Internal Hackathons: Increased Innovation and Collaboration

At Simulmedia, we have introduced Friday hackathons giving everyone the opportunity to present their ideas to improve our TV audience-targeting products.  The rules are simple.  Everyone submits their ideas and lobbies to have their ideas worked on by the hackers. The hackers come primarily from the engineering or science teams, but anyone in the company who can write code is invited to participate.  

Hackers call dibs on a problem, set their instant message status to “Hacking” and spend the day innovating, coding and testing with lots of interaction throughout the company.  First thing Monday morning, representatives from the product and engineering teams review all “deployable” hacks and determine how to fast track them into our production environment.  

Thus far, the deployed hacks have resulted in streamlined reach and frequency analysis, simplified campaign affidavits generation and improved audience target calculation performance.  The results have been good. Enthusiasm is high, and problems are getting solved, but how do you balance hacks with the strategic efforts that, by their very nature, take weeks and months to conceive and execute?



1. Embrace the chaos.  Hosting internal hackathons, let alone weekly hackthons, can be quite disruptive, even in a start-up. Embrace the chaos.  Our experience has been that the resulting innovation and increased collaboration across the company is well worth the disruption. 

2. Minimal process is key.  Hacks, by their very nature, are short, time-bounded sprints of intense coding on a loosely defined idea.  Understanding the minimum process needed to introduce the newly developed capability into widespread use and then streamlining that process even further is key to realizing the benefit and maintaining the excitement from the hack exercise. Take what you have learned from the hackathon and apply it to other areas of your product development process. 

3. Encourage everyone to participate.  While primarily a coding event, great ideas come from everywhere in the organization. Everyone should feel welcome to be involved in a hackathon. 

4. Celebrate the hacks.  Get the viable hacks deployed as quickly as possible to realize the benefits – no matter how short-lived. 

5. Focus on the quick wins.  Not everything can be hacked in one to three days.  Focus on efforts that can be realized in a short time, such as points of pain, time savers and proofs of concept.

6. Product strategy is still essential.  Do not try to replace your product road map with a series of hackathon days.  If you want to do hacks, you still must do both.

Many companies have internalized the concept and are hosting internal hackathons to increase innovation and collaboration across their organizations.

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