Our top 5 tips to running a Hackathon at your company (#1 Don’t just limit it to the techies)

Post by 
Graeme Curwen
September 4, 2017

ore and more companies are looking to events like hackathons to drive innovation and tap into the entrepreneurial flair from their people. Having shaped and run hackathons for my clients, here are my top 5 tips for ensuring you get maximum value from your organisation’s hackathon investment:

1. Don’t limit the participation to just the techies

Hackathons have historically been the domain of technical teams, but this can result in lots of technically brilliant ideas that just don’t stack up from a customer and/or commercial perspective. Ensure you invite the people in your business that best know your customers’ needs and the needs of your business. These people are perfectly placed to act as product owners for the ideas, effectively prioritising the features of the idea to align customer needs and in turn helping to maximise the return on any investment. This will help to ensure that the ideas coming from the hackathon are not only technically brilliant, but also commercially viable and customer-centric.

2. Build engagement and excitement with your attendees early and start the ideation process before the event

Although hackathons are normally run over a one- or two-day period, you should engage with your participants two to three weeks prior to the event to ensure that:

  • Participants fully understand the challenge(s) you are trying to solve, and the outcome(s) you want to realise,
  • A sense of community and shared purpose is fostered between participants,
  • Ideation starts, initial idea and pitches are unearthed and teams start to form.

By creating early engagement and collaboration, more of your event can be spent developing ideas to the next level, rather than ideating and building relationships. At our most recent hackathon we had over 10 pitches confirmed prior to the event which meant teams could start ‘doing’ early on rather than just ‘thinking’.

Slack (https://slack.com) is an excellent tool to use to build a collaborative and open community between your participants.

3. Make the event relaxed, self forming and free from hierarchy

Rigid procedures, governance and internal politics can stifle innovation, so try to take steps to avoid all three when planning your hackathon. The agenda for the day should be structured enough to keep the process moving, but loose enough to allow participants to self-form teams with people from outside their normal organisational silos.

Go for a casual dress code and ensure that participants feel relaxed and empowered to think differently and break the normal organisational rule book. They are there to be innovative after all.

Participants should take roles within the teams not based on organisational hierarchy, but on what is right for the team. Hackathons are a great opportunity for more junior members of the organisation to step up and demonstrate their leadership potential.

4. Ensure the senior management have bought in to the process

Taking 50–100 people out of their day jobs for 1–2 days, combined with the investment and sponsorship needed to make the ideas a reality post-event means that a hackathon is a significant investment for an organisation to make.

It is critical that senior stakeholders are fully bought-in to the hackathon process and understand that post-hackathon there will be further hard work and investment needed to turn the ideas and prototypes created at the hackathon into commercial products and services.

5. Have a clear understanding of your next steps post hackathon

As we intimated in #4, the overall process doesn’t end at the end of your hackathon event. Participants should be given a clear understanding of what the next steps will be post-hackathon to take the winning ideas and turn them into commercial products and services. Winning ideas might be given seed funding to develop their Minimum Viable Product (MVP), or awarded the opportunity to present at a more formal investment board, but whatever the prize may be you need to be clear on what it does (and doesn’t) include and the level of time the winning teams will be given post-hackathon, potentially alongside their day jobs, to take the ideas forward.

If you would like to get more of a flavour of one of our events you can watch the video below

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