This section will help you answer questions like ‘When to organise a hackathon?‘, learn what good looks-like and how hackathons work in Atos so that you know what it takes before you decide to ‘pull the trigger’.
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.
Intense, rigid and design-sprint framework-led event with maximised efficiency and focus on tangible, actionable outcomes.
Relaxed, open-format event with emphasis on experimentation, sharing and community empowerment with open-ended outcomes.
In the industry, there are numerous reasons for organising hackathons, such as Knowledge Sharing, Marketing, Recruiting, etc.
The focus of this planner is on hackathons that drive Tangible and Measurable business value, hence the following considerations:
- Is the value of solving the hackathon’s challenge bigger than the hackathon organisational costs? (immediate result for client or a contribution to a long-term strategy)
- Are there alternative and more cost-effective ways to address the challenge?
- What are the ambiguous benefits of organising a hackathon for the client/internally and does it add a significant, justifiable and measurable ROI over time
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 Theme and Problem Statement
A number of potential solutions to the defined hackathon’s challenge(s)
- The number of solutions is equivalent to the number of teams participating.
- The resulting solution may take the form of a technical demo, proof of value or simply some screen designs or a proposal.
- The solutions are then evaluated and next steps decided, either taking them into further development, validation or shelving the solution, etc.
Don’t expect to have definitely solved a problem by the end of the hackathon – real-life problems are hard! Instead, treat a hackathon as an opportunity to shake down your problems and gather potential solutions and ways forward. It’s also a chance to gain momentum and invigorate your team with new found enthusiasm by dedicating time to focus on just one thing at a time. But if all else fails, it’s a really good training session for participants to learn new skills.
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, any contribution should be celebrated.
As a general guide, each hackathon must have a theme and a problem statement clearly articulated.
E.g. prior to organising a hackathon, it’s suggested to have a warm-up workshop to collate a list of themes and problem statements per theme, explore their value, prioritise and agree on the scope of the hackathon.
In a later stage, embark on a further investigation and provide the necessary support for hackers to successfully address the hackathon’s scope (e.g. provide datasets, context, domain experts, etc).
A hackathon should be no less than 2 days long, anything below that is a ‘mini-hackathon’ and usually is not sufficient to solve the problem.
The optimal hackathon duration varies based on the hackathon’s challenge/theme. Hence, think about the challenge first, then think about the day’s agenda, such as:
- introduction and scene setting
- idea pitching (depends on the hackathon type
- team formation (depends on the hackathon type)
- winner selection
A minimum, hackathon must have at least 3 teams competing. But, this will be considered a small-size hackathon. A better hackathon experience starts from having at least 30 people, e.g. about 6 teams competing. General guidance:
- The more teams you get in the hackathon, the more diverse the outcomes will be.
- The effect of having more teams co-located will increase the event’s pace, team motivation, etc.
For a sense of scale, the world’s largest hackathon on AI and Blockchain had 1500 participants over several themes. (Atos took 2nd place in the event) a video recap here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnhpSLb30BU&feature=youtu.be
The team size varies based on the hackathon challenge and funding, but as a general rules:
- usual team size is between 3-5 people
- the teams must be no larger than 8 people per team, as, beyond that point, it becomes hard to manage and ensure efficiency
- the teams must be multi-disciplinary so that they can tackle the challenge/theme within the team
The team size can be offset by having several SMEs available during the event for the teams to tap-in their experience.
