Recently, we held our Automation Hackathon, where all Outware employees were given the opportunity to work on projects of their own choosing, with the theme of automating a solution to a problem. Using the skills and tools available in the team, we saw really creative and inspiring prototypes being produced over the course of just one working day. While this event was a great success, innovation doesn’t end when the hackathon is over.
The mistake that many companies make is thinking that innovation can be time-boxed to one-time events like the hackathon and hoping for immediate, tangible business benefits to simply happen. The truth is, hackathons are only one small part of an overall innovation strategy. So how do you get the most out of your hackathon? You need to think about the following questions:
What types of innovation are important to your company?
Innovation, at its broadest definition, is about change that adds value to your organisation. Depending on your company’s core business, different types of innovation will add different types of value:
- Product Innovation – Do you need to improve on existing products and services in order to stay ahead of the competition and keep your customers happy?
- Process Innovation – Do you need to increase efficiencies and reduce costs in your processes?
- Disruptive Innovation – Do you want to disrupt the market with new products or categories that will change the way people do things?
There are many other types of innovation. Most importantly, think about how your business can benefit from change and how this change will be valuable over time. Once you know this, you can focus the theme of your hackathon around these types of innovation activities.
What is your innovation strategy and how does the hackathon fit into this?
Hackathons should always form part of your broader innovation strategy. You need to ensure you have a formal innovation process in place that your team understands so that ideas can be directed through the appropriate channels in your organisation. Danny recently wrote an article for BRW about how to encourage innovation in your organisation. It describes three important themes:
- People – The right attitude and a feeling of empowerment can be very motivational in driving positive change
- Process – Keep your innovation activities effective and efficient, and communicate clearly
- Continuous learning – Nobody remains an expert forever. Develop your team’s skillset and keep feeding their curiosity
If you get the balance right, your team will naturally be motivated and enthusiastic when the hackathon comes around. More importantly, you need to ensure you are clear about the purpose of the hackathon. Is it a breeding ground for new ideas? Is it a time to implement ideas that have been brewing in the team? Is it an opportunity for team members to upskill or work on something different? Plan the hackathon activities around this to get the most value out of the time you have set aside for the event.
What happens after the hackathon?
The most important part of the hackathon is actually the follow through afterwards. Make sure you’ve established what your objectives were before the event, in order to measure your success afterwards. Some questions to ask are:
- How did your team feel about the event? Get their feedback!
- Which projects will you pursue further and why? How will you fund these?
- Did you achieve your goals? What can you improve for next time?
This is also a good time to review your innovation strategy. Reflect on how the hackathon contributed towards your broader innovation goals to make sure that it’s adding value in the right ways.
Hackathons are a great way to develop creative solutions to problems, test new technologies, or prove a concept in a short amount of time. But how they are run is different for every company. Ensure you have clear objectives in mind, plan your event and follow through, to ensure the success of the event.
Outware Mobile publishes a weekly podcast, the OMPodcast, where we share our knowledge and talk to industry experts all about the mobile industry. A couple of episodes that might be of interest are:
- Episode 19: Peter Dalton (Group General Manager of Innovation at ANZ) talks to us about the Art vs Science of Innovation in an 175 year old organisation like the bank.
- Episode 13: Hugh Bradlow (Chief Scientist, formerly CTO at Telstra) describes Telstra’s innovation processes in 5G in 2020.