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How to Productize Hackathon Ideas into Implementable Innovations

Yev Galper

Head of Innovation-as-a-Service, EPAM
Blog

Hackathons often fail to live up to their promise. However, I’ve noticed that both organizers and participants often believe the event was highly successful – “Not only was there a great, high-energy atmosphere, but also a number of interesting and innovative ideas were generated. What else can you ask for?!” Though hackathon events often produce winning ideas, the failure often appears later, when the organizing company tries to integrate these newly generated ideas into their products and services.

So, how do you capitalize on the innovations that emerge from hackathons? The short answer is that you have to look at a hackathon not as a 24-hour isolated event (when the teams actually “hack” their prototypes and present them to the judges), but rather as a strategic initiative that starts weeks before the actual event and ends months after the winners celebrate their victory.

As such, a hackathon has three major phases: pre-, at-, and post-event, each with it is own goals and tactics. And because it is a project with three phases, it needs to be managed holistically by the same person who has the end-game in mind. Let’s explore each phase and discuss what to focus on in order to create a truly impactful event.

 

Pre-Event

From the very beginning, it is important to involve decision makers for all the products and services that the company is trying to innovate. These stakeholders will help define event success criteria, participation rules, judging criteria, awards and other components that will help event organizers market the event and invite appropriate participants. The two most important items that need to be discussed and solidified at this stage are the challenge and post-event processes. Nailing these two points will drastically increase your chances of getting relevant, implementable and integrateable ideas and prototypes.

 

At-Event

Besides the obvious – providing reliable internet, API access, test data, an air hockey table and lots of pizza, coffee and Red Bull – you have to ensure that the teams are moving in the right direction. Making technology and business mentors available to teams during the event will ensure that the original ideas are shaped towards solutions that truly address company challenges.

 

Post-Event

This is where most crowdsourcing events fall short: never doing anything with the ideas that came out of the hackathon. As we pointed out before, to prevent this from happening, clear processes need to be defined and approved in the pre-event phase for how promising ideas get integrated into mainstream products in the post-event phase. Oftentimes, Agile and Lean product development methodologies are used during the post-event phase in order to quickly iterate the prototype and validate it on both technical and business aspects. At this stage, each idea should get a dedicated Project Manager, who will help remove bureaucratic obstacles and align with internal teams.

Additionally, there is immense value in taking a retrospective look at the event and discussing what went well and what can be improved in order to better prepare the next hackathon.

"Like any other program or internal initiative, the hackathon should be seen as a long-term engagement and, when completed, should undergo a similar review process to identify areas for improvement. Doing so will reinforce the notion that hackathons are programs rather than isolated events"
Yev Galper

Head of Innovation-as-a-Service, EPAM

To summarize, a successful hackathon not only generates new ideas, but also sets up the best ideas for successful productization. To do that you have to look at hackathons as multi-month projects rather than high octane, one-day events.

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