018 - Yola & Co and the Hackathon

As explained before in my blog Yola & Co. as SEAL Team… we need servant leadership to create highly skilled and highly motivated teams. One of the topics I discuss a lot with servant leaders I meet is how to deal with innovation within the company and whether there should be an innovation department.

This approach has a big disadvantage in my opinion. It assumes the smart individuals of the company are working in this department while employers working in other departments are not smart or good enough to be innovative. My preferred way to be innovative as a company, is to implement so called hack-time. Hack-time is time reserved for product development teams to learn, have fun, train and be innovative. There are several ways to schedule hack-time, i.e. within sprints on the Friday afternoon but this might be used as slack time to get the regular job done. I think one of the best ways to implement hack-time is by facilitating a hackathon once in a while. For those who don’t know what a hackathon is, it is a kind coding marathon, lasting 24 hours up to several days in some occasions. But how do you prepare for your first hackathon? Here is my basic checklist for running a 24h hackathon:

My standard ingredients for a Hackathon:

  1. A common theme; If you run the hackathon within your company with multiple teams, make sure the participants are aware of the general business vision. This creates a common understanding of the business they are in.
  2. Prepare a jury; An independent jury judging the innovations of the participants makes it easier to point out the most innovative idea.
  3. Have a facilitator team; Have a team of coaches/scrum masters to facilitate the hackathon and the occurring events, i.e. demo’s.
  4. Create a schedule; Have a schedule visible with demo times, lunch time, dinner time, etc so everybody knows what’s coming up next.
  5. Get the equipment; Make sure the infrastructure is there and make sure it is working even under heavy load. Arrange (wifi) routers, big television screens, sticky notes, sharpies, whiteboards, etc.
  6. Music please!; Create a party environment, i.e. by creating a Spotify playlist where everyone can add there favourite party music to spice up the day (make sure you apply local regulations that are suitable in your area)
  7. Drinks, beers and patatos chips; In the afternoon, get out the drinks and the snack. Even consider to bring out some beer and/or wine but make sure no-one gets drunk or drink and drive.
  8. Masseurs; Consider hiring masseurs for chair massages to relax employers while working on there innovation. This will prevent RSI (repetitive strain injuries)
  9. Goodies; create and distribute goodies showing the participation of the event like sweaters, hoodies, caps, etc. This will create a common “we are in this together and we’re cool” kind of attitude amongst the participants.
  10. Place to lay down; People will get tired so make sure they got a place to rest while others are able to continu their efforts to create something incredibly innovative.
  11. Celebrate the winner; After the 24 hours coding challenge declare one team the innovative-winner of the challenge based on how innovative it is, whether it suites the business vision, etc. Celebrate all together.
  12. Get home safely preferably by public transport, chances are that the participants are really tired. Tired but, most likely, satisfied!