Contingent workforce managers tested their mettle at the CWS Summit last month in Dallas, and three teams came out on top.

The “Hackathon” competition pitted teams against one another to solve a variety of contingent workforce challenges ranging from cost savings becoming a lot more critical to what happens when you lose contingent workers to a higher-paying firm. This was the third such event organized by Staffing Industry Analysts and the second at a CWS Summit.

Conference attendees participated. Each team, comprising contingent workforce managers as well as some staffing suppliers, tackled one of four possible scenarios. Each team was named after an animal in order to differentiate them.

The goal was to outline what the staffing buyer response to the problem should be, what the staffing supplier’s response should be and what the best possible solution is. More than 200 people were estimated to have taken part in the Hackathon.

Three teams were declared winners, two in the same scenario and one in another.

Cost Savings — or Else

You are the procurement director for Higgs & Dray, a fictional maker of computer chips based in Germany with €5 billion in revenue. You oversee the professional services category in North America and Europe. You currently have an MSP/VMS in the UK, German and the Netherlands. However, the program has been tactical in nature for some time and you feel its stagnation has begun to affect program performance. In defense of the MSP provider, aggressive negotiation of the MSP fee on your predecessor’s part has left the program office understaffed and deprived of strategic vision and support.

Your contingent workforce spend is €70 million on a primary skilled industrial labor force across five sites. However, the supply base is rather large given the technical complexities of your workforce. More than 100 suppliers are participating in the program right now. Your time-to-fill has been creeping upward as the region reaches full employment. It’s only a matter of time until the pressure on controlling costs becomes unmanageable.

Recently, your company lost a patent battle with one of your largest competitors and the multibillion-euro settlement has created unprecedented pressure on reducing costs quickly. Knowing you cannot reduce headcount without negatively affecting the business, you have been tasked with identifying cost savings opportunities at the risk of your job should you not deliver. What do you do?


  • Team Gazelle: Isabel Robles and Linda Griffiths of Scotiabank Ltd.; Lowell Williams and Mark Elsner of KPMG; and moderator Ben Thakur of eTeam Inc.
  • Team Kingfisher: Donna Doss of Ford; Allen Chilson, Ling He and Elaine Schwartz of BASF; John Schwantes of Johnsonville Sausage; Lisa Slaker of Home Depot; and moderator Robert Moffat of Hays plc.

The Approach. “We looked at the ‘big picture’ or the overall strategy first, then moved to activities and tactics that would help us achieve this,” said Robert Moffat, Team Kingfisher moderator and director of corporate solutions at Hays plc.

Cost savings “is something that has been a key challenge for many of us over the last couple of years,” Moffat said. “It’s something that’s been very much on our radar, very much a consideration for all parties.”

Achieving cost savings requires clear objectives and a structured plan at the start, and there must be buy-in from key stakeholders, he said. Without these, it’s more challenging to measure progress as well as achieve success.

Moffat said his team also benefitted from the variety of perspectives of participants.

“Our hackathon team was full of implementation and cost-saving ideas,” said Team Kingfisher member Donna Doss, Ford Application Development NA resource management supervisor. “I have to give a shout-out to Rob Moffat, our moderator, for cohesively pulling together all the team’s ideas. During our discussion, he provided a direct cost algorithm that became the framework to categorize the risks, benefits and potential savings solution.”

Collaboration wins. “What we recognized during the collaboration exercise is that we all are facing similar challenges as it relates to managing your contingent workforce,” said Isabel Robles, a member of Team Gazelle, and director, Enterprise Contingent Workforce, Scotiabank Ltd. “You truly appreciate that other organizations are trying to tackle the same type of issues.”

Bringing together contingent workforce subject-matter experts from different backgrounds to tackle a challenging case study gave the session a support group feel. The atmosphere unlocks creativity in problem solving. You’re not in your typical day-to-day firefighting environment, which helped generate focus on strategic solutioning, Robles said.

