In yesterday’s Promotional Consultant Today, we discussed the value that a hackday can bring to an organization. At its core a hackday, according to hackday planner Melinda Secklington, is where “a bunch of people come together for a limited amount of time to come up with something awesome.”

In an organizational context, the usually means putting together teams of employees who are completely removed from their jobs for a defined period of time, typically eight to 24 hours, to come up with new and better products, features, marketing tools and ways to serve the customer or other ways to improve the business. The most important part of the hackday is that the teams must have a real deliverable to show at the end of the day.

Creating a successful hackday that does more than just take teams off the job for a day requires thought and planning. In a post on the FutureLearn blog, Secklington gave these tips for getting the most out of your hackday:

  • Know your goal. Although your organization may have different goals, for FutureLearn the hackday goals were to give the teams space to be creative and explore innovative ways to improve the organization. A second goal was to show each other the talent that was throughout the organization.
  • Include everyone. The more diverse the backgrounds of the teams, the more interesting ideas and innovations you can get, so include as many people from the organization as you reasonably can.
  • Create the hack space: The hackday can be held at an external or internal location, but Future Learn kept it internal so all could see and feel the buzz, and because they didn’t have to deal with potential headaches like wi-fi access. The risk of holding it at an internal site was that they didn’t want it to feel too comfortable so the team members would sit where they normally sit and interact with who they normally interact with.
  • Define the hackday: How long should the hack last, during work hours or after, on which days should it be held, and should there be judging and prizes? These were all items that had to be decided and defined.
  • Give time to prepare: Since the team has a limited amount of time, send out the details on the hackday a few weeks in advance to allow some pre-work to begin. Future Learn allowed teams to form on their own. Other organizations ensure broader diversity on a team by assigning teams or at least putting guidelines on the skills each team should have.
  • Know what will happen with the hacks: Be clear with the hack teams on what the plans are for the hacks that are developed. If there is an opportunity for some of them to become real products, let them know.
  • Learn for the next time: Every organization is different, so expect that you will learn as you go along and be able to put that learning to use next time.

Most of all, the consensus of those who put on hackdays is that the event needs to be fun. The camaraderie, collaboration and engagement team members gain at the event pay much greater dividends than the competition and the prizes.

For more inspiration and innovation, read PCT tomorrow.

Source: Melinda Secklington is a developer, blogger and event organizer. She currently is the developer at FutureLearn, a social learning platform offering free courses from top universities. For the past six years, she’s been highly involved in the London tech community, attending and organizing BarCamps, hackdays and other tech meetups.