We’re all lovin’ it!

With over 39,000 locations in over 120 markets, McDonalds’ success can be attributed to their hyper-responsiveness to rapidly-changing market demands and fierce competition. By creating better business systems, this quick service restaurant giant has been able to stay ahead of the curve and has revolutionized the QSR industry.


Let’s explore a little bit about McDonalds’ background with innovation, how BurgerHack was born, and how we navigated a global pandemic to quickly switch gears and move this iconic event online.

The Story

Throughout its history, McDonald’s has been known to be singularly focused on its customers, leveraging innovative ways to create delicious, feel-good moments. As McDonald’s looks to drive innovation and growth throughout the organization, the company is leveraging the power of open innovation to foster employee creativity, experiment with new technology, and drive cross-collaboration between global teams. As we approach our fourth year of running Burger Hack, an annual innovation sprint hosted by McDonald’s in collaboration with Capgemini and Onova, we look to reflect on our journey since 2018.


Each year, Burger Hack has evolved in scale and purpose, and so has the level of preparation and strategy. With enabling big companies to innovate like startups at the core of our business, Onova is ecstatic about the outcomes from past innovation sprints and we can’t wait to see how we can continue to drive impact with McDonald’s and Capgemini.


McDonald’s - a Legacy Built on Innovation

McDonald’s was featured in Rick and Morty, an American animated sitcom for adults.

Golden Arches. Big Mac. Happy Meal. Szechuan Sauce.BTS meal. McDonald’s is a legacy corporation that has become a staple of 21st century living. Since its inception in 1955, McDonald’s has been at the forefront of the food service industry.The early “Speedee Service System” developed by the McDonald’s brothers revolutionized the meaning of“fast-food,” a self-service model that transformed into what we know of today as drive-thru restaurants. Fast forward to today, what was once a landscape dominated by the iconic Golden Arches is now a saturated market with huge brands rivalling McDonald’s own. Though McDonald’s is consistently leading the industry, recently ranking first place inRestaurant Business’s 2019 Top 500 Chain Restaurants, complacency has never been a part of the corporate culture.

McDonald’s Executives Dress Up During Burger Hack 2019
McDonald’s Executives Dress Up During Burger Hack 2019

A Sweet and Simple Origin Story

Daniel Henry, McDonald’s Global CIO, was widely known for his love for hackathons during his time at AmericanAirlines. When he joined McDonald’s in late 2017, one of the first initiatives that he looked to run was a global hackathon with Capgemini. The Capgemini Account Executive, Ted Levine, was ecstatic and fascinated about the idea and quickly tasked his team with identifying concrete next steps. As an innovation consultancy with a deep sense of passion for scaling innovation programs and helping large corporations innovate at the speed of startups, Onova was selected by Capgemini to manage and oversee Burger Hack. Thus, began our journey together.

What Started Off as a One-Time Event Turned Into an Annual Tradition


What started in 2018 as an employee engagement initiative within the Global Technology department quickly ballooned to encompass many parts of the business over the course of three years. BurgerHack quickly proved itself to have a lasting cultural impact on the employees even after the event, year after year. It became a part of McDonald’s and Capgemini’s joint strategy moving forward to cultivate a culture of innovation within both organizations to drive new ways of thinking and low-risk experimentation. Burger Hack empowered employees to creatively problem-solve, learn and test new technology, and showcase their solution to senior global executives.


Summary of Our Impact Together With Capgemini and McDonald’s

Burger Hack Event Summary with Capgemini and McDonald's

3 Years of Burger Hack

Burger Hack 2018 Team Photo
Burger Hack 2018 Planning Team
Burger Hack 2019 Planning Team
Burger Hack 2019 Planning Team
Burger Hack 2020 Planning Team
Burger Hack 2020 Onova Planning Team

The inaugural Burger Hack in 2018 started with 250 people in 7 cities globally, hacking for 24 hours. In 2020, with the impact ofCOVID-19, we ran our biggest-yet hackathon virtually—700 hackers, 22 countries, and 36 hours of global collaboration, hands-on learning, fun and wellness activities.

At least 5 months of planning is dedicated towards BurgerHack, a hackathon and innovation sprint that runs for a consecutive 36 hours. This includes facilitating Challenge Definition Workshops with key stakeholders at McDonald’s to uncover real business challenges to solve during the hackathon, organizing learning workshops, and recruiting and onboarding judges, mentors and volunteers. At Onova, we strongly value the importance of learning and knowledge-sharing, and so we always create an immersive, education-intensive environment to ensure that our hackers end their journey with new skills and insights. For Burger Hack, we curated learning curriculums consisting of webinars from technology providers such as Google, AWS, and Microsoft, pitching advice from startup CEOs, design sprint workshops led by our Onova team, and wellness activities like yoga and meditation both before and during the event.


