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Benefits of running Hack Day / Hackathon Events

Read 77462 times Last modified on Wednesday, 03 December 2014 12:50
Written by  Anthony Gerrits

What are the Benefits?

I've experienced many hack day events over recent years, and the benefits of running such events within an organisation are overwhelmingly clear. For executives looking at these events through a lens of uncertainty, you can be rest assured that they are well worth the effort.

Some of the clear benefits that can be easily articulated, cover enough ROI value to convince any hardline exec that running a hack day is not only awesome fun for staff, but will help ignite internal innovation within the organisation that will encourage better and faster ways of delivering an end to end product, solution or process. The benefits of running internal hack days can filter right through an organisation, energising the entire company, the teams involved and individual staff members. This can only be a positive thing, looking at it through any lens. 

Team Collaboration - Bringing the Company Together

One of the real issues companies face as they become bigger and more complex, is how to sustain momentum and work cohesively with different teams across the broader business.  I've seen companies apply many different operating models in my time i.e. by capability, by function and by line of business. These models were implemented with the goal of enabling broader collaboration and to gain delivery efficiencies, however, all were adopted with varied success. No matter how you swing it, there is always a level of segmentation of people, which can cause friction within a business. Its easy to lose track of who you actually work with, and the roles people play within the organisation, that essentially support you as an employee, when you have your head down busily working away.

Hack days provide a real world scenario where you can bring different areas (and roles) of the business together to work collaboratively on something that will benefit the organisation. The vision of success for a hack day is when you see teams form that have product people, technical people, financially minded people, and business people working closely together, forming, pitching and building their ideas. Hack day teams formed with mixed roles and backgrounds are the glue that help build ongoing collaboration, essentially bringing a business closer together. 

Working more closely with different areas of the business often breaks down barriers, you never knew were there. It becomes the conduit that opens up different and new opportunities for people both personally and professionally within a business. Broader team collaboration within an organisation also helps remove the unhealthy "us versus them" mentality that can sometimes occur within different business departments across a company (I'm not talking healthy competition between teams, I mean the caustic "why do they always get more budget and attention than us" type "us versus them").

Hack Day Themes

Internal hack days can be themed to focus on creating specific new products, introducing new capabilities or processes, and adopting new technical solutions within the business, such as data analytics, data services or improved sales productivity stemming from a new/improved application. I've been involved in hack days that have been both themed and un-themed, both create a sense of excitement and creativity delivering great results.

The benefits of creating a theme for your internal hack day, is that it can provide your teams guidance on an important subject matter that your organisation really needs to focus in on. There are endless themes that you can work with when planning a hack day, but I'll list out a few to give you an idea of the varied ideas that can be applied.

  • Hack on what ever you like - Open theme, your teams get to choose any idea to work on.
  • Hack it forward - Community focused event (charity)
  • BIG DATA - Data focused Hack Days (Datathon)
  • Internal Systems Hack Days
  • Legacy Systems/code Hack Days
  • Reporting & Visualisation Hack Days
  • Sales Productivity Hack Days
  • Past or Present Project Hack Days 
  • Consumer Focused Hack Days
  • Customer Focused Hack Days 
  • Mobile First Hack Days
  • Personalisation Hack Days 
  • Supply chain Hack Days
  • Internal Culture Hack Days 
  • ...limitless theme ideas.

One of the most important parts to theming your hack day, is to remember that Hack Days ARE NOT just for IT or technical folk - Everyone within your organisation can get involved and contribute to a successful hack day. Think of the different areas within your business (Finance, Legal, Contract Management, Sales teams, Call Centres) and identify an area of interest (maybe something causing concern, or an inefficient process/application, new product) and develop your theme around this. Your theme needs to be something that all matter of roles from across the business, will want to be involved with.

Internal Innovation

Internal Innovation can be a term thrown around fairly loosely, and can mean different things to different people. Internal innovation done right, and with the right goal in mind, can really pay off for an organisation. Giving teams and people the time to stop and think, be creative, and to do things outside of the box (more often) will embed a culture and framework of internal innovation within the business. The return on investment in organising and running an internal hack day can be easily demonstrated. Recently, one of Americas more commonly known toy companies, Hasbro, held an internal hack day involving over 150 developers, who developed 45 products that were pitched for the event. This type of activity is the equivalent to billions of dollars in traditional research and development costs companies often spend to achieve similar results. Hack days harness and encourage internal innovation that spans people across the entire company. This approach has to be better and more rewarding for an organisation over hiring one or two individuals that sit and "innovate" as their daily jobs.

By giving people within the organisation a chance to think outside of the box and to explore things that fall outside of their day to day working environments (and role description), companies are creating an environment of creativity and passion that provide a fun, experimental, collaborative and creative outlet for teams.  

Staff Engagement & Retention

One of the strongest components, and in my opinion one of the more valued benefits of running internal hack days is the pure people related benefits. I'm talking increased staff engagement and inevitably higher staff retention - Keep your people happy and they hang around, and are more bought into what the organisation does. People are the most valuable asset to a business and the engagement and buy in from the teams will determine your success as a company. No matter how good a product or service your organisation offers, you are lost without a strong team with a healthy culture to support your industry leading product or service.

I've spent many years leading both large and small teams and have seen the raw and positive impact that running hacks days has on the people within a company. Internally run hack days give staff the opportunity to incept and create something that isn't necessarily part of their standard role description or immediate responsibility, which reduces boredom (groundhog day effect), essentially stimulating people's minds. It also gives people a broader understanding of the business strategy and how they can align by delivering something that truly benefits the business. It ignites the passion within people, to collaborate and create something amazing.

Success is in the Preparation & Delivery

Hack days take a lot of preparation and staff engagement to get right. Again, you can prepare and plan your event based on its theme to make the event really unique and stand out for your staff.

One of the most important things is to make the event fun and remember that hack days are about the people involved, and the varied benefits that come from it from a people and company perspective.

Some of the things that stand out as important when organising a hack day event are announcing it to the company, giving your staff time to think of ideas before the event, registration for the event (so you know how many people will be involved), where will you host it (can't be a single meeting room...), the date you hold it and will it be a multi-day event (maybe an overnight event), networking and power, catering food and drinks (yes, beer helps), preparation based on your theme (do you need specific data sets etc), prizes and trophies, audio/visual and creating the atmosphere you want.

It's not an easy thing to get right, especially if you haven't experienced a well run Hack Day event previously. For more information on Vivify Labs hosted hack day experiences, visit our micro-site at www.Hackdays.com.au

Quoting a brilliant line, from an all time classic movie (cough) "Build it and they will come" is so apparent when talking about the success of planning and running your own hack day. A well organised and well run internal hack day event will be the buzz amongst your staff and envy of your fiercest competitor for a long time to come.



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