Step #1: Set a goal
Not all Hackathon formats are exactly the same but setting a clear goal is crucial to keep people focused and motivated.
Your goal may be focused on an existing business challenge that no one has been able to resolve. Maybe it is your conversion funnel in which people repeatably drop off due to a convoluted or broken registration form. Or you need to expand your customer base by broadening your social media reach. Address the most pressing issue and invite all hands on deck to collaborate on a solution.
Alternatively, you may want to explore a new toy that you have added to your tech stack. Gather your teams, business units or squads and get everyone excited about it. Challenge them to play with new creative ideas to explore how this new tool can change the way you work or bring new opportunities.
Perhaps you'd like to encourage the bottom-up flow of inspiration in your company. Democratise innovation in your workplace by organising a Hackathon with no specific rules or limits. Trust your people and believe in their ability to look at a problem differently.
And remember that a Hackathon doesn’t have to be tech-focused. You might redesign how you leverage your data or review your internal processes, resulting in a bigger impact than you might anticipate. It’s a common trap to believe that new technology will solve all problems. The most significant results come from transforming the business operating model to maximise the potential of what you already have.
Step #2: Engage the team
Solid planning and communications are your first step. The busier your people are, the more you have to plan and engage ahead of the event to make it happen. Reserve the time way in advance so everyone can adjust their schedules. Be specific about the goal and make it a priority.
Plan your communications around the Hackathon carefully and engage all the channels that your people regularly use. And talk to people every day about what you are planning. In other words, resort to good, old-fashioned low tech to make sure that your comms are cutting through – this is where you’ll get greatest engagement. Ask them if they have an idea or if they need support in adjusting their current commitments to be able to participate. And be open to hear what they are saying – this alone might be an eye-opening exercise.
Convincing people to participate can be hard. As discussed above, it’s hard to book time away from BAU. You need to make sure people believe their input will be valued. Encourage different ways to participate. Someone may want to contribute multiple ideas without joining a single team. Others might want to join an existing team or select an idea proposed by someone else.
Adding an element of competition usually gets attention. Who doesn’t love a prize? It might be a beer, an additional day off, or dedicated time to continue working on the project.
Last but not least, encourage an audience. People can participate by observing the event and voting for the winning team. This will help create some internal PR and generate goodwill around the event and eventual outcomes.
Different perspectives are a pivotal ingredient in the creative process. Diverse teams are no longer only about equal opportunities and political correctness. They are essential for your company to remain innovative and competitive in the modern world. And this is more nuanced than gender or ethnicity. Different mindsets come from different backgrounds, life and work experiences, passions, roles or skillsets. Solutions designed by teams that see your business through different lenses will be more comprehensive and straightforward to implement across the company after the Hackathon is over.
Step #3: Realise the benefits
Nothing that is of value comes fast and easy. Remember a hackathon is a marathon. Change requires time, and fostering innovation is a long-term game. Don’t expect everything to work and all your problems to be solved after just one initiative. It’s a process. Don’t try to force it or control it too much. Create a supportive environment and be patient with the results.
While you are waiting for game changing outcomes, remember to celebrate every small success and lesson on the journey. Support the most promising project by turning them into permanent internal initiatives. You can also use A/B testing to verify concepts with your customers and see if they like the change.
All these activities will only reinforce people’s perception that your intentions are genuine and that all voices carrying innovation and change are welcome in your company.