How to run an amazing hackathon (part one)

Matt Swain Holding Award

By Kerry Topp

Not all hackathons are created equal. At Datacom, we know this first hand, because we have run five of them in the last four years.

Our own internal hackathon, Datacomp, was first run as ‘Metrocomp’ in 2012. 30 Datacom employees, all from Auckland, took part. Each year, the competition has grown as people have poured in from across other geographies to take part. Our most recent Datacomp, held from 24-26 July, had about 130 participants from Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch, Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra.

The quality of the solutions presented at the end of the weekend was phenomenal, and everyone – participants, judges and organisers – commented on how successful the weekend had been.

If you want to run a successful hackathon of your own, we have some strategies, best practices and rules of thumb we use to ensure events are valuable, productive and fun for everyone.

What is a hackathon?
At Datacom we define a hackathon broadly as:

A “pressure cooker” event where people come together to rapidly, creatively and innovatively solve problems. A hackathon doesn’t necessarily have to be about technology.

In our hackathons participants typically form into groups of at least five people. We don’t set a maximum, but we’ve found that a team of more than 10 gets difficult to coordinate and impacts momentum.

To get a sense of what a hackathon looks like, check out this video of our 2015 competition:

Here’s what to do before you start planning.

Define the objective – be clear about why you are doing it
Define what the objective of the event is. Is it a cultural exercise first and foremost or is it about the deliverables? Be very clear about what the event is and what it’s not and stay true to the objective throughout the whole process. It’s the whole organising team’s job to ensure that the original objective is kept front and centre throughout hackathon planning and execution.

Define success
Decide on what success looks like by determining the overarching goals of your event in measurable detail. For example you might want 120 attendees, 12 prototypes or hacks delivered, or 10 recruits. This will give you a metric for your post mortem review.

Here are some examples from Datacomp 2015:

Criteria Target Measured by
Staff engagement (event) Minimum 100 people across AsiaPac participating in Datacomp Number participating
Staff satisfaction & engagement  (post event) Minimum of a 4 out of 5 rating for the event Satisfaction survey
Customer testimonials delivered  to sales channels (post event) Minimum 2 customer testimonials via case studies post event Production of testimonials
Staff testimonials delivered to recruitment (during event) Minimum 2 staff testimonials via video during event Production of testimonials
Staff testimonials delivered to recruitment (post event) Minimum 2 staff testimonials via case studies post event Production of testimonials
Social media coverage General: positive social media sentiment from staff and customers participating Standard Social Media coverage

Assign accountability and pull together the organising team
Determine who the sponsor of the event is. They are generally the one who is funding the event. Once this is done determine who is the owner of the event. This is the person who is accountable for making it happen.

Once these two key roles are filled, you can then form the organising team around the event owner. No more than five people is optimal and they must all be committed to making it happen. There is no room for ‘passengers’ in a hackathon organising team.

Consider the stakeholders
When planning a hackathon event, consider the perspectives of each of the following: participants, organisers, mentors, judges and spectators. Working through the use cases of each party will help ensure the event is well-rounded and increase the likelihood of accomplishing the goals of the event.

In the next part of this two-part series, we’ll look at all the logistics – you know who you need to consult, but what do you and your organising team need to actually do?

How to run an amazing hackathon (part two)

One thought on “How to run an amazing hackathon (part one)

  1. Pingback: How to run an amazing hackathon (part two) | Datacom Blog

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