Experiences: Organizing an Internal Hackathon- 9 mins
This blog post is about my experience and learnings from organizing an internal hackathon, particularly in an organization. It will cover various aspects ranging from designing a hackathon to its execution.
One of the most important things while organizing a hackathon is its expectations. At the end of a hackathon, the value is being added to the organization. The value could be added in form of products or process setup or office renovation. One can expect the following after a hackathon completes
The internal products being created which improves the overall efficiency of workforce.
Better team bonding and sharing values being inculcated.
Better talent identification, given everyone, gets a chance to turn their imaginary ideas into live versions.
Expectation #1: Internal products being created which improves the overall efficiency of workforce.
From Organization Perspective: Awesome! Products which could take weeks to be created are prototyped faster and readied with their MVPs. Various experiments which were delayed due to strict time constraints can be easily done. Overall Win-Win for an organization
From Employee Perspective: Some may find it interesting as strict time duration pulls out the best versions of them. Others may feel that its their same old work and that too with strict time duration. Overall Not a Win for an employee.
How: Product managers laying out their product ideas and forming teams around those ideas.
Expectation #2: Better team bonding and sharing values being inculcated.
From Organization Perspective: Awesome!
Employee Perspective: Getting to know teammates better, interact with colleagues with whom interactions are very less and mostly work related. A friendly and familiar environment increases productivity. Overall Win-Win.
How: There are various TGIFs (Thank God Its Friday) activities, which specifically aim at increasing team bonding. A Hackathon may not be entirely suitable for this.
Expectation #3: Better talent identification.
From Organization Perspective: Awesome. An organization gets better SPOC(Single Point of Contact) for any field, technology, etc.
From Employee Perspective: One gets a chance here to work on his dream ideas. One also identifies a group of people who are willing to help and share the passion for the idea. Lastly, one earns social identity. Overall Win Win.
How: This can be done in many ways. Hackathon can be one of them. Others include organizing an event, conducting training sessions.
Luckily, we managed to conduct Rockeathon in such a fashion that it covered all the three expectations.
Types of participation
Once you have decided what are the expectations for the hackathon, next step is to decide the types of participation. At an organizational level, participation can be of the following types
Hackathon involving Tech Team Only
Hackathon involving Tech, Product and Design Team
Hackathon involving All
Type #1: Hackathon involving Tech Team Only
Involve only the tech team of an organization and let them create whatever product they want to. The reason for involving only the tech team is due to historical background, wherein we see hackathon as an event for people with coding skills. This is changing with time for sure, but still, the change is in its very preliminary state.
Involving only tech team is only suitable for the overall culture of an organization if the majority of the employees are from the tech background.
Type #2: Hackathon involving Tech, Product and Design Team
This is a modified version of the above hackathon wherein product and design team are included so that the product actually witness the whole product cycle and MVP is decent enough to be made live.
Type #3: Hackathon involving Everyone
A bit complex but healthy version of a hackathon, wherein everyone can participate and contribute. Organizing this type of Hackathon can be tricky if more than half of the employees are from a non-coding background. One needs to brainstorm and think of all the activities by which participation can be drawn from such people. Some examples of activities can be
Assigning fancy names to meeting rooms, places where people gather
Creating a timeline of the organization listing various milestones achieved.
An employee quote/phrases wall. Phrases which are common within an organization can be designed, printed and stuck together on a wall.
For Rockeathon, we went with Hackathon involving All.
This can be done in numerous ways, but the most suitable way is to collect ideas from everyone and select a subset from those ideas, which can be created as per the duration of the hackathon. While collecting ideas(generally Google Form), apart from asking the idea, don’t forget to ask the following questions
How can you contribute to this idea
What additional help do you require while prototyping this idea (like a designer, some rich content from the content team)
Once the ideas are collected, hand-pick ideas and group them together under a broader category or a product. Grouping together ideas should be done keeping in mind that it should be able to involve participation from a diverse set of people.
Once ideas are selected, inform everyone and as a token of appreciation, reward the winners of this phase on the day of the hackathon.
Once the ideas are shortlisted and shared with everyone, start team building activity well before in time. Forming a team before the hackathon, actually helps everyone to simply start product building activity on the day of the hackathon and not indulge in team building activity, which can be time-consuming.
This can be done in the following ways.
A form wherein everyone indicates their first five preferences and then forming teams on the basis of first-come-first-serve.
A shout-out to everyone to come together as a team with some minimum number of member and register themselves
Tip: This shout-out activity actually can be fueled if some employees drop a mail to everyone asking them to join their team. Yeah, it did in our case.
Duration of Hackathon
This depends primarily on expectations from the hackathon as well as the type of participation. If it’s an internal hackathon and everyone is participation, ideal duration should be 8-9 hours. An additional hour may be considered for prize distribution ceremony
Since it is a Hackathon, a prize is a must. Prize acts as a catalyst for any competition.
Prize must be decided keeping in mind the nature of the Hackathon. Some of the suggestions for the prizes can be
A team lunch or dinner at a well-renowned place
A team lunch or dinner wherein some members are the Chef itself.
Submission and Judging Guidelines
These guidelines must be shared well before in time to everyone. Submission guidelines should include the format of the submission, time duration for the presentation.
Judging guidelines can vary from organization to organization.
For Rockeathon, we judged the ideas on the basis of the implementation readiness and the potential impact of the idea. This was accompanied by a voting wherein everyone could fill their preferences for Winners and Runners Up.
Another element of joy in the hackathon. Food should be ordered from a well-known place. One can ask for preference(Veg/Non-Veg) before ordering food. The Proper quantity of snacks and cookies should be there which can be used as a re-filler in between the hackathon. Energy/caffeinated drinks are optional.
One of the essential essence of a Hackathon is participation from everyone. Everyone will be able to participate only if their work on the day of Hackathon is complete well before in time (mostly yesterday).
This can be easily managed by seeking help from respective Team Leads and Managers. This should be conveyed well before in time, because a team may really need to put some extra efforts for a certain period of days.
On the day of the hackathon, each team can be gifted some customized or handmade gifts as a greeting. This can be a good welcoming gesture and sets the team in a cheerful mood.
For Rockeathon, we gifted each team a box of chocolates
On the day of the hackathon, proper mentor-ship should be provided to team from time to time. This helps a team in actually prioritizing over features and moving in the right direction so that a product can be prototyped within the hackathon duration.
This can be shared after the hackathon is completed. It gives a fair amount of idea of how the things were, what can be improved and what everyone liked/disliked about the hackathon. The feedback survey should include the following
On a scale, rate your overall experience of how was the hackathon.
What did you like about the Hackathon
What did you not like about the Hackathon
What could be improved in the next version of Hackathon
Show Case Page
Once the hackathon is complete, a showcase page can be created. This gives everyone a chance to show what amazing product they have created or worked upon.
The page can list all the team along with its member. A Team name, description of the team and product can give better clarity of what was created during the event. Images are a bonus.
Tip: Create a named link to each team detail. They can share this as a Hackathon Swag
We created a showcase page for Rockeathon here
To sustain the efforts made during the hackathon, one can also plan to include a prototype forum, wherein every team dedicates a fixed amount of time after the hackathon to complete and enhance their product.
While writing this blog post and organizing Rockeathon, I have taken help from some very great pages on the web.
You can find more about Rockeathon here