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Have you ever thought about running a hackathon at your company?

I hope this story of the recent hackathon at Design Wizard inspires you to take the plunge. A hackathon is an incubator for new product ideas, it can also have a significant cultural effect within your organisation – awakening an experimentative and innovative mindset.
At our most recent hackathon in Design Wizard HQ, our engineering and marketing teams joined forces for a fun and intensive 24 hour hackathon. The end results exceeded my wildest expectations – by the end of the day all of the product idea’s were fully functional and we plan release them to the market as soon as possible. I’d love to tell you more about the exciting features but I’m gonna keep a lid on it until they are shipped!
Hackathons or hackdays are a breeding ground for fresh ideas and product innovations, for example Facebook’s ‘Like Button’ And Timeline were both born from hackdays. But you don’t need to be a large corporation like Facebook to discover your next killer feature.
Whether you’re a startup or an established product company, an internal hackathon is a great way to foster innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship in your company. A hackathon is a concentrated event which usually runs for 24-48 hours in which engineers and creatives come together in teams to design, build and demonstrate a new feature or product.

Accelerated learning from a self organized team

In a hackathon, teams self formed and in order to succeed everyone rolls up their sleeves and does whatever it takes to complete the challenge. This is where the real magic happens. Conventional roles and ways of working are thrown out the window and this can serve as a great learning opportunity for your organisation.
Eric Ries, author of the Lean Startup defines a startup’s runway as the number of pivots or changes in direction it can make before it runs out of money. I like to think of each team in a hackathon as a micro startup and in order to succeed they need to experiment, build, pivot and learn from their failures throughout the day.

Choose a theme for your hackathon

It’s helpful to choose a single focus for your hackathon particularly if it’s an internal company one. From a business perspective the cost of having your engineering team down tools and work on something for an entire day is significant and a product focused hackathon is more likely to generate commercially viable idea’s for the business.
The theme we chose for our hackathon was specifically focused around our graphic design platform Design Wizard. All of the hacks had to make Design Wizard an even more awesome product, either through a new feature or a companion product. Apart from that one caveat, teams were free to use whatever tools and technologies they wanted.

Build excitement for your hackday

In the lead up to your hackathon it’s important to get buy-in across the company and to communicate clearly what’s going to happen on the day. Time is the most precious commodity on the day, it pays to publish a detailed agenda in advance. You also need to get agreement from stakeholders across the business that there will be no interruptions or distractions for the duration – all other work related duties are on hold, period.
To help get everyone’s creative juices flowing we created a special Slack channel for everyone to socialize and shape their hack ideas in the week leading up to the event. Loose ideas were socialized and shaped through the collective wisdom of the crowd.

How To Run A Successful Hackathon At Your Company

Our Timetable

day/timedescription
Monday – ThursdaySubmit your hackathon ideas to the backlog & discuss it on the slack channel.
Thursday 3pmSelf organize & pick your team
(min 1 marketer & 2 dev’s per team)
Friday – let the hacking commence8:00am start
5:00pm pitching session
6:00pm pizza, beer & prize giving

On the day

Our hackathon kicked off with an idea pitching session. All the participants got together to pitch their ideas and the teams then self formed around these ideas. If you are facilitating a hackathon you need to ensure that each person is given an equal opportunity to present their idea and you then need to step back and allow the teams to form. Resist any urge to influence or shape the outcome of the team selection. Autonomous teams will emerge and everyone should be given free reign to gravitate to their favorite hack.
Once proceedings are underway, be sure to provide food and a lot of coffee throughout the day to keep the creative juices flowing. Check in with teams and offer encouragement throughout the day and be sure to remind teams when they need to start wrapping up their designs.

Judging Criteria

I shared the judging criteria in advance of hackday. Being part of the team with best product innovation did not necessarily mean you would win the competition. Points were awarded for teamwork, innovation, the team’s projected revenue / growth models for the innovation and the go to market and marketing campaigns.

Here is the Design Wizard judging criteria:

  • Innovations and product idea’s must be directly related to Design Wizard
  • Each team must have a mixture of engineering and marketing people
  • Judges will award marks for the following:
    • Working software (25)
    • Clear concept of target market (20)
    • Marketing material (15)
    • Teamwork (20)
    • Innovation (20)
  • Each team will be given 10 minutes to pitch their work, the product pitch should include:
    • Demo working software
    • Identify the target customer and explain what problem it solves
    • Walk-through of marketing collateral – advertising campaigns / blog posts / how will it be positioned
    • How would the feature be brought to market
    • What revenue / growth would you expect in the first 6 months

For Design Wizard, the hack day was a resounding success. We found it to be an easy-to-run and economically lean operation which generated only positive results. Our teams got to unleash the full scope of their creativity as well as their entrepreneurial spirit. We found that the hackday represented the exact kind of culture we are striving to establish here in Design Wizard.
After going through the process, I would highly recommend hackdays to any company, regardless of size or type. The judging panel were blown away by how far each team managed to take their ideas and anything that manages to increase productivity, profits and morale gets a massive thumbs up from us.

Winning Team:

Alberto, Tiago and Frankie-Dean

hackathon

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