We had the pleaure of organising and participating in a hackathon weekend, aimed at improving the UX of Teamleader, a popular SAAS application for CRM, invoicing and project planning.

Here's how we approached it, and what I learned.

1. Define your goals clearly.

You need to have clear deliverables to work towards during the weekend.
Make them as specific as possible, and have a workable scope. Narrow it down.

For example:

  • align team on next big UX leap
  • build a responsive prototype as base for next version

a) It makes sure you get stuff done
b) Guards that you don't get sidetracked too easily
c) And improves motivation, by knowing what you're aiming for

2. Have a schedule

It's very easy to get sidetracked in a hackathon. A schedule keeps you moving in the right direction, makeing deliverables clearly visible and rewarding.

However, it's a hackathon, the schedule doesn't have to be respected. Allow plenty of room for serendipity and spontaneous outbursts of genius.

3. Set the mood

(Especially if it's a weekend), start by having a few beers and some food. Not too much, you don't want everyone exhausted before you even get started.

Open with a high-level talk about the problem you're trying to solve. Get those synapses firing and hearts pumping. It's like preparing for a run.

Use compelling visuals, inspiring quotes and great examples. Keep it short, quick and narrow it down.

End by clearly stating the goals of the hackathon.

4. Provide the essentials

Have everything the team needs to get cracking.

Food, drinks, proper work space, power, tools.
Everything they need to not be distracted, but be comfortable and productive.

Extras are highly encouraged.

5. Make it an open conversation

All opinions are welcome, from every perspective.
Make sure everyone gets to say their say, and defend proposals, ideas and choices.

6. Have different profiles, especially customer-facing

Remember, you're probably building tools for users, not for developers or designers.
customer-facing people, like sales or customer satisfaction, have a much better idea of what the frustrations and problems are, or thoughts on feature requests coming from the users.

Always be validating. You're not trying to impress fellow coders, impress your customers instead.

7. Have decision makers to conclude discussions and keep moving forward

Des goûts et des couleurs, on ne discute pas, you can disagree and discuss until the cows come home. Decisions have to be made, people have to be made responsible to make those decisions.

Shout out to Vedett for providing this hackathon with liquid productive juice!

If we can help you with your SAAS, startup or cloud-oriented business, we'd love to hear from you.