How to organize a hackathon

You’ve convinced your company to conduct a Hackathon… now what?!? Over at the Product Collective Slack group, someone recently asked for advice on how to launch a hackathon at their company. Since this is something I initiated at Sonos years ago, I shared some suggestions. I thought others might find it useful, so I’m sharing my advice here, too.

When we started Hack Week at Sonos years ago, we kept the first few events really basic, which I highly recommend if you are just starting out.

Here are some of the things we did that were successful.

  1. Invite everyone to participate. At Sonos, we were lucky because our hack week teams included people from practically every department in the company, from software development and design to human resources and finance.
  2. Cancel stand-up meetings, grooming sessions, etc. so that as many participants can participate as possible.
  3. Book conference rooms for teams to use during the week AND for a few hours on the last day for demos. Since most meetings should be canceled during this time, rooms should be plentiful!
  4. Order lunch for everyone participating each day. This gives people a chance to mingle during the day and talk about their projects.
  5. Have a happy hour on the first day. Again, this social element really helps the participants get those creative juices flowing.
  6. Ask teams to sign up on a wiki page that includes the team name, team members, and a title for their project. This will come in handy later.
  7. Promote the demos to the entire company and invite everyone to attend. You especially want your leaders there.
  8. Invite a few ‘experts’ to work with teams on their ideas in an advisory role.
  9. Create a wiki page packed with tips on how to give good demos.
  10. Schedule demo day! The last day of the week should be dedicated to all of the teams giving demos of their projects. Pick a fixed time for each demo (10 minutes is a good guideline). Depending on the number of teams, schedule the rooms needed for demos accordingly.
  11. If possible, record the demos and post online for people to watch again (or if they missed it).
  12. Make it a competition! Have people who watch the demos vote for their favorite. Or have a panel of judges pick the winner. Be sure to have prizes for the winners, but don’t feel pressured to spend a lot of money. Just make it fun!
  13. Repeat every quarter!
  14. Consider doing a retrospective following your first few hackathons to continuously improve the process.

Good luck!

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