November 27, 2020
It's very easy to fall into the general flow of work in development. Pick up the next ticket, work through the sprint and always chasing those sprint goals and reminiscing over that not so perfect burndown chart. This is great for a company and a developer as a regular working day but this can easily spiral down the path of burn out (not the chart) and lead to a slowed rate of development over time.
Enter the hackathon. This concept revolves around achieving a goal on an idea or project over a specified period of time. This could be a feature that doesn't have a place in a sprint, maybe its an idea that doesnt have enough backbone to be given the green light. Throw the concept or idea into a hackathon. Create a time limit, attach some success criteria, order some pizza (very important) and let the brain juices flow!
From my experience within Intergral, the hackathon serves a dual purpose. Firstly it lets us quickly put together a concept or idea into a working example, and lets us do it in a way where the time limit forces the team to build in the right way, creating an MVP first with the structure in place for the future. Secondly it gives the team a new sense of purpose or revitalises the spirit. How do you ask? Firstly a change in environment, being pushed into that office room, door shut and only opened when the ideas have come to life. Order in the pizza, get those drinks flowing and watch as suddenly the team starts to bounce off each other and gain that burst of motivation when the clock is ticking.
I believe strongly these kind of events should become a structural part of an organisation. Schedule them into the sprints, perhaps once a month or maybe just responding to an idea from a fellow developer. Suddenly there are new features and concepts now being brought to life, but don't have the technical debt or time investment that regular sprint work provide.
I think it's important to realise that a hackathon should have a review. A small session perhaps with the higher management or team leaders where you as a team get to go over the work you have achieved in the session. Show it off, be proud and explain the vision you had to start with. Now the key part to this; be able to take the criticism or thumbs down on these results. That's the beauty of it. The team worked hard to make something from nothing, but that doesn't mean it simple MUST become a feature in the product. Explaining that they poured sweat and tears into this wonderful idea that has no place in your product will not keep the motivation there. Its a concept, it's fast, dirty and sometimes just needs to be placed in that dusty corner of the room for a later date.
To conclude, I think anyone reading this, who isn't running these with development teams, give it a shot, give the team some incentives (pizza), get the team hyped up, and let them roll the sleeves up and you will be amazed what can be produced in this event in such a short period of time. It gives everyone a win win situation and can lead to some incredible results.