Unveiling Hack Week: Innovation at Recursion

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As a Product Manager, I spend the majority of my time thinking about how to create highly autonomous and highly aligned multidisciplinary teams. Greater autonomy enables faster moving teams, increased creativity and empowers individuals. Greater alignment ensures everyone is on the same page, moving in the right direction and makes it easier to ensure the work is delivering value for the business. 

It’s a tricky balance to maximize both alignment and autonomy. At Recursion, we strike this balance by having product managers decide what the team should build and technical leads who decide how they should be built. We have seen a lot of success with this approach and have built an incredible platform for drug discovery. However, it occasionally makes sense to have product managers step back and crank autonomy up to 10. Enter Hack Week!

Recursion cancelled every standard meeting and operational process for a full week in May. We empowered individuals to form their own teams and pitch projects that might accelerate our business. Hack weeks like this are common among tech companies where software engineers and data scientists work on crazy ideas for a week. One of our main cultural values is One Recursion, where every discipline works together towards better solutions. We lived this value in this Hack Week by not limiting participation to our traditional tech employees, but instead encouraging all ~300 employees to self-select their project for the week. We had cross-functional teams consisting of biologists, automation scientists, lab technicians, data scientists, engineers and even recruiters working side-by-side throughout the week.

It was a smashing success and we plan to turn this company-wide hack week into an annual tradition. The ideas our people came up with and executed on within a week were absolutely incredible. Although we had 27 multidisciplinary teams during hack week, detailed below is a small sample of Hack Week projects:

  • Training Matrix - Team developed a training matrix to streamline new employee onboarding which includes standard operating procedure documentation, introductory videos and department-specific materials all in one place.
  • Operation Neurosphere - Team generated 3D neural spheroids to model inflammation and identify treatments that may treat inflammatory diseases.
  • Slow Scopes Go Faster - Team identified several improvements to our microscopes that enabled a significant reduction in imaging time, with the potential to save millions of dollars in the future.
  • One Recursion System - Team built a landing page for all experiment requests and tracking of experiments.
  • The Plate Smasher - Team built hardware to reduce experimental error related to our experiment plates.

Each of these projects (and many more) resulted in tangible business value for Recursion. Nearly a dozen projects were implemented in production immediately following Hack Week while others have spawned new ideas and led to quarterly goals that we otherwise would not have identified. Hack Week provides a unique  opportunity to learn and explore, including in areas that individuals may not have been familiar with previously. If you’re at an organization with a diverse background of individuals then I cannot emphasize enough that you should try hosting a Hack Week! Trust your team, they just might deliver in ways you never expected.