Hackathons create supercharged, concentrated environments to ideate solutions and fast track them to fruition. It’s about time you hosted one.
Traditionally the domain of tech companies and start-ups, more businesses are now realising the dramatic results a hackathon can produce. Hackathons essentially lock multiple company functions together in a room with the set goal of reimagining an existing process or product. The concepts that ensue are evolved, planned and fast-tracked into production – all within the window of the event.
Why are hackathons so powerful?
- They’re much more than a brainstorming session. While idea generation is a big part of it, a hackathon focuses on taking those ideas and putting them into action right away.
- Having everyone from your customer service staff to the CEO in the same room eliminates road blocks, red tape and revisions that are unavoidable in typical projects. Everyone can shape the development of the project live from the get go.
- If done right, they can halve or quarter the time it typically takes to launch a new product or process.
So, what are the essential ingredients for a productive hackathon?
Fixated on just one specific process or goal
Your hackathon should have a clearly defined topic and aim. Whether it’s reimagining a manual process that could be brought online or creating a new product to address a specific customer need, you need to know the intention. There’s no value in contriving an event for the sake of it.
Action oriented to produce tangible outcomes
The aim of the game is to conclude your event with not only a pile of great ideas, but a plan that’s already in motion. Breaking up the day into deadline segmented tasks will keep the momentum going and prevent time wastage and chatter.
For example, you might break up the room into teams for a 15-minute task (ensuring a mix of roles in each). Ask them to conceptualise what a better way to do process X could be, if there were no rules or budget constraints.
“The aim of the game is to conclude your event with not only a pile of great ideas, but a plan that’s already in motion.”
Cross pollination is key
The real potential you can extract from a hackathon comes from the diversity of teams and departments you pull together into one hyper intent-focused room. Different perspectives and ways of thinking will allow you to generate innovative solutions and avoid homogeneity. Anyone who will be required to input on building the product or interacting with it should be in the room. This could include sales personnel, UX designers, developers, leadership teams, customer service and brand managers.
Discover a real hackathon in action. Here’s how Microsoft’s “OpenHack” unfolded at Cliftons Spring Street in Sydney:
No ideas are off the table
From the outset, everyone should know what they’re in the room to do. Your participants’ brief? Challenge, question, and ‘unthink’. Forget existing conventions and disregard the way things have been done to date. Encourage them to dream up dynamic solutions or ultimate customer experiences and throw out the rule book.
“Different perspectives and ways of thinking will allow you to generate innovative solutions and avoid homogeneity.”
Post-hackathon structure must be created to drive projects forward
During the hackathon, there will likely be avid enthusiasm for pushing forward with plans. But don’t make the mistake of letting the fire go out in the weeks that ensue post-event. Appoint a project manager and setup milestones and regular progress meetings with key stakeholders to keep the flame alive. Further, consider incentivising take-up of new processes through a reward scheme or tie bonuses to milestone completions.
For many companies, taking a process from ideation to launch (plus training and integration) can easily span six months or more. When you consider the enormity of this, it’s possible to appreciate the sheer impact of a hackathon which can achieve the same in as little as a few months.