Published at June 24, 2019 · 5 min read · by MyHammer
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” (Steve Jobs)
At MyHammer, we value transparent communication, and this should be from both sides from the bottom up and bottom down. We use different tools to get feedback from our engineers. Some examples, among others, are one on ones, surveys, and retrospectives. In one of our last feedback loops, many engineers expressed a wish: “Being able to work on something that is not part of our daily work.”
After looking more closely into the reasons why our engineers expressed that wish, we figured out that they would enjoy having a platform where they can be creative, and use tools and technologies that are not common to our current stack this was the trigger to launch the first Hackathon at MyHammer.
We are a very data-driven company, and we use many feedback tools such as A/B Tests to build our product and what works very well for our product also works very well for us, so how do we approach a process change or the introduction of a new idea such as a Hackathon, we run an experiment.
Many companies nowadays run Hackathons, some significant innovations were born during such an event, for example, the Facebook Like button. Our initial goal was to answer the requests from our engineers who came with the following requirements to us:
- have a dedicated time to work on something that is not part of the product backlog
- having the free choice regarding the stack and tools
Additionally to these requests, we have defined some additional rules to have clear guidance for the event.
- the Hackathon lasts 2 days, and we give the option to stay overnight.
- everyone from the IT and Product department can participate.
- the scope or theme of the Hackathon is defined.
- at least 2 persons per team.
- the team can pick the tools and technologies they want.
- the team can choose the methodology to organize the work.
- each team should build a functional prototype or MVP.
- the team building happens before the Hackathon.
- the team needs to present their idea and show a demo at the end of the 2 days.
During our first Hackathon
We had many different ideas proposed for the Hackathon and in the end, 5 teams were built, each team with their idea. We made sure to have the team building and idea selection done before the actual event to be as effective as possible.
Our Hackathon ran from Thursday morning to Friday evening, the teams decided how long they want to work, and we organized lunch on both days with Pizza, soft drinks and beer for all participants.
The teams gathered either in separate meeting rooms or rearranged the team room to some creative space.
On the last day, we had our presentation session in the evening, every team did a pitch of approximately 10 to 15min max of their idea, what benefit it brings to the customer, what challenges they had, what technologies they used and how ready it is. Then the team did show a demo of their prototype.
We invited a jury, including different department heads from sales, product, business development, and our CEO, the jury was responsible for voting for the best idea among all the presented concepts.
Our teams build the following cool features:
- A Tinder like “wisch” (the German word for wipe) feature to go through job requests
- Implementation of a Remote Support Center for our customer service team
- A chatbox prototype for customer support
- Notification Center “LiveHammer” to instantly deliver messages to the frontend based on web sockets
- JobSearch Result info: Prototype to provide additional information in our search results
And the winner is…
… The Tinder like “wisch” feature was selected for being the best idea and most creative one. However, the jury was very positively impressed by the other features that were built in such a short time.
After every experiment, we make a retrospective to discuss what went right, what was not so good, and what we should change if we decide to run another Hackathon in the future.
Overall we had very positive feedback from all sides, and engineers were pleased about the chance that they were given to be entirely creative and work with any technology they want. So we definitely can say that we achieved our initial goal and we plan to run another Hackathon in the future.
Our learnings were:
- be less focused on the maturity of the deliverables, prototypes are fine
- teams need to plan the dependencies better and think about what resources they need
During our regular All Hands meeting that we hold for the whole company, the Hackathon teams presented their ideas to share the positive experience and cool features they built but also to introduce the concept of Hackathon to everyone.
One of the features even made it to the product backlog. The team is currently working on the integration of the LiveHammer notification center to enable real-time notifications on the platform.
We are all looking forward to having our next Hackathon. We decided to run such an event twice a year and adapt it from time to time, so stay tuned for more posts.