In general, ‘Hacking’ is just a method of a creative problem solving. It does not have to involve technology, but usually does.
A hackathon is a useful innovation tool for exploring difficult problems or creating new and innovative solutions to existing problems. It does not have to involve technology, but usually does. This is a strictly time-boxed event, usually lasting for several days during which representatives from various disciplines come together to from diverse/sustainable teams and collaborate intensively.
Who is the audience?
Participating teams are of a strict multi-disciplinary formation to cover the required aspects of tackling hackathon’s defined challenge. The final beneficiaries are company decision makers, strategists and those responsible for innovation.
Note that the target audience can vary greatly based on the Hackathon’s Challenge.
What is the intended outcome?
Number of potential solutions to the defined hackathon’s challenge(s). The number of solutions is equivalent to the number of teams participating. The solutions are then evaluated and next steps are decided whether that’s taking the solution into further development or shelving it.
Don’t expect to have actually solved a problem by the end of the hackathon. Real life problems are hard! Think of the hackathon as a pit-stop on a long journey to solve problems or as a training session to prepare participants for solving problems.
Since you’re not going to solve a problem, don’t put unrealistic (and unhealthy) pressure on your participants. Don’t stay up all night, don’t pump participants with caffeine, and don’t make winners and losers. Just don’t. Participants should come energized and be greeted with positive energy.
What are the important organisational aspects for a successful hackathon?
- The first is diversity in the people attending. It is the mix of people in each team that stimulates the creativity by questioning and interacting during the process. In general, the more diverse teams are, the better the results of the hackathon.
- The second is clarity of the problem statement. If you have a clear problem statement, you are likely to get some clear answers. An ambiguous problem statement will lead to an ambiguous answer.
- The third is pre-work. The organising team need to make sure that the day is set up and the teams will have the things they need available to them.
What are the core values for a successful hackathon?
- Strengthen the community that the hackathon is for.
- Be welcoming to newcomers to the community.
- Provide an opportunity for participants to learn something new.
- Provide a space and a time for participants to make headway on problems they are interested in.
- Read more on Atos Hackathon’s Manifesto
As a general guide, each hackathon challenge definition should follow three simple rules:
- Clearly articulated and attainable challenge
- Complicated challenge, e.g. a challenge without a clear path to success
Participants typically form groups of about 3-8 individuals from a diverse background so that the team is well skilled and self-sustainable to address the hackathon’s challenge.
Types of hackathons for Atos
There are many variations and sub-variations on the hackathon subject. The most common types are:
- Open Innovation: slightly open-form events focused on concept exploration and knowledge-sharing. Usually open to wide-range of applicants with ideas and ways-of-working being formed during the event.
- Funnelled Innovation: e.g. intense and framework-led events with maximised efficiency. Usually involve through up-front prep and participant screening, idea evaluation and pre-formed teams working within a slightly rigid framework.