How to I organize a hackathon
In the realm of corporate activities, hackathons emerge as captivating and intellectually stimulating endeavors for your team, while simultaneously wielding immense potential for augmenting your customers' enterprises. Nevertheless, orchestrating a hackathon unfolds as a complex task, far from plain sailing. Mishandle the timing, method, or rationale behind it, and you risk bestowing upon yourself a disheartened workforce, bereft of any substantial business gains.
We've meticulously crafted this straightforward blueprint for hackathon coordination, meticulously leading you through the choices that lie ahead. It entails a strategic approach to ensure that, upon conclusion, both your team and the clientele shall wear the contented countenance of satisfaction. This compendium draws its essence from our recent encounters in orchestrating customer hackathons and is richly embellished with real-life illustrations.
Start with the why
"Hackathon" undoubtedly carries a certain allure. It graces a company's website with an air of innovation and lends an impressive touch to customer reports. However, this allure alone should not be the sole driving force behind hosting one.
Hackathons emerge as a splendid avenue for elevating team spirits, involving your workforce in captivating initiatives, and unfettering the reservoirs of creativity. From the customer's perspective, this endeavor may ignite the flames of inventive progress and usher in value-enhancing attributes to their product or service. It's a mutually beneficial endeavor, a true win-win scenario!
Yet, tread with caution. If you embark on this journey solely for the sake of your team's well-being, you risk alienating your customers, potentially rendering the proof-of-concepts presented inconsequential. Such an outcome can cast a shadow of demotivation over your team, diminishing their enthusiasm for a subsequent hackathon. Conversely, should it be your customer who fervently advocates for a hackathon, while your team lacks enthusiasm, the act of organizing it might only spawn added stress and pressure, serving no one's interests.
In the earlier part of this year, we orchestrated a hackathon for a globally acclaimed transportation enterprise. This initiative was set in motion immediately following the initial launch of the driver app, which you can delve into further details about right here. Interestingly, the impetus for this event came directly from our esteemed customer. Their proposal carried a dual intent: first, to offer respite to our team after a taxing period, and secondly, to stimulate a culture of creative advancement.
Time it correctly
Timing is of the essence when planning your hackathon. To ensure a successful and productive event, it's imperative to steer clear of certain timeframes. Firstly, avoid scheduling it before a project release, as this can overlap with high-stress periods and tight deadlines, burdening your team with the dual pressure of creative thinking and delivery, a recipe for unproductivity.
Choose a moment when your team is not in "survival mode," frantically extinguishing fires left and right. This ideal timeframe might follow a major release or coincide with a period when you anticipate a reduction in the challenges that typically surface. It's vital to cross-reference calendars to ensure that no team members are on vacation during this crucial period. Collaborate closely with the customer to establish a mutually agreeable timeline.
Moreover, leave a substantial gap between the announcement and the actual event, aiming for a window of at least 3-4 months. This interim duration serves as a fertile ground for new ideas to sprout, issues to percolate, and fresh features to surface in discussions among team members or with the customer.
Now, regarding the duration, it's customary to allocate 1 or 2 days. Prolonged periods of intense work and creativity are unsustainable. Conversely, dedicating only a few hours to this enjoyable endeavor falls short of yielding a genuinely valuable outcome. Strike a balance for optimal results.
Time to idea
In a unhurried hackathon setting, your team enjoys ample time to cultivate a bouquet of ideas, ranging from novel features to fresh UI designs or the implementation of cutting-edge technologies. It's crucial not to dismiss any concepts prematurely; the winnowing process comes later in the journey.
Encourage idea generation from both your seasoned veterans and junior members. If your junior team has yet to experience a hackathon, they may initially shy away from proposing audacious and innovative notions. Avoid imposing pressure; instead, view the first hackathon as a learning and calibration exercise. It imparts insights into what to anticipate in similar scenarios, delineates the bounds of feasibility, fosters ambitious thinking, and unveils the constraints of execution. The more experienced team members can serve as exemplars by unveiling their ideas, which can subsequently be presented to the entire team.
Furthermore, your customer may also contribute their own ideas. They might seek your team's input in tinkering with a new feature or devising creative solutions for identified issues.
At this juncture, all ideas are not only welcome but actively encouraged. To catalog these ideas, consider convening a brainstorming session or maintaining an open list for reference and further development.
Now that you have a robust list of ideas, it's time to navigate the selection process. You won't be able to pursue all of them, so how do you decide which ones to prioritize?
First and foremost, leverage the expertise of your senior team members to refine the list. Their extensive experience equips them with a nuanced understanding of what's technically feasible. Having engaged with various frameworks and technologies, they can discern whether ideas such as a watch app, machine learning integration, or Siri integration align with the specific project's objectives. Additionally, senior members can assess the business value associated with each idea, keeping in mind that the ultimate goal is to enhance the customer's business or service.
Secondly, validate the list with the product owner. Are there particular aspects the customer is adamant about? Are there ideas they consider a poor investment of time and resources? Engaging the product owner's insights is instrumental in aligning the hackathon's objectives with the customer's priorities.
Lastly, conduct a team vote to gauge their preferences. During one of our own hackathons, we empowered our team members to vote and select their preferred projects. This approach generated enthusiasm and engagement. Our final work order consisted of 2-3 topics per platform, ensuring that every team member had the opportunity to work on a project of their choice, eliminating any sense of compulsion.
On the day of the hackathon, if your preparation was well-executed, you can anticipate eager anticipation from everyone involved. Based on the finalized list of projects and the preferences of team members, they will typically organize themselves into pairs or work individually. The hackathon day typically resembles a regular workday, with the notable absence of the usual meetings. However, it's essential to ensure an ample supply of food and coffee to keep the creative energy flowing.
How to measure success
Measuring the success of your hackathon hinges on the satisfaction of both participating parties. Here are some key indicators to gauge the event's effectiveness:
1. Team Contentment: Team members should exhibit a higher level of contentment with their work, particularly due to the immediate impact and the positive reception they received from the customer during and after the demo.
2. Customer Enthusiasm: The customer should display enthusiasm for some of the presented features and express interest in their implementation. Their eagerness is a clear sign that the hackathon delivered value to them.
3. Business Value Prevails: It's crucial to remember that personal preferences may differ from the customer's ultimate choice. The final decision should be guided by the business value each feature brings to the table.
4. Eager Anticipation for Future Hackathons: A strong indicator of success is when both your team members and the customer inquire about the possibility of organizing another hackathon in the future. This reflects a positive and productive experience that all parties are eager to repeat.
In essence, the success of your hackathon is reflected in the alignment of team satisfaction, customer enthusiasm, and the demonstrated value of the presented ideas. When these elements harmonize, it becomes evident that the hackathon has achieved its goals and created a mutually beneficial outcome.