How we reinvented our Hackathon

The world moves fast. So does the industry and our daily work, always being on a mission to better what we do and why we do it. We’re constantly acquiring new skills and techniques to optimize our work, and with our Hackathon approaching, we found it necessary to also take a moment to reflect on whether our format still served our purpose.

Just a week before the start of the Hackathon, the organizing team was facing a troubling matter, as only a handful of participants had signed up. We therefore asked ourselves: Is it still valuable for us to host Hackathons? Before we could answer this urgent question, we needed to clarify the reasons behind the lacking enthusiasm around the event. By looking deeper into our format, we found a way to adapt and reinvent the Hackathon:

  1. Deciding on a broader theme

The first crucial question we had to evaluate was the why of our Hackathon: what is the reason behind it? And what motivates people to join one of the Hackathon themes? Our main assumption behind the decision for having a Hackathon theme was that teams needed a focus – a guideline that helped them decide on what to develop in such a short time. However, we found that this assumption proved to be limiting, rather than allowing people to set their imagination free. We learned that by having a strict theme at the beginning of the Hackathon didn’t serve the purpose we’re aiming for, which is to unleash creativity and acquire new skills. Therefore, we decided to allow the teams to have more freedom to choose an area of subject they would feel passionate about.

Once we opened the doors to choosing whatever subject was preferred, we noticed an increase in the projects proposed for the Hackathon session. We could thus finally kick-off the detailed organization of the event.

  1. The prize – a more sustainable trophy choice

Giving a prize trophy to the winning team has always been a tradition for our Hackathons. However, over the years we had come to notice that the trophies from previous years were often lying around in the office, almost forgotten in the clutter of the everyday workflow. We couldn’t help thinking that these objects of pride and joy had suddenly become obsolete in time, as teams are constantly changing. At the same time, we wanted to shift our focus to become more sustainable with less material waste and more care for the environment. Instead of giving out new trophies every year, we therefore decided to introduce the Wandering Trophy: a trophy shared by the organization, shifting from winning team to a new winning team. It would then also come to represent the pride of the Hackathon winners throughout more generations of Ladenzeile. And just as importantly, it would mean less plastic for the environment and for our oceans.

  1. A culture of collaboration

It’s not easy to get a Hackathon right, but thanks to previous organizers we had the foundation and logistics for a functioning system, where food, tools and other necessities would work out seamlessly. However, we wanted to see how we could still optimize the current framework to become more self-organized by better distributing collaborative responsibilities. By introducing rough plans and guidelines for use of the event space, we found that the efficiency and joy around the collaborative area increased significantly. Furthermore, we needed only minimum support from our Office IT team as the participating teams already knew how to acquire what they needed.

  1. Enjoying the ride with an eye on the prize

This time we tried a less formal presentation style. We gave up the microphone and a bit of our Powerpoint presentations in favor of migrating from team station to team station and participating in live demos. We wanted hands-on proof of their concepts. We gave up chairs in favor of a roadshow-style presentation round, in order to keep everyone engaged in the conversation. We kept the jury close, so that they could have an overview of all the promising ideas and promote them, but we also focused on the power of the crowd, to better understand the needs of the organization. The round of votes that followed was meant to give Ladenzeilers the chance to speak out about their views of innovation and creativity. Next time we will most probably do the voting session digitally with an online tool to avoid overhead for the jury.

  1. The new Hackathon vibe

After 3 days of our reinvented Hackathon, we could only express everything we had hoped for prior to the event: more focus, less meetings, more ad hoc talks, more open collaboration and more cross-departmental workflows. This is exactly what a Hackathon should be for us, and we want to incorporate this atmosphere and learnings to our daily work environment.

Was it all worth it?

We definitely had a close insight into what daily work life at Ladenzeile could look like, when highly ambitious teams and people are encouraged to ideate freely in diverse team setups. We’ve seen prototypes that have potential to develop into new company products, and we had new and brave perspectives of where business value is not yet tapped. The Wander Trophy went to one team only, even though we consider all 6 teams winners, as they’ve learned precious lessons and inspired to look beyond tomorrow and into the future of Ladenzeile.

So, is it still valuable to host Hackathons? We at Ladenzeile firmly believe that it’s indeed worth benefitting from unleashed creativity, collaboration and innovation – even if it means adjusting the format to shape a new Hackathon experience.

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