How to Run Successful Corporate Hackathons with Ideation Software

By Jeremy Brown | Employee Engagement
September 1, 2017

“Every human being has a great idea.”

This quote by Lale Kesebi, Chief Communications Officer and Head of Strategic Engagement at Li & Fung, perfectly sums up an opportunity that’s right in front of every company’s face.

Whether your organization has 100 or 100,000 employees, each individual has ideas for new products or improvements, drawn from their day-to-day experiences and knowledge.

Forward-looking companies such as Citi, Siemens, UnitedHealth Group, and others see the collective intelligence of all their employees as a significant competitive advantage. An advantage they can’t afford to ignore during a time when disruption is coming from every angle.

One of the ways these companies are turning the intelligence of their workforce into valuable outcomes is through hackathons.

What is a hackathon?

If you’re not familiar with hackathons, they’re events that can range from a couple of hours to multiple days where people – traditionally designers and programmers – collaborate to create prototypes of new products, services, or apps.

While hackathons are synonymous with the tech industry, we’re starting to see more companies outside of technology – financial services for example – take the hackathon framework and adapt it to fit their goals and culture.

In other words, companies are using hackathons to bring the expertise and skills of their employees together and create an environment where great ideas can be identified.

This is why a hackathon can be a phenomenal way for you to take advantage of the energy and creativity of your employees, and leverage it to surface new ideas for products, services, experiences, even ways to tackle specific business challenges such as high customer churn.

Here’s an example. A Spigit customer, who is one of the largest mutual fund companies in the U.S., leverages hackathons to focus the energy of its employees on specific target problems.

In a recent hackathon, the company was looking for new ways to improve customer experience ultimately to help customers make better investment decision. The winning idea that was selected came from an employee who thought of a creative way for customers to research and see how the company’s mutual funds fit into their portfolio before buying.

When coupled with idea software, like Spigit, a hackathon can give every employee a voice no matter where they are in the world. This means valuable ideas won’t fall through the cracks simply because a person is located in a remote office, or has a low-level role in the company.

Best practices for corporate hackathons using ideation software

Now that you have context around what hackathons are and why they’re useful, let’s talk about best practices you can use to get the most out of them while using ideation software.

  1. Define the why. Why are you running a hackathon? Why should employees be excited and care? If hackathons aren’t a regular initiative in your company, you absolutely have to define the purpose behind it in order to maximize participation.
  2. Focus on solving one problem. While the combination of a hackathon and ideation software can be used to help solve any business challenge or objective, it’s important to hone in on just one problem you want your team to focus on. This will ensure everyone is marching to the same drum beat.
  3. Enable the Voice of the Employee through voting. If you use ideation software such as Spigit, employees have the ability to vote on the ideas they believe are worthwhile.
  4. Voting can be used in multiple ways for a hackathon. For example: You can use the voting capability to give employees the power to select the best ideas to be pitched to a panel of executives or experts. This creates a lot of excitement and anticipation.
  5. Build teams that have diverse skills, knowledge, and experiences. Through internal research at Spigit, we’ve found that teams that are made up of people that bring different skills, knowledge, and experiences to the table generate higher quality ideas.
  6. Establish criteria for winning ideas. Transparency into how ideas are selected and advanced is critical to the overall experience of the hackathon.
  7. Have clear timelines. While it varies for every company, some might have long hackathons while others short, having concrete timelines ensures everyone knows what to expect, when.

Final thoughts

If organized the right way, hackathons can be a valuable initiative for your company. One that you can turn to as frequently as you’d like to.

Follow the best practices outlined in this article and you’ll be well on your way to having corporate hackathons that uncover new opportunities, facilitate the creation of an innovative culture, and a lot more.

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