Are you ready to Hackathon?

Corporations have long been interested in processes and techniques for stimulating innovation, however ‘hackathons’ lend themselves to a prototyping approach that may be absent from typical staff suggestion boxes or brainstorming sessions. Making that leap from just having idea to a working prototype can add great value to an innovation process, because creating something people can see and play with can short-cut the need for a lengthy business case process.

Sydney Appiness

Some companies have been using hackathons for sometime. In the UK, supermarket chain Tesco held its first hackathon, TJam, in 2009 and they continue to run them today. After their first TJam, Tescos reported that:

“T-Jam delivered viable and relevant ideas fresh from the imagination of outside developers and at a fraction of the cost of developing them in-house.”

Here in Australia, other than in government and the community sector, I’ve heard less about the use of hackathons in the corporate sector. I did work with a local financial services organisation who attempted to enlist staff volunteers to build their own internal enterprise social network (this predated readily available commercial solutions, like Yammer), however while that experiment ultimately failed it spurred further innovation in that business.

More recently, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that companies such as MYOB, Telstra and Sensis are taking an interest in using hackathons, like Sydney Appiness.

So what should you do if you want to host your own hackathon?

  • Like any design-led activaty, make sure you have a clear objective (one or more problem statements).
  • Make sure you can answer the “what’s in for me” question, particularly if you ask staff to volunteer their free time to the hackathon.
  • Logistics are critical – you will need a venue, Internet access, servers access (for hosting prototypes solutions) and of course a mix of people with business, design and programming skills.

If you are unable to muster the resources or management support for a hackathon, there are other techniques you can use. We regularly run innovation labs and prototyping workshops, based on user-centred design principles that use low-fidelity techniques using pens, paper and Post-It notes. In fact, some hackathon models (such as Social Innovation Camp) have an extensive design period before anyone creates a single line of code.

But remember, just like any innovation process, hackathons are a waste of time if the ideas and prototype solutions generated go no where. Make sure you have an innovation process or seed-funding available to turn the best ideas into brand new services or solutions.

Image Source: Sydney Appiness