If you think a hackathon is just for coders, think again.
The word “hack” traditionally refers to computer programming. So, how does that apply to business? The hackathon started as a meeting of the minds for programmers to use their skills collaboratively to create digital products, but this concept can be broadened to expand across businesses to create solutions and ideas by utilizing your group’s collective abilities.
A hackathon not only allows companies to be seen as innovative thought leaders, but it also allows team members to share ownership in a product or solution. It can also help boost company morale.
So what exactly is a hackathon?
Think of a hackathon as a high-energy collaborative session in brainstorming. Team members from all areas of expertise are brought together to solve a problem or create a new product.
The issue or problem to be solved for is presented and usually the group is broken up into smaller teams. There is brainstorming (lots of brainstorming) involved. The teams are usually a random mix of talent, including programmers, graphic designers, and project managers, who are charged with solving an issue or creating a prototype of a product.
There is judging—but the nice kind. The end solutions or products are then judged by peers or group leaders. The goal is to have a prototype that can then be implemented.
Usually the event is held during a set period of time and can sometimes offer rewards for leading ideas that come from the session.
Where do you start?
Start small with bits and pieces. Use charts or sticky notes to jot down ideas. Remember, there is no such thing as perfection in this process. Trying to get a first draft of ideas perfect will kill the process of experimentation.
Think of different ways you can look at the issue you are trying to solve. Allow team members to have fun tapping into their own creativity.
Sort team members with different skillsets into groups. A writer can provide a completely unique approach to a producer who in turn, can provide the writer with a totally different perspective as well. You’ll find that everyone on your team has a valuable skill or an idea to offer to the group.
Make sure the environment is conducive to creativity. Brilliant ideas are cultivated in relaxed spaces. If all you have to work with is a stuffy boardroom then bring some toys to lighten the environment—think Play Doh, pipe cleaners, markers, or Silly Putty.
Once the creative juices are flowing, bring the bits and pieces together to flesh out bigger ideas. Remember to think broadly; ideas that come from one hackathon might not necessarily solve the problem at-hand, but could very likely provide a solution to another issue down the road.
What does success look like after the hackathon?
While finding a creative solution to a problem is the end goal, companies can benefit from hackathons in so many other ways.
Getting talented people together to brainstorm can result in community building for future projects. Hosting a hackathon provides a great learning experience for employees and allows individuals to express ideas freely. It also fosters relationship building and helps team members gain new skills.
Integrating hackathons into your business strategy is a great way to motivate your team while producing innovative solutions for your company.
CATMEDIA is an award-winning Inc. 500 company based in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1997, the company specializes in advertising, creative services, media production, program management, training, and human resource management. As a Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), CATMEDIA provides world-class customer service and innovative solutions to government and commercial clients. Current CATMEDIA clients include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).