This is defined in the terms of conditions and is up to the organiser. There is no general practice in the industry and it rather depends on the hackathon type. For example:
A business-specific hackathon most likely will hold the ownership of outcomes and the IP, the teams might be funded by the business to continue working on the concept after the event and in some scenarios, provided a share of ownership
A community-focused hackathon might open up the outcomes and encourage the teams to own and further develop the outcomes and IP
Carefully consider and plan for the below points to organise a successful hackathon:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Benefits for clients
- Ability to explore complex ideas fast
- Access to a wide network of Atos experts
- Gain experience in Design Thinking and rapid problem solving, supplement existing ways of working
- Transform the culture, encourage and empower attendees and fuel intrapreneurial mindset
- Experiment with new technology
Benefits for account leads
- Demonstrate domain expertise – by the rapid production of Proof of Concepts
- Demonstrate internal and external innovation – by getting diverse teams together and rapidly tackle client’s challenge in a very tight time frame
- Tap into R&D & innovation budgets – by demonstrating the innovation and ways of working, gaining trust during the events and hence the ability to embark on further R&D investment conversations
- Acquire more work streams in parallel – a successful hackathon might produce several new opportunities for the client to take forward
Benefits for hacker
- Refine pitching skills
- Refine co-working skills
- Refine rapid solutioning skills
- Embark on an open-exploration on particular subjects
- Get internal and external recognition
- Have dedicated time to focus on a single problem context switching
- Meet like-minded colleagues from across Atos
- Get to work on new challenges
Hackathon can be organised on a varying scale, and that scale defines the operating cost. Naturally, with the involvement of more participants, the cost will also go up. For a small scale event, the investment is from £10k, but can go up easily to 50-100k.
Things to consider when estimating the cost of the hackathon:
- organising person(s) time
- organising expenses (organiser’s travel, marketing, etc)
- number of hackers
- event duration
- attendee travel
- stationery, tools required for the hackathon
- hackathon’s prize fund
- organising staff on the day
- jury reimbursement
- external speakers, SMEs, etc
Example costing of a small hackathon
Business outcome-oriented and focused hackathon can be organised for £10k. The event specifics would be: 2 days, during working hours, 15 attendees, on the company’s premises with minimum catering and no travel. The above includes the organising costs, organiser time, client pre-workshop to set the challenge
The hackathon model must first be proved, before they can be sold (and have all costs recovered) to a client. Atos does not have an established process for running hackathon events and therefore would be wise to ‘build up’ to asking a client to pay for 100% of the event in order to ensure the execution was refined.
With this in mind; there is a balance to be found regarding how the hackathons should be funded which will ideally shift over time with experience, confidence and demonstrable results – as illustrated below.
This effectively describes a model where the hackathon organising team is funded largely by the account at either cost price (initially) or at a small margin in order to generate working funds to re-invest back into the growth of the domain (through training, marketing, new equipment etc). The team’s primary focus would not be to earn a profit themselves.
The events would be funded by either the account or the client; depending upon how engaged the client is and how valuable any such opportunity that might be generated by the hackathon may be (e.g. as a result of a demonstration of capability/specialism or a transformative proof of value being identified). It would be a decision made by the account whether to add margin onto the events and to charge the client, however, the aim from an account perspective would be to unlock future, more profitable streams of work by participating.
Hackathons can be an extremely efficient vehicle on driving business development (new and existing) in comparison to the traditional bid responses. Mainly, because of the investment in hackathon participation is similar to collating an efficient bid response.
Responding to bids only has two scenarios, either winning the bid, or losing. The second, does not generate any follow up and has extremely limited re-use value.
The outcome of participating a high-profile hackathon is almost always positive. The potential scenarios:
If winning the hackathon:
- Wide recognition (massive and targeted marketing reach, perceived as top-notch experts, client relationships, recruiting opportunities)
- Might be awarded a client project if in line with hackathon T&Cs
- Might win a monetary reward, which sponsors the engagement, if in line with hackathon T&Cs
- Extend the network of niche experts and client representatives
- Likely to contribute to a large value opportunity with client(s)
- Learnings and delivered hackathon output (e.g. software, hardware, etc) can be applied to other Atos clients, demonstrated at BTICs, etc
- All of the above benefits, except winning the hackathon and a smaller marketing reach
Strong examples of tangible benefits from participating high-profile external hackathons:
a £20k investment in a hackathon for Aegon/Transamerica, our existing business partner, contributed to winning a £130m contract for Atos.
a £100k investment in Codex PoV after a hackathon, generated £4m revenue over 2 years.
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