Just a few weeks after my first hackathon at Coveo, I was sent a blog post called “7 reasons you should go to a Hackathon.”  This was another post in a long line of blogs and websites singing the praises of hackathons inside and outside the workplace. Based on my experience, I personally can’t stress enough how important they are to bringing innovation to the workplace. By taking time off of daily projects to focus on developing something you are passionate about, but never had the time to prioritize or get to, truly improves your daily work.

Who doesn’t want to create something that is useful? It’s a great feeling of satisfaction knowing that your work has improved someone else’s day to day. But why limit the scope of who can attend events like this? With inclusiveness in mind, why isn’t everyone, not only developers, participating? A hackathon is known as “an event, typically lasting several days, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming.” But there is a growing trend of more and more companies hosting non-technical hackathons or encouraging non-technical folks to participate. It might not be “natural” for non-tech people to engage in a hackathon but I personally believe we should embrace this trend with open arms.

Time to get on board my non-tech friends!

For the limited few non-technical folks who understand the concept and its benefits, most tend to see hackathons as “too technical.” It’s such a shame when you think about  the hundreds of ideas just waiting to be materialized. To illustrate that hackathons can bring great results for non-technical colleagues, my dear HR team and I tried our first hackathon. Here’s a small glimpse into our journey, and a handy guide for you:

1.   Think of Your Concept Ahead of Time

Look at your current workload, there is most certainly a project waiting at the bottom of your to-do list that you’ve been itching to work on. What could positively change the life of your peers? What kind of problem don’t you have fixes for? What would make you more efficient in your job? It’s clear that you need to know your goals first.

In HR, we often receive the same question multiple times and with our new “business partner” structure, because of this we are learning to collaborate and exchange information in a more efficient way. We had an “HR Bulletin” project pending for two years, it consisted of an email newsletter that nobody had the time to work on, not to mention spend time gathering all the details required for the newsletter on top of our regular workload. Two years (!!!) had gone by, our needs had changed, but it always stayed low on our list of priorities. That plus the fact that “it could be so nice to easily share information and news without bothering the whole company with yet another email.”

2.   Find Your Team

You’re only as strong as the team you work in, so it’s advised to wrangle some friends to help you along the way; keep note that varied expertise will help materialize this wonderful idea you have! Don’t be shy to evangelize your idea with others, you never know where inspiration can strike.  With this big project in mind, we needed a stellar team, so a few weeks in advance I called for help and my fellow HR colleagues came to the rescue!

3.   Structure Your Project and Time

Now that you have your team ready and it’s hackathon time, start with a big brainstorming session and give each member tasks based on their work schedule. It can be hard to stop everything your team does on the regular for 24-48 hours, so adapt the timetable with your team so that everyone will still be able to participate without being overloaded with work afterwards. And don’t forget to make the most of everyone’s strengths.

We wanted to build a global HR online platform for all employees that would be sharing on-demand and useful resources, as well as answers to frequently asked questions. Something easier to navigate with a better UX than our current Sharepoint site, with automated content (calendar & statistics) that could be searchable through Coveo@Coveo (our internal search engine.). In our particular project, we needed different kinds of expertise, people in charge of the platform design and usability, the diverse content (news, benefits, training, etc.) & the translation required to make the experience seamless regardless of your mother tongue.

4.   Present Your New Prototype

After a few days of work, be ready to present a prototype to your peers. Either show them a working demo, visual or even a slide deck of your brand new idea! Encourage your colleagues to participate so the entire team will be proud of the idea that is coming to life.

5.   Follow-up

Hackathons operate on tight time limits, so it may be hard to finish your project in only a few days. But it’s important to NOT let this project fall at the bottom of your to-do list again. Bring your team together and plan your follow-up action items to complete the project in the next few weeks (or maybe next hackathon?). Set a realistic timeframe think for an official launch. Once you have something to show for, like a prototype or a mock-up, it will be easier and faster to finish your project for good!

Before we send you off to host your very own hackathon, it’s important to remember what they are all about. This summarizes it quite nicely:

  • Impact: Create or find a solution that you think will be beneficial to you or others.
  • Experimentation: Try, and if you fail, try again!
  • Recognition: Show others what you can do & discover what other people are capable of.
  • Open mind: Open your mind to others’ ideas and reality.
  • Trust: Collaborate and trust your peers to make it happen.
  • Ambition: Push the boundaries… This is time for a breakthrough concept!
  • Disruption: Don’t be shy to step out of your comfort zone.
  • Connection: Feel free to share your skills & participate in others’ projects.
  • Creative thinking: There are multiple ways to look at things.

Do you have pressing questions about hackathons and their importance? Don’t hesitate to reach out to me on Twitter to give your take – I’d love to hear your thoughts! Finally, if you are looking to change your career up, Coveo is always hiring. Take a peek at our open positions, and if you have any questions about them, reach out on Twitter!