“It was about putting our heads together during the hour to foster ideas,” said fellow member Linda Griffiths, manager, HR CWP, at Scotiabank. “It was a really good discussion among the group.”

In terms of creativity, Team Gazelle put out a video featuring Robles and Griffiths that described its solutions. The interview-style video was a first for the Hackathon.

“Our goal was to deliver a response that was out of the box rather than your typical deck,” said Robles, who also put together the deck.

Team Kingfisher member John Schwantes also pointed to teamwork; everybody took part and no one person dominated the conversation, he said. And among the first questions asked was whether anyone in the group had experienced this type of problem, allowing the group to tap into any relevant experience at the start.

“We ended up with a better result because it was a team input rather than individual input,” said Schwantes, who is director of HR at Johnsonville Sausage. Schwantes is also an old hand when it comes to the hackathon; he had also been on the winning team at last year’s hackathon in Las Vegas.

Team Gazelle moderator Ben Thakur, president and CEO of eTeam Inc., also cited the ability to work together and collaborate as key.

“The team worked together to solve the problem, and that is how suppliers and clients should,” Thakur said.

Worker retention

You’re the HR director for the fictional Nordsaw Corp., which franchises and operates quick service Mexican/Italian fusion restaurants in New York and the Eastern Seaboard. The company has a contingent workforce spend of $67 million, does not have a VMS or MSP, but has a master supplier relationship with fictional staffing firm Manstecco for your regional distribution centers. It has recently become difficult to retain contingent workers at the distribution centers and the master supplier struggles to fill even the most basic roles in a timely manner. This talent is critical to your operations.

After some review, you find that you have been losing workers to the Tascedo distribution center, across the street from your largest distribution hub, at an alarming rate. Tascedo can pay more than you have been but given the fiscal realities of the region’s growing healthier-eating lifestyle, you don’t think you can make the case to management for increasing the wages without a clear return on investment. What do you do to make sure your sites can continue to operate?


  • Team Iguana: Gloria Lemons, David Arp and Laura Adams of American Airlines; Travis Montague of FINRA; and moderator Jeff Bliss of Axelon.

The Approach. Team Iguana brainstormed for a bit before tackling the challenges one at a time, said Team Iguana’s Travis Montague of corporate systems at FINRA.

At first look, the problem seems to have a fairly simple solution, Montague said. However, the team looked at other factors that could make workers stay beyond increasing compensation. These included retention bonuses after completion of an assignment and career planning down the line.

Teamwork First. But the end response was the result of the team. “It was a total team effort the entire time,” Montague said. Team Iguana members Gloria Lemons, Laura Adams and David Arp also mentioned teamwork.

“We related to each other as peers, and nobody in the group tried to dominate the discussion — our moderator did a great job of synthesizing the thought processes of the group and kept us on task,” they said. “We quickly iterated our points and added to the ongoing discussion as thoughts popped into our heads without fear of what others might think-we were among ‘friends!’”

The group began by brainstorming ideas without a lot of regard to where in the process those idea might fit. The team also brought diverse experience to the mix, including more than 75 years of combined recruiting experience.

They also noted that “cross pollination” by creative minds across multiple backgrounds is one of the least used business tools today because of silo-ing in corporate America. However, the boldness required for an intra-company or inter-company hackathon session will probably limit its use to CWS Summit-type events.

“Without everyone working together it wouldn’t have worked,” said, Jeff Bliss, moderator for Team Iguana, and account director at Axelon Services Corporation. “I’ve been on the staffing side for eight years, so it’s always nice to hear on the client side what they’re thinking of.”

It’s a wrap

The competition for this year’s Hackathon was tough, with collaboration being key for the winning teams.

“As in previous years the Hackathon session was one of the highest-rated sessions in the event,” said Bryan Peña, Staffing Industry Analysts’ senior VP.

“This year’s winners all demonstrated a creativity and cooperation that has become the hallmark of the Hackathon sessions,” Peña said. “It was a competitive field this year and each of the winning teams put forward an extra special effort in their response; this was the first year we had a video submission!”