Project & Product Management, Rightmove

How to Organise a Hackathon

Interested in running a hackathon at your company? Then this should help you get started.

At Rightmove we run hackathons once a year and they are 3-day events. I’ve helped organise the last three hackathons and this post will detail the template I’ve created over those years that provides me a list of what needs to be done in the run up to and during the event.

You will find there are a lot of optional items, and whether you use these is up to you, it will also be dependent on your company’s budget for the event.

So, let’s get started:

Find a date!

  • It might sound obvious but it’s sometimes the hardest.
  • You need the date to be at least 12 weeks out from the current date to give you enough time to complete everything below, and it also needs to work for the company and its stakeholders. Make sure there aren’t any major releases around the same time!

Set up the hackathon organisation team

  • Yes, you can do it entirely by yourself but I assure you it’s easier with some help :)
  • Each year we’ve had around 3 to 5 people on the organisation team to help share some of the tasks.
  • Once your team is confirmed, meet up and use this post as a checklist of items that need completing and discuss how you are going to split them between you.
  • If this happens to be your second hackathon, use this time to also review any feedback received from the last event and decide what improvements can be made.

Send your first comms

  • You have a date and a team sorted, if possible I’d suggest setting up a mailbox such as hackathon@yourcompany.. and getting each of the team access to send all event comms from it.
  • Your first comms should be to everyone in the company and it should highlight the following:
    • The date of the event (I’d suggest sending it as a meeting invite – but make sure you mark the time as ‘free’ so you don’t block out everyone’s availability in their calendars!
    • What a hackathon is (we keep this info on our internal wiki and link to it from the email invite)
    • Ask them to keep an eye out for your next email to find out more
  • You may also need to inform cleaning staff/reception/building security etc that the office will need to be open late on those days.
  • If you’d like to do a hackathon T-shirt for the event use this moment to also send an email out to any designers in your company asking if they would like to design the logo. T-shirt printing can be a lengthy process so do this as early as possible. Set them a deadline to send over the artwork no later than 6 weeks before the event.

Create an Ideas Board

  • Aim to have this done about 10 weeks before the event.
  • You can do this digitally, or simply with some cards on the wall. Either way, you need to find a space that everyone can access and share the ideas they would like to work on in the hackathon.
  • You’re going to have 2 sets of people: ones with an idea they want to work on (they will lead the team), and ones that want to work on someone else’s idea.
  • Send an email out highlighting the following:
    • Where the ideas board can be found and if required, how to access it
    • Explain to people that if they have an idea they’d like to work on for the hackathon, they should add it to the ideas board by writing a short 1 liner about their idea and their name.
    • You should encourage the people that want to work on someone else’s idea to keep checking the board and getting them to speak to the idea owners of the ones they like to find out more information.
    • Tell them when the all-important pitching date is (see below).

Arrange the date for the Pitching Event

  • Aim to arrange the pitching session about 6 weeks before the event.
  • Make sure you have a big enough space big for the amount of people you expect to show up.
  • Send a calendar invite out to everyone, highlight the following:
    • All idea owners should turn up and pitch their idea to everyone (if they are away, they need to arrange someone else to do this for them). Essentially, they are going to be selling their idea with the aim of attracting others to join them and form a team.
    • All people that want to join a team and take part in the hackathon should turn up to decide and ‘lock in’ which team they are going to be on (if they are away get them to pick their team before hand and confirm it with the idea owner)

Running the Pitching Event

  • Create a quick printable form that has the following:
    • Name of idea owner (aka Team Lead)
    • Idea Title
    • Team Members
  • Print out slightly more forms that the amount of ideas up on the ideas board (you always have last minute additions/drop outs) and take these along with a bunch of pens to the pitching event.
  • Kick the event off by explaining pitches should be about 1 minute and contain brief overview of the idea, roughly how many people they would like to join them and any particular skill set they may need (e.g. if a mobile app they may want someone who already knows or wants to try iOS/Android)
  • We set a limit of no more than 4 developers on a team, but no limit on any other role type. (Having more than 4 developers working on the same code base in a tight 3-day event doesn’t often work well).
  • At the end each idea owner should be given a form and asked to stand around the edges of the room, at which point you ask everyone else to go and approach the idea owner they would like to join. The idea owner should fill out their form and hand it back to you before they leave.
  • Afterwards write up a list of all the teams, their idea title and who is in the team and share with the company.

