Hackathons: an agile method on steroids - When both developers and customers get “HIGH” - in terms of business performance

Published on 07/12/2023
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Agile is one of today’s buzzwords. Yet there’s more to discover about it. Don’t believe it? Then read this experience-based article – you might be surprised.

First of all, let’s define a hackathon. It is an intensive event, usually lasting 24 to 48 hours, bringing together experts from a variety of fields. These professionals form teams with diverse skills, and collaborate to develop solutions to specific problems. This stimulating competition can be organized in-house, open to other participants or mixed. In short, if you like challenges, you’ll love it!

Compared to a conventional agile method spread over weeks or months due to the traditional multiple iterations, a Hackathon can be applied in a single day, with very fast rounds. This means embracing a mindset of experimentation and accepting failure as a natural part of innovation.

But what value do we actually extract from this “HackGile” approach?

To grasp the benefits, it’s important to consider a hackathon as an experience catalyst for all its participants (i.e. developers and non-developers alike). Indeed, what I’ve observed and experienced at two recent hackathons is that it’s undoubtedly a way of accelerating your mastery of Agile knowledge. It’s a kind of “crash test”, where you learn more than ever on Agile’s main principles. Once you’re involved, even if you’re not familiar with agile and hackathon, you’re naturally caught up in a spiral of agile learning and discovery, where positive synergies are gradually created between the different members. On the other hand, customers benefit from getting numerous proposals in little time and at a lower cost. It’s not resource-intensive at all.

Nevertheless, agile within hackathon has its downsides. The main challenge is managing temporal ambiguity. You have to find a new way of working, adapted to a Hackathon, without attempting to revert to classic patterns borrowed from past projects. Furthermore, for the event to be effective, you must at least be able to establish a roadmap with key milestones in the project’s progress, and set up time for feedback-loop. It’s thus not a “free-form” activity that can be improvised. The workforce involved also has to stop all its current activities to concentrate on the challenge, and is likely to work overtime. You also need to be ready to work, whether your idea is a winning one or not… – Play by the rules.

I’ll leave you with a word of advice about “HackGile”: to deal with the paradox of this approach, think out of the box and gather a cross functional and flexible team. Soft skills make all the difference.

Alexandre Fourman

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