In an era where every large company is under pressure to innovate, or at least show that they’re being innovative, it can be all too tempting to take an old meeting room, turn it into an ‘innovation lab’ by throwing some bean-bags around the place and setting up a fussball table and running a hackathon.
Oftentimes though, these hackathons amount to little more than team-bonding activities, with little focus on identifying and validating problems and solutions that are worthy of subsequent exploration.
In order to get the most out of a corporate hackathon and generate some quick wins that organisers and innovation champions will be able to use to build a case for subsequent initiatives and further development of ideas, taking the time to consider and prepare the following 13 things can make a world of difference.
1 - Lean Canvas
The lean canvas is a common starting point for concepts. Once you’ve got a rough idea map it out in a lean canvas - this will force teams to think about their customer segments, problem and solution assumptions, value proposition, distribution channels, marketing channels, price points and so on. All of these assumptions form the basis for the prototyping and testing that will be undertaken during the hackathon. Ensure you have hard copy lean canvases printed out or access to tools such as Xtensio.com so that teams can start populating, sharing and iterating on their canvases online.
2 - Validation Board
As Peter Drucker said, that which can be measured can be managed. In order to determine how teams are progressing and provide a way for them to evaluate validation or invalidation of key assumptions, a validation board can align teams on how they capture and define a) key assumptions, (b) test performed, (c) key metrics and (d) results.
3 - Problem and Solution Interview
80% of new ideas at large companies fail. The reason? Building what nobody really wants to buy! The main focus of a hackathon should be on validating problems and solutions and one of the easiest and fastest ways to do this is by asking good questions. Print out hundreds of templates of the problem and solution interview templates found here so that teams can make a running start.
4 - Target Customer Locations
To build upon our earlier example of gym-goers, if I’m testing a product targeting the health and fitness conscious and plan on getting out of the building during the hackathon I need to do two things; a) identify where I can find them (gyms, yoga studios, health bars and nutrition stores) and (b) ensure that we pick a location to run the hackathon that is within close walking distance of these places.
5 - Incentives
If you plan on getting out of the building to perform some customer testing and interviews out on the streets then you’ll find it way more easier if you have some kind of incentive to offer.
We’ve all seen charity fundraisers struggle to get people to stop for even a second so this point is critical.
If you open with “we’re giving $10 vouchers for Store X for people who answer 3 quick questions for us” you’re far more likely to get people’s attention.
Incentives could include coffee vouchers, movie vouchers or $10 vouchers for a particular store as in the example above. Be creative and base it on what your target audience is likely to be interested in. If I was testing a concept targeting gym-goers I might choose instead to give away protein shakers or a protein bar which can cost as little as $5.
6 - Recruitees
If you’ve got your ideas ready to go before the hackathon kicks off and an idea of the different customer segments you’ll be targeting, take some time to identify and recruit them to take part in your hackathon. Whether that’s sitting in for a whole day or even an hour to answer some questions, saving yourself the time and minimising the risk of not finding the exact customer profile out on the streets will increase your ROI on running a corporate hackathon.
7 - Accounts
When running a hackathon, you might choose to build web prototypes and as such, you’ll need to access a number of tools that will help you do this quickly. However, if you’ve got a room of 20 participants do you expect everybody to us their own credit cards or everybody to have a company AMEX to do this? Smells like a disaster to me!
Take the time to register for and distribute account information to participants for popular tools such as Instapage (web prototypes) and Google Adwords (advertising). These should already be tied to a company credit card - just be sure to lay down some ground rules around maximum spend per team!
8 - The Right Mix
There’s no point aligning all of your ducks only to fill the room with finance people who have never heard or seen any of the tools you plan on using. You’ve got to fill the room with a good mix of people with backgrounds in various disciplines - think marketing, design, tech, ops and sales. Also, don’t discount the value of having some legal and compliance personnel in the room - contrary to popular belief that they will block any prototypes from going live, they can actually be an asset!
9 - Ideation and Business Model Tools
While your teams may come into the hackathon with a rough idea, they will no doubt hone the idea and the business model over the course of the hackathon and their job will be made all the more easier if they have something to draw inspiration from. Having posters on hand that they can quickly refer to such as Doblin’s 10 Types of Innovation, Steve Blank’s customer discovery and development checklists and an emerging technology chart will help teams quickly come up with innovative business models to get out of the building and test.
10 - Technology
This might seem like a simple one but make sure you have enough devices in the room (laptops, smartphones, tablets) and wifi that is good enough to support the concurrent efforts of all participants.
11 - Nutrition
Hackathons are an intense affair and might find many of the participants under the pump a lot more than they might usually be used to in their day to day. Keep participants fed but in order to avoid afternoon crashes, keep snacks healthy - slow carbs, high protein, good fats. I like to go for healthy salad boxes, low GI wraps, nuts and mini-protein bars. A few sugary treats are okay but keep them to a minimum. Whenever we run hackathons for large companies, we also ensure that coffee is on tap and people keep hydrated throughout the day.
12 - NO interruptions
One of the main reasons to run a hackathon away from the office is not only because it will foster a new way of thinking thanks to the mental reset of unfamiliar or different surrounds than the day to day, but it will also ensure that Mark or Deborah from accounts doesn’t walk over to your desk with a question. By getting out of the building teams can focus on the task and hand and not other people’s priorities.
13 - #Inspo
Sometimes, people won’t know what kinds of prototypes to build, what a good landing page looks like, what to put in a pitch deck and so on. It pays to have lots of examples for participants to draw inspiration from available. We love these landing page examples from Hubspot and these example pitch decks.
By having everything in place before the hackathon kicks off you can radically increase the amount of experiments and learnings that come out of it, increasing the likelihood that it will not only be a successful hackathon, but an experience that participants learn from, effectively making them better innovators and helping to build a culture of innovation.
This guide provides an overview of the five key stages of design thinking, from empathy through to test. Find out how to apply the approach and start innovating at your organisation.