Making Your Next Hackathon Wildly Successful

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A successful hackathon requires a bit of strategy.

When old systems no longer serve your business, a hackathon is the perfect solution for finding new and better ways of doing things. But hackathons aren’t just exercises in team building or churning out ideas for the sake of it. Succeeding requires strategy.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a hackathon – for our purposes – is an event built around brainstorming ideas to problem-solve key business issues. It’s a team effort which can last a single day, or several, ultimately resulting in creative solutions presented by project teams and voted on by participants.

In addition to producing ideas that make for better business operations, hackathons foster a culture of innovation and collaboration.

Raising awareness and building excitement

For there to be collaboration, you need to have people – and it really is a case of “the more the merrier.” You never know who holds the perfect solution to a long-standing company problem, so you want everyone to not only be aware of your hackathon but feel encouraged to participate.

You must communicate clearly about when the hackathon is happening, who can participate (ideally everyone who wants to) and how. Making use of hackathon software with automated systems and apps to organize each stage of the process is smart – especially if employees have access to keep tabs on things too. And it helps keep excitement building as you lead up to the event itself.

The C-suite sets the tone, of course, so be sure all executives and managers are on board with the plan and are excited to hear from everyone in the organization. If they can’t drum up enthusiasm, it will be hard to get other workers to care. And what is there to be excited about when it comes to hackathons? They jumpstart innovation.

“As events, hackathons are focused, creative, collaborative – and highly energetic,” writes Nikitas Magel, senior content marketing manager at Brightidea. “They’re turbocharged opportunities that often bring together software developers, graphic designers, interface and usability designers, along with subject matter experts in a collective effort to think differently about the challenge at hand. For that reason, hackathons have become a valuable tool of innovation – and in many cases an integral part of corporate culture.” 

Getting organized

Once your workforce knows about the hackathon, they can start submitting ideas via your event app or website. Encourage employees to submit or vote for their favorite ideas by offering incentives for certain actions. Perhaps a particular project speaks to them, and they want to be part of the team brainstorming solutions on the day of the hackathon – or even the team leader. Or maybe they want to take part by voting on the final projects presented at the event.

If your company employs several hundred – or thousand – people, all the more reason you need technology to track all of the moving parts.

You also need a way to keep tabs on team leaders, sponsors and judges leading up to the event.

Feedback, scoring and follow-through

And speaking of judges, how will you manage feedback and scoring of the projects presented at your hackathon? Remember, not every project will be implemented immediately, but many ideas might have future potential. If that’s the case, you want to be sure all feedback can be captured and stored for future reference.

Software is a no-brainer for wrangling big data born of social networks, CRM systems, and now it’s necessary for harnessing innovation too – even when it’s only happening internally, as is typical with hackathons. And it makes sense: According to McKinsey & Company, “hackathons can be adapted to greatly accelerate the process of digital transformation. They are less about designing new products and more about ‘hacking’ away at old processes and ways of working.”

But just as important as capturing employee ideas and moving internal processes forward is, connecting with your customers who are served by hackathon solutions is equally important. Human-centered design has become the hallmark for winning companies worldwide – just ask Kellogg’s and Colgate!

Whoever and however individuals participate, they should be able to follow along and celebrate the victories as well as monitor the progress of implementations post-hackathon (to some extent), so be sure to create a microsite to host hackathon specifics as well.

When participants and stakeholders can see the connection between their submissions, votes and the end result, they’re more likely to participate going forward. And they’ll feel more invested in the business overall, because they’ve had a hand in creating or evolving operational process.

And that is arguably the biggest success of all for generating long-term loyalty both within your company and from your target audience.

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