Who hasn’t heard of a hackathon? Hackathon – a sprint-like design competition where the goal is to develop new ideas in small teams within 24 hours. Originally popular among computer experts and designers, these events are now becoming increasingly popular across industries.
During this short time, really good innovations can emerge. Some hackathons have even given rise to successful start-ups. Like Finanzguru, for example, which developed a banking app during a hackathon and made it all the way to the “Lion’s Den” with this business idea.
But what can and must be done to organize a hackathon and be successful at the end of the day in terms of good team building, creative solutions and enthusiastic participants?
Step 1: Participate in hackathons
This way, you can already experience for yourself how a hackathon works. You’ll also see from the participant’s point of view what works great and what could be done better. If it’s a digital hackathon, you’ll easily get to know the tools and working platforms where such events take place. And consequently, afterwards, know which ones have proven themselves and what problems arise in handling them. Networking with each other, even after the actual event, is also not to be underestimated. Announcements for hackathons can be found on business platforms such as LinkedIn.
Step 2: Choose an interesting topic
Whether you are initiating a hackathon for internal team building or publicly to brainstorm ideas for a project, you should have a rough idea of what you want it to be about. An attractive topic makes it easier for potential participants to mentally prepare themselves in advance of the event or to already think about the competition. In any case, it makes it easier for strangers to work together during the event, as well as for employees of a company to work together. The main goal is to work out a creative solution to a problem or an issue. Hierarchies and job titles are completely irrelevant. What counts is team spirit, courageously taking on tasks that you have never done before, or taking on new roles. This creates strong connections between the “new” team members, which can lead to the extreme breaking down of silo thinking within a company, for example.
Step 3: Planning is the key to a successful hackathon
A hackathon is a kind of competition. What does it take for a promising competition? Clear rules for the competition, an attractive prize, and the appropriate framework for holding it.
A hackathon can last from one to several days. Accordingly, a good location, food and drinks, technical equipment such as WLAN, laptops, whiteboards, etc. should be available in sufficient numbers at the event.
In addition to your own in-house rooms, co-working spaces, hotel conference rooms, university libraries or agency lifts are a much better alternative. For one thing, experience has shown that these rooms are technically well equipped, and for another, internal teams in particular benefit from a change of location. The premises have been proven to have a major influence on the creativity and productivity of teams.
For an online event, the selected technology, such as collaboration platforms like Slack, MS Teams, Google Hangouts, etc., should have already passed a test run in advance and the respective channels for breakout sessions should be set up on the day of the event. For many participants, short instructions, such as an FAQ list or how-to-start for operation, are helpful to familiarize themselves with the technology in advance.
In addition, it has proven useful to have a contact person on call as technical support for both offline and online hackathons to answer any questions during the event.
Step 4: Set the agenda and rules
No matter how short or long your hackathon will be, inform participants about the schedule and planned breaks. If you think and talk a lot, you need time to refuel. Be it through coffee breaks, activation exercises on the laptop or the common meal breaks. Your participants need a lot of energy during these intensive sessions and as an organizer you should definitely schedule these breaks. Then the participants also have time to laugh together, relax, catch their breath and it promotes the atmosphere among each other.
Another important point is the definition of the rules. What tools are allowed, in what time frame does the hackathon take place and what results are expected? Determine how large the team may be, whether there will be documentation of each group’s work, and what the presentation of the result should look like.
Step 5: Announce your event well in advance
As with any event, you should plan the date well in advance, taking into account vacations, vacation periods, possible soccer matches, etc.. After all, these could cause your participants to leave the event early because an important Champions League match is taking place at the moment. Or no one will register at all.
Announce your hackathon early and use all available channels so that participants have enough time to plan for the day and register.
Of course, an internal event is easier to promote than an external event. Intranet, newsletters, emails, employee magazines or posting flyers are all options for this.
If you have a public hackathon, not only do you need more lead time to organize, but the announcement time is longer. Place notices on the website, send a press release to daily and trade magazines, chambers of commerce and industry, and organizations of which your company is a member. Prepare several posts for your own social media channels or open a Facebook group for it right away. Event management platforms such as Eventbrite or Meetup allow you to communicate your event for free, while keeping attendee registration well organized. The better you plan and promote the hackathon, the more promising the results will be.
Step 6: Appreciate the ideas and vote on the winning idea
The final event of your hackathon is the presentation of the team’s work in front of all participants and a jury, which can be determined in advance. There is also the possibility to let all participants vote secretly via a voting/polling tool.
Once you have determined a prize, now is the time for the presentation and a celebration.
Step 7: Obtain learnings and feedback
During the event, make a note of the questions that arise and prepare a feedback form via Survey Monkey, Doodle or Google Forms, for example. If you want to collect feedback during the event, Slido or similar tools are suitable for this. With this feedback and your learnings as an organizer, you can prepare your next hackathon even better.
Good luck and above all, have fun, whether you organize a hackathon or participate in one!