Create a sign-up form

  • You can use any web form, there are many free options available if you google for them
  • It should contain the following questions:
    • Name
    • What T-shirt size would you like? (if doing T-shirts)
    • What would you like for the hackathon breakfast? (if doing a breakfast)
    • Do you have any dietary requirements? (if doing goodie bags/breakfast)
    • Anything else we should know?
  • Send out to the people who are leading/have joined teams. Make sure all of them complete the form!
  • If you want to get a head start you can do this before pitching, but you will need to reconcile and remove any sign ups that then didn’t go on to run or join any team.

Order Goodies

  • This will heavily depend on what kind of budget you have allocated for the event.
  • Here’s a list of the kinds of things we purchase for our hackathons:
    • Goodie Bags – There’s loads of party bags/paper bags on amazon.
    • What’s in the bags?
      • Lots of snacks/energy boosters – Crisps, breakfast bars, chocolate, sweets, drinks
      • T-shirt for each participant (https://www.workwearexpress.com/). If you have time I strongly suggest ordering a test print on some different t-shirt types before buying the full order.
      • Specific snacks suitable for any dietary requirements raised – Vegans/Vegetarians/Gluten Free/Wheat Free/Dairy Free/Lactose Free etc.
    • Breakfast for the event kick off day (http://capitalcaterers.co.uk)
    • A trophy for the winning team (We’ve used https://www.trophystore.co.uk/ and https://www.trophies2u.co.uk)
    • Engraved ‘Hackathon Winner’ tankards for each member of the winning team (http://amzn.eu/d/5jTo5pb) and Amazon vouchers.

Arrange technical review sessions

  • These should take place roughly 3 weeks before the event.
  • Each team should have a quick 10-minute review session with someone who has strong overarching technical knowledge at your company. At Rightmove we have Application Architects who have cross team knowledge of all our services.
  • The aim of the meeting is to discuss the idea in more detail, and for the Architects to provide them any guidance on repos they could fork/services already created they could utilise to help achieve their idea in the short time available. If there is any pre-event set up needed like permissions/repos and such, then these can also be confirmed and actioned off the back of this meeting before the event.

Prepare goodie bags

  • A couple of days before the event you’ll need to gather all the items you purchased and pack them into the bags. To make this easier I suggest that for each participant you print out a slip and staple it to the bag that has their:
    • Name
    • Breakfast order and dietary requirements (if relevant)
    • T-shirt size (if relevant)
    • Team name or number

Anything else pre-event?

  • Try to find someone who would like to photograph during the event, and someone to video the final presentations. That way anyone that can’t make it can still view them when they return.
  • Send out the kick off/practice presentations and final presentation meeting invites (see below).

The Event

We run our events Wednesday to Friday. Teams work on their ideas on the first two days with the option of using the evenings if they wish. The final day is used for last minute tweaks and practice presentations in the morning, followed by final presentations in the afternoon to the full company.

Hackathon Kick off and Breakfast

  • We put a short kick off meeting invite in for the participants for the first morning. This allows them to come and collect the breakfast they ordered, their goodie bag, and for us to provide some event information such as:
    • What time the office will be open until
    • If there is budget provided for dinner in the evenings – how much this is
    • Letting them know how important the practice presentations are (see below)

Practice Presentations

  • On the final day we allow each team a practice presentation slot in the area they will be held in the afternoon. This allows each team to make sure they run to the allocated time they have been set (we time them to make sure) and to check all equipment is working correctly.

Final Presentations

  • In the afternoon of the final day we have final presentations in front of the full company. Depending on how large your hackathon event is will depend on how tightly you need to run this. We have had over 15 teams for the past few years so have had to be strict in the time they are allowed.
  • Due to the presentations taking a couple of hours overall, we provide a break in the middle with some refreshments and snacks.
  • You’ll need to prepare some way for everyone to vote at the end of the presentations. Due to our event now being quite large we offer two categories for people to vote on – ‘Best Idea’ and ‘Best Presentation’. We do this with paper voting slips, quickly count the votes at the end and then announce the winners straight away.

Gather Feedback

  • A few days after the event we send out a feedback form to all the participants asking for their opinions on how the event went and what they would improve.
  • This can then be used to make the next one even better!

If you’re planning your first hackathon I hope this helped provide some guidance or inspire you with some ideas for your own event. If you already run your own hackathons and perhaps do something I haven’t mentioned above, please share with us in the comments below as we’d love to hear about it.

 

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