Hackathons, my experience of running a fair few.

Reed Hackathon logo and images of participants

Hackathons example: reed.co.uk

At reed.co.uk I was one of the Design Leads within the Product team (80 strong). I volunteered to help run the next Hackathon with the small Agile team and carried on doing others after that.

a) Frequency:

  • Once every two months for the Product team consisting of Designers, Developers, UX people, Product Owners, Data Analysts, Senior Management and Researchers – plus a group of Sales people at one of them as a reward (see below).
  • A company-wide event happened once a year open to all. I helped organise the last one and it took place just after I left. Hopefully it was a lot of fun!

b) General format in brief:

  • These would take place over two days where people could concentrate on the ideas and creations and not have to undertake their usual work unless absolutely necessary. Cover was arranged if anything urgent needed attending to.
  • The date was fixed not long after the previous one so that people could organise the time and concentrate on the Hackathon.
  • We would start with a kick-off for all, explaining what was going on and the schedule for the two days. Which was usually then Hack work in the afternoon, next day mini-review with all first thing, more work and production / creation, with a couple of hours mid-afternoon for everyone to present back, vote and awards were then given out. And then beers for all!
  • People were allowed to work on their own if they wished; for instance some of the Devs had some great ideas that they wanted to get their heads down and produce prototypes. Most though would find themselves groups based on a list of ideas that individuals or proposed teams had sent beforehand to the organisation team. You basically joined the team / idea that interested you most.
  • All of the organisers did participate, for instance the Head of Agile and myself (both organisers) created a demo Chatbot, but also spent time helping and advising others.
  • Ideas were captured on video, photography, live demos and a Goole Spreadsheet.

c) Lessons learned (there are a lot and these are the key ones that I can remember for now):

  • People really enjoyed the days with a sense of adventure and breaking away from the day to day. Feeling like they could make something wonderful and knew.
  • Leave people to enjoy creating and they will come up with some awesome stuff together or on their own.
  • Positive and negative feedback was provided to us afterwards either in person, email or via a survey (anonymous on this if they wished).
  • People didn’t like the fact that some of the Senior Management team did not participate and we, as the senior team, rectified this for the next one. But you have to remember to not takeover and allow people to have their own say.
  • It was a great way for people to meet others that they don’t usually interact with.
  • Although we had the videos and demos there was an issue with what comes next. The spreadsheet capturing things went to one senior for her to decide what to take forward. So many ideas were not taken forward in the end, although a decent amount were. Thist hough caused frustration among the participants post-hack, and is something that needs to be very much AVOIDED.
  • If I did these over I would’ve set up a simple blog or the like for people to add their ideas and stories to themselves and keep it going with comment and updates afterwards. Updates to the overall team on where we were did happen after but it had become out of hands now.
  • One really nice thing was that we told the Sales team (100 strong) about these and they really wanted to join in. The Sales bosses set up a competition so that the top six Salespeople for the month could join the Product Hack. They absolutely loved it and came up with some wonderful ideas that Product would not have thought of. They presented back to the wider Sales team with me and which really got the interest flowing for the next one and the company-wide one.

All in all an excellent and rewarding experience with the post-hack things the main issue.

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