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How to run a Hackathon

Published on Friday, 26th October 2018, contributed by Gravitywell

We’re big fans of the hackathon at Gravitywell and with a few under our belt, it’s time we shared our experiences with others and offer some tips on how to run them.

Why do it?

There’s usually no money involved so why should you use up valuable studio time on a Hackathon?

Collaboration skills

Hackathons bring the team together and teaches people to cooperate. But the bonding experience is vastly better than one of those cheesy team-building exercises that nobody really wants to do and probably include awkward interactions involving planks and bits of rope.

Stimulation

Ideally the Hackathon would be a break from the normal routine in many ways. The process should be exciting, refreshing and energising. You’re working on something for yourselves and not the client. It’s an opportunity to try new tools and techniques. Everyone should feel invested in the outcome and enthused by the end of it.

Encourages creativity from all disciplines

Short deadlines will teach you to compromise. Designers will be forced to wrestle with the balance of quality and delivering on time. Everyone will need to make quick, rational decisions. You’ll all be forced to find creative solutions that work for the deadline, rather than a vision of perfection.

R&D tax credit

If you’re a company in the UK, the government will give you a tax rebate for investment in R&D. On its own, it’s not a strong enough reason to plan a Hackathon, but it’s certainly a sweetener!

Of course it’s difficult to measure the Cost vs Benefit of a Hackathon and everyone’s mileage may vary. But from our own experience, it’s brought us closer together as a team, taught us new skills which we’ve applied to client work and given us new internal projects to take forwards in the future.

Reactions from clients

At some point you’ll need to let your clients know about your plan for a Hackthon. Perhaps their work will be put on hold or you’ll need to ask for their patience during the event. Of course you should warn your clients in advance but try to extol the virtues of a revitalised and more committed team.

So how do clients react?

A few have said that it sounds like an excuse for a company holiday. While it’s true that having meals together and the odd evening drinking cocktails by a pool are a lot of fun, we’re usually working longer hours than we do back in the studio.

But mostly clients have been very positive and supportive. They can see the value and are keen to follow the progress. Some have even asked to come along too. You might be surprised by the reactions from your own clients.

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