Agile Organization: Hackathons at //SEIBERT/MEDIA

After explaining how //SEIBERT/MEDIA has become an agile organization, we want to cover a special event within this context: Hackathons. Read on to see what Hackathons are all about, why we organize them, and what results we’ve seen.

Deliver a working result quickly under pressure

The encouragement to try this concept in our agile organization came directly from some of our developers. There was a feeling after a few of our Open Spaces: We want to do something, and not only have completed boards and intranet documentation as a result. We would rather develop something.

This is the whole point of Hackathons. The aim is to put yourself under extreme time pressure, and intensively work for this short period of time to develop and deliver a product, or complete a small project. The Hackathon team chooses which product or project they want to work on.

Our Hackathons run for 24 hours, and are regularly scheduled events, alternating with our Open Spaces.

Why do we do this? Such activities always take ‘away’ a lot of productive working time. Does it make sense to invest so much just to make the developers happy?

The answer is, yes! A Hackathon is not an end in itself, there are actually measurable, as well as ‘soft’, less measurable effects.

Measurable effect: The product

The measurable success of a Hackathon is first and foremost the delivered result. Often this is a product that can go directly into operation. There are no beauty prizes here: Hacks, workarounds, rapid prototyping, and quick-and-dirty solutions are all encouraged. The aim is to have something functional at the end, which you can develop and refine further if necessary.

Our Hackathons have produced some amazing results. The Pic2Wiki app is a mobile application that allows you to take photos on your mobile device and save them directly into a Confluence intranet. The mobile version of our Timetracker for tracking working hours makes life easier for our frequently traveling consultants. Customers strongly approve of our profitable Confluence hosting service InstaWiki (now SWIFT), also the result of a Hackathon, and which was later extended to host other Atlassian products.

Hackathons don’t just create gimmicks, but real, economically viable, and innovative solutions. However, we believe that many important results are not directly measurable.

“Soft” results: Collaboration, team building, further education, motivation

Open collaboration: Qualitative effects, which cannot be directly measured, are predominantly the positive effect it has on collaboration and cooperation throughout the company. Developers work with colleagues from other teams, and get the opportunity to learn from people that are otherwise not involved in their day-to-day project work. It is a great way to broaden horizons.

Self-organized groups and team building: Hackathons are completely autonomous. Each team makes all decisions by itself, and sets its own rules, for example, they make decisions about features that normally the customer or the product owner in regular projects would make. How are these decisions made about the product, implementation, technology used, and functionality? These self-organized decision processes are not only very exciting, but they are also invaluable for team building.

Continuing education: Hackathons offer developers the opportunity to intensively engage with technologies that they do not normally use, and to be creative. A hackathon’s contribution to our ongoing professional education is a really cool alternative to classical technology training and workshops.

Motivation: Last but not least, Hackathons are extremely motivating. This should not be underestimated: It is one thing to work on a customer project with all of its strict specifications, but another thing altogether to go on such an adventure with your colleagues, to implement your own ideas, and get intensively involved with something fun.

Must an agile organization run Hackathons?

Of course not! Not all agile organizations need to run hackathons. Every company that extends agile methods to areas outside the traditional software development, must experiment to find what elements and processes are suitable for their own situation. One source of inspiration is Agile Management Innovations (AMI), a blog post written by our friends at it-agile.

At //SEIBERT/MEDIA, we can see that Hackathons clearly reflect and support some of our company values: Teamwork and its related decision-making, self-responsibility, change process, and openness. We believe that Hackathons are useful and we highly recommend them.

Video: Hackathons at //SEIBERT/MEDIA

In the following short video (in German), Martin Seibert and I discuss the concept of Hackathons, and talk about some of the aspects mentioned above. Please enable automatically translated subtitles to view the video with English subtitles.

What does a Hackathon look like?

Are you curious to see what one of our Hackathons look like? We occasionally take video snapshots and write up our Hackathon results.

Here is one from our pizza-fueled 24 hour intensive in May 2016, where we worked on exciting projects like chat bots, new plugins for JIRA, load and performance tests, a new photo gallery with cooler photos and, of course, because it was shortly before the soccer European Championship, a score ticker plus an oracle to predict the winners.

Want to introduce “Agile”? We are your partner!

Do you have questions about agile procedures in an organization or software development process? Do you want to introduce agility in your company and improve existing processes? At //SEIBERT/MEDIA “Agile” is the standard in all of our projects. We would be delighted to help you to establish and optimize agile principles and procedures in your company – please contact us, no obligations. For detailed information about our Agile services, please refer to our Agile Service Portfolio.

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Further information

Open Space meetings at //SEIBERT/MEDIA
Our principles and intentions as an agile organization
Agile organization at //SEIBERT/MEDIA – from brainstorming to realization
99 reasons for Scrum: How staff benefit from Scrum projects

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