In the past few years we organized several successful hackathons for various Fortune500 companies. Collected from our experience, we have the golden rules and no-goes for you to organize a fruitful event, resulting in implementable projects and an inspired team.
When you hear "hackathon", what do you imagine?
Is it something like...
We have seen—even in Silicon Valley—hackathons that didn't result in being the most successful (e.g. free beers and pizza slices topped with a few project plans that never ended up being implemented).
Though we must admit that free food and nice drinks are definitely great components to these events, the real magic can only happen with conscious planning. Grab a copy of our own Hackathon day schedule that we use.
Now without further ado, here are our three golden rules to follow when organizing a successful hackathon event. Overall it's all about keeping your team's inspiration levels stimulated, hence powering up innovation in your company. Let's look at golden rule #1!
1. Organize a challenge before the event
Go through a mini challenge before the actual event to have your team already started with the innovation process. Starting with an online challenge, you can engage more people. This way you can involve international teammates who would otherwise miss the opportunity to contribute to a common success.
Using Be-novative for example (our community platform is free to use), you can collect ideas from an unlimited number of participants and have them evaluated based on a set criteria (we often use impact and feasibility) in just 20 minutes. This provides a great source of knowledge before the actual event.
Another pro: you can preselect ideas that were already pre-vetted with high potential value and focus only on them at your event. This way every team member will be able to work on ideas that are in line with your company’s strategic goals.
2. Make it a social experience
Filling out a pre-made online form is not inspiring. Real ideas surface when people come together to inspire the birth of new ideas. This is what we do in our platform to enhance the feeling of collaboration and collectiveness.
We make it possible for participants to join teams and find solutions for a challenge together. During the ideation, users in small teams go through four phases where they share their ideas on virtual post-its using built-in inspirations such as shared pictures and Edward de Bono’s creativity enhancing technique called "random words". There is a hint of competition and a hint of cooperation between the teams as they go through the gamified process in 15-20 minutes. This is all done anonymously.
As a result, people won’t shy away from sharing really bold, surprising and creative solutions. Speaking up for your ideas online and anonymously makes it possible for contribution to happen without risks.
In the evaluation phase, all ideas are reviewed democratically by the participiants. At the very end, only the top ranking innovator's identity is shared, whose idea will then be a part of the selected solution.
3. Make the magic happen in small sprints
Break down the hackathon day into small sprints where teams can focus on one goal at a time.
The day should start with some inspiration. People need extra time to switch off from their daily routines to get inspired! Plan with presentations of thoughtleaders sharing the greatest challenges they face or show some breakthrough solution examples from other industries.
The different sprints for the day can be built up from innovation methods to help teams come up with rapid prototypes. Here are some examples: Design Thinking methods, Agile and Lean Startup methods, concept creation, and targetting customer specification to validating the concept.
Hackathons are like sprints.
And these small sprints can help you train for the marathon, which is the creation of a continuous innovation culture within your organization. It is very feasible to authorize people in your organization to regularly take part in innovation challenges that are interactive, social and focused on a specific area of the business both online and offline.
This combination of sharing ideas in a thought-out and proven way will make innovation continuous and manifest itself in your organizational culture—take it from us!