Would you like a quick way for your organization to foster innovation and creativity, increase collaboration and make cool things in a short amount of time? Hackathons have long been used by software developers to do just that. However, we believe all business areas (including finance) can benefit from holding a hackathon. Not convinced? Read on and we’ll give you all the insight around our own experience.

Why we did it

Now that you know the specs of our hackathon, you likely want to know more about the why behind the concept. Well, it started with our annual planning meeting.  Like many companies, our entire international marketing team gets together a few times a year for a week-long meeting to reconnect with our remote teammates, review our results, talk strategy, share new ideas, and plan for the future.  It’s an important and necessary part of our process, but as an agile team of high-performance creators and doers, some of us start to get a little twitchy (or sleepy) sitting in the same room for a week without ‘shipping’ something. This year, we decided to do away with the week of PowerPoint presentations and do things a bit differently.  Our goal was to mix people up into teams and to complete an array of projects within one work day. We thought it would be great for team building and give us a chance to tackle some of the interesting projects that have been sitting in our backlog for too long. Win, win.

How we did it

Before jumping the gun, we thought it would be good to get some quality input from someone well-versed in the software development way of work. Known for his deep involvement in the product development arena, we went to our CTO, Craig Strong for some sage advice. This is what he advised about hackathon execution: 

  • While hackathons often seem like a mad rush of creativity and chaos, the administration of the event itself is quite important.
  • Scheduling some check-ins and timelines is useful to make sure teams don’t get stuck
  • You can’t accomplish as much in a day as you think you can.
  • Designate a coach for the event to do the check-ins, help teams collaborate when needed and make sure resources are available
  • Get out of your normal working environment and into a different space if possible
  • Attend to the details – pens, sticky notes, food & drink, wifi, other hardware
  • Teams of 3 with a mix of skills work well
  • Make time for presentations at the end.

We also added a few of our own guidelines to adapt the event to a marketing focus.

  • Structure teams to include people that don’t typically interact regularly
  • Provide a wide range of sample project ideas for the teams to choose from that could be done in a day. I wrote up the team names on a white board and stuck the ideas around next to the team’s best suited to execute them.
  • Make sure that teams utilize each members’ skills and encourage them to step outside their usual role
  • We set the expectations from the beginning that this was an experiment and we may not end up with something usable at the end of the day, but we were going to have fun doing it. We didn’t want to just have a frantic day of normal work.
  • Invite people from outside your group. Different perspectives and expertise are invaluable and make the event more fun.
  • We would end the event with a well-deserved happy hour.
  • Invite other people to your presentations. Although it does put a little more pressure on, it also makes the work a little more real and provides some good visibility for the team.

What Happened

In short, a lot. We got a good chunk of work done and we learned a lot about our marketing team in the process. Instead of competition occurring, an incredible amount of cross-team collaboration went on in the spirit of getting things done and solving problems. At one point, we had people from 3 different teams working to solve a problem so that one team could complete their project.

The other thing we noticed was a renewed energy and purpose that extended beyond the hackathon. Because we mixed up the teams and the projects were in the usual scope of daily marketing life, it was really easy to see exactly how each person was adding value to the team. Our data analyst Natalia helped build some reports to add to a wiki about Hubble use cases. Even our resident mad scientist Andreas stepped out of developing our product to using it to make some really cool consolidations of data that we’ve never been able to see before.

At the end of the day, each group presented their project and each person shared their contribution to the team. We invited our CEO and VP of Sales to the presentation and they gave some great feedback. Afterward, we all went out to happy hour with a renewed appreciation of what our team can accomplish.

These are the projects the four teams completed:

  • Hubble for marketing dashboards that show our marketing KPIs and lead funnel (more to come on that in a future blog post).
  • We created two Sales & Marketing wikis to capture and share information on Hubble use cases, training, and information about accessing our internal Hubble environment.

As noted earlier in this post, we tailored our projects specific to our department, however, the options are truly endless and adaptable to your own organization.

What’s next?

Due to the success of our own efforts, we have now decided to commit to doing a hackathon once a quarter and to bring in other departments to help solve their challenges. If you are thinking of holding your own hackathon then reach out! We would love to hear about it and are always happy to share more details around our own experience or provide ideas. Feel free to leave us some comments or chat with us on Twitter (@gohubble). Until next time...

Happy Hacking! 


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