What We Learned From Our First Hackathon

The Lessonly Product team just hosted our very first hackathon. We learned a lot, so we wanted to share our top takeaways that can help you plan and execute an effective event at your company.

4 hackathon guidelines

  1. Give them space—The team needs to unplug from everyone else but each other for this day. No requests from the rest of the company, no distractions, just the hackathon. This should explain the need for isolation perfectly.
  2. No current projects—No one should work on a project currently on the product roadmap. Effective hackathons foster new ideas, and you get those by taking time away from the workload at hand .
  3. Get out of the office—Hold hackathons off-site. Different scenery inspires different ideas, and it also drives home the fact that this is a special event.
  4. Ideate beforehand—Have your concept ready to go ahead of time. If our team had spent the first part of the hackathon coming up with ideas, we would’ve run short on time to actually work on them.

What we could do better

  • Set a schedule—Our team ran out of time and didn’t get to spend as much time sharing their work, asking questions, and providing feedback. We should have set a specific schedule including start and end times, work times, check-ins during the day, and ample opportunities for sharing with each other. Since “Critique in Love” is one of our company values, this was a big miss for us.
  • Personal space—Our team worked off-site away from the rest of the company, but they shared a space. This arrangement made it hard to completely focus without a personal workspace. Next time, we’ll make sure everyone has their own space in addition to a community area for sharing.
  • Introduce collaboration—Everyone worked on their own project for our first hackathon. But our product team has a diverse range of skillsets, which presents an opportunity to create even better projects if they work together. Many team members said they would like this option in the future, and this gave us tons of ideas for future formats.

Keep experimenting

Make sure the team knows how you will proceed afterward. How will you decide whether you’ll pursue a feature further or include it in your product? How will you show the rest of the company what you worked on? Creating a follow-up process ensures the work you did doesn’t just go to waste.

Don’t expect to make a key feature out of every project you create at a hackathon either. Putting that type of pressure on the team only hinders the outcome by introducing the pressure to create something safe that will be used instead of something creative and different. Set a timeline for hackathons—once a quarter, for example—and tweak until you find what works. Experiment with different formats, themes, competitions, and locations to mix things up and generate new ideas.

Hackathons can help your team take a breath, excite them about new projects, and encourage your developers to tinker. What formats have you experimented with for your team hackathons? Let us know in the comments below what has worked well for you.

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