Why every enterprise needs a hackathon

Hackathons foster collaboration and innovation, and in the age of digital disruption and rising customer expectations, they can be the key to your success.
31 August 2018

Whether you’re a manufacturing business or into financial services, you need a hackathon. Source: Flickr / ING Group

When you typically think of a group of coders, sitting in a room, hacking away at a problem.

Some call it a team-building exercise and some call it ‘active innovation’, but what many executives seem to believe is that hackathons are for technology companies looking for a solution to their client’s problems.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Hackathons are usually day-long sessions organized to force employees to think outside the box.

Employees know their products, understand the complexities of their industry, and are familiar with the problems that their customers face. They’re the best people to come up with a solution.

And while hackathons are usually ‘tech-focused’, they don’t need to be tech-first. Of course, technology does play a key role in the world of business today, simply because it helps to build in scale, efficiency, and affordability into otherwise challenging tasks.

Take Societe Generale, for example. The financial services giant hosted a hackathon last year in order to improve it’s managerial practices last year.

As a result, it created an internal web series, a simplified commercial animation system, and an internal platform to aid collaboration. Each project was born out of a business need but facilitated using technology.

Now, hosting and managing a hackathon might not be easy. However, TechHQ has some tips to help you get started.

# 1 | Get the leaders to advocate it

When you’re thinking of organizing a hackathon, talk to your company’s senior leadership. Make sure that they know what you want to do, give them a clear plan of how employees will spend their time, and make sure you plan to ensure that the business runs as usual on the day.

Respect the fact that every employees time is valuable to the company, so they will want to make sure they’re getting the most out of it.

Don’t set unrealistic expectations, but plan for and highlight key problem areas that you intend to have participants focus on. Also, to ensure continued support for future hackathons, ensure you report back at the end of the session with achievements and progress that every team made.

# 2 | Organize every little detail 

If you’ve ever atteneded a hackathon, there’s one thing that always sets the good ones apart from everyone else — organization.

Failing to plan your first hackathon could have serious repercussions, making top employees reluctant to spend their time and energy participating in the next one. It’s also likely that you’ll lose the support of your senior leaders if things don’t pan out as promised.

However, at every hackathon, there’s scope for a lot of things to go wrong, and slight interruptions could disrupt the entire. In order to make your hackathon a success, you’ve got to plan meticulously and keep chaos at bay.

# 3 | Build cross-functional teams

This is the most important step to making your hackathon a success. When you’re putting people together, make sure that they’re all from different groups and departments, and try to make sure there is at least one technologist in the team.

Doing so will significantly raise their chances of spotting a real-world problem, thinking of an innovative and cross-functional solution, and then making sure that it is technically feasible so that it can be developed, deployed, and scaled up appropriately.