In the industry, the hackathons are defined very loosely. At the end of the day, a hackathon is just a tool of exploring difficult problems simultaneously in teams. It is up to the organiser to fine-tune the hackathon process so that it fits the challenge, the organisation, the attendees – the environment.
As a result of a loose definition, the industry is saturated with dozens of hackathon variations. Whilst the situation is great for experts, it’s not helpful for a first-time hackathon organisers at Atos.
You can think of Hackathons as ‘Lego’. Whilst they can come pre-designed, the true power is unveiled when combining the blocks (i.e. the components that make up a hackathon) into new ways to suit your environment and problem statement.
Hackathon types at Atos
After attending and organising several hack-days and full hackathons we’ve boiled down the Hackathons into 2 general groups:
- Focused Hackathons are highly efficient, framework-led events requiring upfront effort to ensure the focus of the participants results in numerous actionable outcomes
- Experimental Hackathons embrace the open-exploration mindset and are good for knowledge sharing, culture building and fresh thinking
In addition to the hackathon’s nature, it’s important to understand the most effective medium for the business setting and goals.
As a visual aid, the hackathon types can be placed on 2 dimensional axis.
In essence, Hackathons can be broken down to key components. Think of these as important decisions when organising a hackathon. For example, would you pre-define a challenge and pre-form teams or would you rather just set the theme and let individuals come up with ideas, pitch them during the event and try to form a team on the go from the attendee pool? Such decisions are vital for hackathon organisation and will greatly impact the hackathon’s outcome.
|Hackathon component||Focused hackathons||Experimental hackathons|
|During working hours||MUST||COULD|
|Pre-defined hackathon’s concept and follow-up methods||MUST||COULD|
|Pre-workshop (challenge, exploration, coaching, etc.)||MUST||COULD|
|SMEs available on the day for research||SHOULD||COULD|
|Rigid concept development framework||MUST||COULD|
|Community voting on winners||COULD||COULD|
|Agreed post-hackathon roadmap||SHOULD||COULD|
A Focused Hackathon works by eliminating all the waste upfront and doing the homework before the actual event so that participating teams during the event do not need to go through team formation, idea pitching, etc stages as well as the sponsors have pre-selected the concepts they are willing to see developed further.
Key defining features of a Focused Hackathon
- Structure and clear problem statement
- High effort, 8 weeks lead time for preparation
- Actionable outcomes for Pilots, PoCs
- Optimal Focused Hackathon duration: 2-3 working days
For example, for organising a Focused Hackathon you would want to consider eliminating the unknowns as soon as possible, such as:
- Pre-select ideas to be developed during the hackathon
- Pre-select teams
- Teams follow a rigid framework during the hackathon
- Outcomes are mapped to PoCs and there’s a clear way to Pilots after the hackathon
Below is an overview of the Focused Hackathon framework spanning across F2F workshops, Online channels and the event itself.
Experimental Hackathons work by embracing the open-exploration, knowledge sharing and culture building. This is best done setting a loose and open-format where a wide range of applicants can enter the event, form the ideas and teams during the event as well as establish their own ways-of-working within teams.
That said, Experimental Hackathons are by no means chaotic. There needs to be a clear agenda, facilitation and a theme to funnel the experiments towards a common goal. For example: Health And Wealth in Insurance industry or Smart Traffic Light Management.