Why do companies run hackathons?

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Hackathon. Hack Day. Hack fest. Code fest.

Whatever you call it, many organisations hold internal Hackathons. But why – what is the value for a business in doing so?

It seems a simple question, but I suspect that the answer is far from straightforward.

Is it just for fun? To stimulate creativity? As a vague “cultural improvement” exercise? To come up with new commercial product ideas? To build technical skills? To encourage meeting people from other areas of the business? For a combination of any or all of the above?

I have my own biases and opinions, but I’d like to hear yours. Pop them into the comments and let me know.

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One thought on “Why do companies run hackathons?”

  1. Hiya Brett,

    It’s a good and oft asked question!

    At REA Group, we run them for many reasons. The order I give them in depends on who I’m talking too of course – generally, the closer I am to the Executive the more likely I am to talk tangible benefits like “awesome innovative product in market!…”

    But of course the real value lies elsewhere.

    Here’s some of my favourite reasons, in my order of value:

    – It gives all of our people time to put aside their work, and breathe. And think about fresh ideas.

    – It gives our people an opportunity to work with people from other teams and functions – people they wouldn’t even meet in the building these days, let alone work with. This opens fresh relationships and networks across new lines – all through the business. The cross-functional relationships are hugely beneficial, when you have someone in Finance thinking, “wow that Lucy in comms who was on my team was kick-arse; and Romany in Sales – he can sell snow to an eskimo” as a result of working on a team on a fresh idea for 3 days, it’s very valuable indeed.

    – It empowers all our people to work on whatever they want; with whoever they want for those three days a quarter. Our people love that. Love it!

    – The energy! There is a buzz in our building and our Xi’an Delivery Centre over the three days; and it builds and builds to a massive crescendo as we open our Marketplace on Friday afternoon at 3pm. There is great food, great beers (served from the 4-tap Beer Engine – itself a HackDay project!) and of course the people milling around amongst the tables as the team’s heckle and cajole for “venture capital” funding in the form of the poker chips that we hand to all visitors. Any executive walking into that scene would give their left eye to have that sort of energy in their company – money just cannot buy it.

    – The creativity. Over the years HackDay (and now REAio under our new Inventorship programme at REA) has gradually seeped into the way we work every day of the year at REA. Dev’s unlock new ways of working, Product managers find new ways of looking at problem, Sales people find new ways of tackling a difficult customer. Exercising the creative parts of our brains allows it to happen more easily. We see Inventorship and REAio as a way to facilitate an environment right through our company where all of our people can be unconstrained and free in their thinking – the raw creativity and invention and innovation that comes from that is beyond measure.

    – All of that brings people to us. Our HackDays are widely known and people come and work for us because of that. We have a tradition now of bringing our new graduates into REA for HackDays before they even start – last week at our first REAio, we had two of our 2017 graduates join us. Did they love it? You bet!

    – We get to give back to our community. Our Hack It Forward (http://rea.tech/hack-it-forward-time-to-give-back/) programme grows ever stronger and now we provide a $5,000 prize to the best community and sustainability project each quarter – that money is to go to productionising the software and handing it over to the charity partner; or just as a simple donation. Our people really resonate with this, and last week’s first REAio (formerly known as HackDay) saw six wonderful Hack It Forward projects built and presented.

    – Sometimes we get a new product out of it. (Warning – tangible benefit alert). That product hardly ever looks anything like the prototype that was built for HackDay. And sometimes an idea will be iterated on many many times at consecutive HackDays before a Product Manager will be inspired enough to get it on a roadmap. But once delivered, even though it doesn’t resemble the original in any way – it still started way back as someone’s idea at a HackDay.

    I think I’d better stop there:)

    Cheers

    Breezy

    Liked by 1 person

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