My company’s 2 day hackathon

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Last week at work we did an offsite hackathon over 2 days offsite at Skillsmatter which is in Central London, the idea was to get offsite and brainstorm ideas around how we can benefit our users and add more value to the product we work on.

The hackathon included everyone from the team including UX designers, QA testers, Developers and Product Owners, and we had a clear vision which was our goal for the 2 days.

I had never been to a hackathon or anything like it before and I wont go into too much detail but the following is what we did for 2 days, how we went about it and perhaps you can take some ideas from it and do your own similar thing at your company or with your team.

hackathon

Ground Rules

Define some grounds rules at the start and try to respect them over the 2 days.

Day 1

  • No electronics allowed (i.e. mobiles or Ipad’s), except your laptop.
  • No ideas are silly.
  • Only one person speaks at anytime.
  • Elmos – Enough Lets Move On (if one person talks for too long).
  • HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion, highest paid person in the office) – everyone’s opinion has same value and weight, bosses don’t make the decisions.
  • Parking Lot – area where some ideas aren’t thrown out but places on this part of the whiteboard for later on future discussions perhaps.

After we set some ground rules we split into teams and individually wrote down all of our ideas for ways to try to meet our vision and then we discussed and grouped them into similar types. From there we decided we had 3 ideas which we then whittled down to 2, we split into teams and started with some sprint planning in each team.

After we planned out our ideas we then started work using small 1.5 hour sprints, each sprint ending with a sprint retrospective and show and tell to the other team, here we gave feedback to the other team and discussed the good and the bad and the potential with each idea etc.

Day 1 lasted from 8:30 am to around about 6pm I think it was and it was a pretty long day but super awesome fun.

Day 2

Day 2 started again with some sprint planning, figuring out what we wanted to achieve and splitting out tasks for each person in the team to have something to work on and something to produce at the end of the sprint. Some people worked on the UI design, developers worked on the code, testers wrote some test and wire frames were also created by the Product Owners and some of the designers too.

I’ll skip to the most important part of the 2 days and what I personally took away from the 2 day workshop/hackathon.

What did we produce

After the 2 days we came away with 2 separate pieces of work which met our vision and will definitely improve our product, we had working code, it was tested, it looked pretty good and with a couple of days work would be production ready.

Lessons Learnt

  • Working in a different way to our normal 2 week sprints was awesome, having everyone in the team, all together, working around a table, throwing ideas out, dismissing some and getting instant feedback resulted in rapid feature creation from start to finish, in 1.5 days of actually doing the work we had something not far off production ready.
  • Instant Feedback – Feedback from everyone right there and then was key to delivering something we all thought worked, and would benefit our end users.
  • Every single person had a voice, every single person had their own ideas and collaborating together to pull the best parts of these ideas together was something which we don’t always get to do.
  • Offsite – being away from work and not having the disruptions of email/meetings/phonecall’s in a nice big building with areas to go eat and relax for a bit helped a lot.
  • Writing down all the ideas, being able to group them together and see the most popular ideas helped drive the towards picking the ideas to work on.
  • Being able to have everyone at the same level and not have the boss have the final say was quite an interesting take on it and one which I think everyone welcomed.
  • This will hopefully change the way we do larger pieces of work going forward in our sprints, getting everyone together and brain storming ideas, designs and getting instant feedback and rapid development so that we can take a piece of work and deliver more over 1 sprint rather than breaking the same piece of work over say 2 sprints.

Summary
I’d recommend your team try something like this, keep it organised, keep it simple, everyone is equal in the room, set ground rules, have a vision or a goal your all attempting to try to reach and have fun, the best part of the 2 days it was fun, we were discussing it all week afterwards and every single person loved it.

We covered a lot more than this but I don’t want to bore people with all the details – if you want to ask me anything about this post add a comment.

Thanks
Gregor