I now have initiated, participated in, and been blown away by internal hackathons with two companies and have executed on them in two countries. Having just gotten back from a multi-week trip to Ukraine working with our developers, I want to relay a message to our team: you are great – thank you so much for putting up with me!
At MeetMe we called it HACK; at Stuzo we are calling it HAX. Same concept, different teams. I am blown away by the output of the events – by what can be done in less than 2 days. Same rules as always: start on Thursday, make sure there is lunch and dinner, then some beer (OK in Ukraine some Vodka, and ice-cream eventually showed up). Then keep it rolling through Friday with a 4:30pm demo time. Around 4pm, I always start getting nervous. Will the team pull it off? Will they have a real demo? Will others see value?
I am always asked – and, honestly, always ask myself – why should we do a hackathon? What is the concrete value for the company? Here are my answers; some are feel-good, some are concrete.
- Gut-check – does your team believe in the mission? Are they passionate? If nothing gets built, if nothing is interesting, if your team has to be pushed too hard for ideas – then you might have a problem. If a group of developers do not get excited about building whatever they want (related to the companies goals – only because we are small) then they probably just don’t want to do it with you.
- Break the process – remembering what it feels like to just write code without the barriers of process. As a development manager of large teams I understand process and its need, I also know it sucks to have to follow them all the time. Breaking out of process shows you how fast ideas can come to fruition, it might remind you to check your process and eliminate wasted steps.
- Realizing Ideas – I like product management and as a product manager I like collecting the data, talking to customers, watching the industry. You build roadmaps and plans and just like process it is important. But you are not a builder; your development team members are builders. If you are communicating often to your team, the ideas are sinking in. If you open up the ability for a team to just build things from their ideas, you will see the ideas are shared. We influence each other when we communicate often.
Hackathons lead to eventual shippable products, they lead to stronger teams, they help you understand how much your team believes in the vision, and they show you how well that vision is communicated within the organization.