During Burger Hack I and II, which were in-person, participants were broken out in teams throughout McDonald’s and Capgemini buildings around the world where they would work for the entire duration of the event. Our hackers also had plenty of time to relax with yoga, meditation and massages, as well as compete with each other for prizes through various mini-games like cup stacking and paper tower building. Looking back, the nervous yet exciting energy running throughout the buildings for 24 hours is certainly what makes BurgerHack a memorable experience. With virtual hackathons, this missing element was one that we craved to bring back for our hackers.

The Onova team worked non-stop throughout the entire event for Burger Hack
The onova team worked around the clock to ensure the event was a success

Running a Global Hackathon During COVID-19


As COVID-19 took the entire world by storm early this year, our Onova team worked with McDonald’s and Capgemini to reimagine what the Burger Hack experience would look like in a virtual environment. In a way, the virtual environment served as a great equalizer that allowed the event to open up in every market. Our live event happened through livestreams and online activities in an attempt to reach employees not located at the McDonald’s headquarters, it just wasn’t the same for remote employees. However, a virtual event ensured that everyone’s experience was much more streamlined and consistent.


To still replicate components of the live event, key events had to be scheduled optimally across 8 different time zones, while organizers stayed up around the clock to ensure that every hour was filled with activity and support, no matter when people were tuning in. In addition, Onova navigated the global logistics of shipping to hundreds of homes in over 22 countries, with the help of SwagUp, to ensure participants received their event goodies.


As the event kicked off, any concerns that the virtual event simply wouldn’t be as good as the previous in-person hackathons faded. Supporting technology, like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Agorize, Mural, and WebEx, were critical to create a 36-hour online community of collaboration and buzz as participants jumped into chat rooms with trivia, zoomed into yoga and online games, and met with their teams on Teams to ideate, design and build their solutions. The 36 hours culminated in a virtual judging and closing ceremony where participants, mentors, organizers, and judges were connected across dozens of breakout rooms. In an increasingly digital world, it was definitely a unique experience for all of us – one that will play a big role in the future of global communication and collaboration. The silver lining was getting that little push that catalyzed the adoption of new tools, methodologies, and strategies that will only continue to enhance how we connect with each other.


onova's kanban board during the Burger Hack event
onova's kanban board during the event

The energy in the calls were electric.

The meticulous planning paid off as the hacker presentations and judging process were executed seamlessly. Participant engagement was at an all-time high as they were able to connect with other employees at any time during the 36 hours, and share their experiences on social media. Technology was integrated into the event like never before and became the backbone of the success of Burger Hack2020, helping us deliver a one-of-a-kind hackathon experience. The learnings that our own team took away from running a global, virtual hackathon has elevated our ability to connect people from around the world and create a truly unified experience for everyone. Most importantly, it was something to look forward to during this difficult period of time – BurgerHack was truly able to shine a light on the dynamic culture of resilience, people, and innovation at McDonalds.

Google, one of the technology providers, called Burger Hack 2020 “the gold standard of hackathons,” while IBM raved “we do hackathons with a lot of clients, and Burger Hack is at the top of the list.”

Click here to read about how Text On Arrival (TOA), a solution born fromBurgerHack 2020, was quickly implemented by McDonald’s as a part of their business innovation journey.

After such a successful event, what’s next? 

Co-Founders, Helen Yin and Victor Li at Hamburger University for Burger Hack 2019
Co-Founders, Helen Yin and Victor Li, at Hamburger University for Burger Hack 2019

Looking Forward

With discussions already underway for the next event, McDonald’s, Capgemini, and Onova aim to continue to scale the event to include more business groups, functions, countries, and stakeholders in the future. The past three hackathons have shone a spotlight on the untapped potential of McDonald’s employees at all levels of the organization and its ecosystem of partners and vendors. It also has had a lasting impact on the innovative mindset of employees’, not just during the actual event, but throughout the year. With a treasure trove of innovative ideas and prototypes, you may see some of these ideas come to reality at your local McDonald’s in the near future. The success of the online-only event model also opens the door for a hybrid BurgerHack in the future, rather than a return to a strictly in-person model. Our team at Onova is excited to be a part of this process and to continue to help McDonald’s envision the role that open innovation can play in their long-term innovation strategy.