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A continuous 'hackathon' to drive innovation

2-minute read

Simply Business

Simply Business

10 July 2014

After being inspired by the creative ideas suggested as a result of our two-day internal Hackathons, we wanted to find a way to keep the momentum and innovation running continuously instead of in spurts. The result? A bit of an unusual concept that we've termed a "Continuous Hackathon", which allows for company-sponsored time throughout the year to get hacking on an idea of your choice.

The Pitch

Anyone in the company is encouraged to pitch an idea for Continuous Hackathon at one of our company-wide weekly meetings. Proposals range from refactoring older portions of our codebase to implementing completely new features to optimisations that you've long suspected would improve life, but haven't had the time to fully explore. Pitches can be as formal or as informal as you like, but are timeboxed to five minutes. Some have come with slideshow featuring a fully implemented hypothesis and measures, while others have been more impromptu speeches.

A mini Q&A session follows -- expect a plethora of questions designed to spur on more ideas and ensure you've fully thought through the implications and necessary resources required. You'll probably be expected to delineate a scope for your project - in a best-case scenario, how far do you expect to get within two weeks? What's the minimum product we can anticipate seeing at the end of your hackathon?

Immediately after the pitch and Q&A session, the whole company votes on whether the idea should be implemented. If you've successfully convinced the audience of the value of your idea, it's given a green light. You're then given two weeks off from what you're currently working on to become a fulltime hacker!

The Hack

During the two weeks allocated for the hack, you're in charge of managing time and any necessary planning. You're responsible for being in contact with any other parts of the business you might need input from to bring the idea to fruition. Making sure the site doesn't break is a given, but do feel free to run A/B tests on live code in order to get valuable data from real users.

Use your best judgement about asking for feedback internally before putting anything live, but take the opportunity to innovate and experiment. Don't worry about making your code fully production-ready (a hack is a hack!) -- the aim of this is to attempt something novel and determine whether it might be worth investing more time and resource into.

The Results

Two weeks later, the results of your Continuous Hackathon pitch are presented to the whole company along with any lessons you've learned during the process. A decision can be made on whether to continue work the hack, which might result in additional time being spent individually on it (possibly extending by an extra two weeks). Alternatively, the proposal might be deemed valuable enough to be fully prioritised and picked up as a new story by one of the teams.

Regardless of the tangible outcome of the hack, the goal is to push the boundaries of what would typically get worked on daily and possibly make drastic changes to the company's focus based on lessons from hacks. Continuous Hackathon provides a permanent, creative, supportive space to incubate experimental ideas.

Keep an eye on this space for some of the results of our Continuous Hackathon projects!

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