer) and a small core group within my organization who took the initiative to explore how generative AI could impact the future of the department. True to PagerDuty’s mission, the group realized that an exploration of this disruptive technology would benefit from strong thinking from the broader People Team–and that we needed to make the topic approachable and interesting. In our gamified method, no lines of code would be generated, but equally impactful ideas would come to the surface for how AI could play a larger role at the company, especially within the People organization.
The inaugural PagerDuty People HackWeek saw 72% of our team–including employees in five countries–and 100% of department leadership work together to address a big challenge ahead of us: How to leverage generative AI to make HR workflows more efficient and productive.
Six teams were crowned winners at our September People Team Town Hall. In our eyes, it was a win for all participants to take generative AI from co-pilot to true augmentation–so much so, in fact, that we plan to hold another HackWeek next year.
If you’re intrigued by this idea, but don’t know where to start, read on for twelve key things we learned in the process of successfully standing up our very own People HackWeek:
The PagerDuty People HackWeek Dozen: How To Go From 0 to HackWeek in 60 Days
- Start at the top. The team quickly drafted and shared a proposal with the People Leadership Team (PLT), laying out everything from purpose and timeline to deliverables and awards. By incorporating important feedback from the People Leadership Team and subsequently receiving enthusiastic approval to “go for it,” the team jumped in with two feet to get started.
- Move fast and iterate. Within a week, People HackWeek was announced to the broader People Team. To build excitement and anticipation, the project team trickled information over the coming weeks, which also gave them the flexibility to work through and finalize details in an agile way–just like our friends in the engineering disciplines do. Only 60 days later, People HackWeek began!
- Encourage ownership. Whether a hackathon is successful comes down to planning. Our planning team brought together passionate and enthusiastic individuals from across the organization, including Engineering, Brand Marketing, Customer Success and more. Everyone involved was clear on their role and excited about the potential of building something new for our team, PagerDuty and even our customers.
- Make it inclusive. Three weeks before HackWeek kicked off, the project team opened up team drafting for ten days, whereby participants could register as a team or as a free agent. Undrafted free agents were assigned to existing teams at the close of the draft, so everyone who wanted to hack could participate. A key component to adoption and commitment was having each PLT member join a team, rather than lead their own direct reports on a team or judge. And diversity of level, team and location were touted as important not only for the scoring criteria, but also for diversity of thought.
- Promote integration. Leading up to the event, organizers partnered with our engineering and customer success teams to host training and office hours to help participants incorporate PagerDuty technology into their ideas. In the process, use of PagerDuty technology became its own award category.
- Take five. Over five days, teams carved out time to work both together and asynchronously to come up with creative ideas that leverage generative AI to make HR workflows more efficient and productive. During HackWeek, asynchronous work was highly encouraged and daily optional office hours with the project team were held. By offering five days for the event, rather than a more traditional 24-48 hour ‘drop everything’ hackathon, participants were able to continue their normal operations, with scheduled blocks for hacking. We made it clear, however, that hacking time was not in addition to their regular 40 hour work week, but integrated. In this way, they didn’t need to plan coverage for their day jobs, and were able to ruminate and iterate on their ideas over a longer period of time.
- Create clarity. To win over the HackWeek judges, teams had to demonstrate a clear understanding of generative AI and how the hack leverages it in a functionally possible way. Teams submitted a workflow diagram showing the step-by-step process of their hack, as well as a three-minute video walking through the workflow and demonstrating its impact. This ensured a consistency of submissions so judging criteria could be evenly applied.
- Make it engaging. The People Team, our internal and external judges and several PagerDuty guests joined a HackWeek Showcase to view all of the submissions. To make this event as dynamic and effective as possible, the project team stitched the video submissions together, ensuring a seamless and on-time live event, with plenty of real-time chat. Trivia breaks between each entry kept the audience engaged while the judges marked their scorecards.
- Award and celebrate. Judges deliberated to determine the winners based on a scorecard covering Impact, Creativity, ID&E, Execution, Conviction and Use of PagerDuty. Given the fierce competition, the judges added “just-in-time” awards to recognize even more well-deserving hacks than planned.
- Follow up. Good news travels fast, so make sure you’ve got a plan to evangelize your success so others can replicate it. A highlight video and a playbook are two additional deliverables that the project team are working on post event, and they’ve already had another department reach out to model their own event.
- Follow through. Projects that come out of Hack Week are often huge swings that explore exciting new problems in creative ways, or help to de-risk large projects and reveal opportunities to serve customers better. Our total came to 16 impressive hacks, but perhaps most importantly, three key areas where we should focus our efforts moving forward became crystal clear to us: Internal Mobility, Team Collaboration and Candidate Experience. We doubt we’d have so quickly achieved that level of clarity on how we should approach this technology any other way, which will allow us to accelerate into our next steps with confidence.
- Follow back. Creating a project that will live past HackWeek was not the first goal of HackWeek, but it’s great if it does. To that end, our leadership team is set to review all hacks in more detail and decide which ones will be resourced for incubation, starting with submitting a few ideas to the company-wide HackWeek to pair with engineers in order to make these ideas a reality the best they can. It just goes to show us that great ideas really do come from everywhere.