How to run a company hack-day

Louise Howells
Mar 4, 2019 · 5 min read

A hack-day, or other wise known as a hackathon or hackfest, is a sprint like event in which teams have 24 hours to build and deliver ‘something’ of their choice. At the end of the hack-day presentations are given by each team and a winner is crowned.

“teal, red, and purple LEGO plastic firecracker toy in focus photography” by Hello I'm Nik on Unsplash

It’s a great way to help teams bond, inspire, innovate and just downright fun! This post will take you through some points to consider when organising your own hack day.

Hackdays are usually tech based, but this doesn’t mean it’s only for developers. Perhaps non technical team members can help with with requirements, QA or use the opportunity to learn more about coding. You can also introduce non tech projects to provide different options, as people who predominantly write code may like something different anyway. For example, a team wants to revamp one of the meeting rooms in a certain theme, or create an outdoor herb kitchen?

Decide if there will be a maximum number of people on a team, or any rules about the makeup of a team, for example;

1. No more than 50% of your team can be made up of people from your own office.

2. Anyone should be able to put forward an idea, not just managers and leads.

3. You may need an approval process in place whereby all ideas need to be approved by the CEO or a board (this can be a board created just for this event), especially around projects that require budget or materials.

It’s up to the project lead to recruit a team, and this can be done in a number of ways;

  1. They approach people directly and build up a team.
  2. All ideas are announced on the same day via a newsletter or a post on an intranet and people ask to join the team they’re interested in.
  3. A Dragons Den approach where project leads pitch their idea to the whole company in a short presentation and people ask to join that team.

Avoid your busiest time of year and take into consideration people taking leave around Summer holidays and Bank holidays. Avoid certain dates or months that are close to company events, and finally consider if you’re going to rely on outdoor space as you may need the light. If the working week is Monday to Friday, you could start at 10am on Thursday morning and finish at 10am Friday morning with presentations around lunch time (meaning two days out of work).

In or around the office is a good place to start, and for the camaraderie it’s nice to keep everyone around the same location, allowing teams to meet up at breaks (and potentially steal other team members during the day!). Once teams are assembled assign locations to different teams depending on size and requirements. For example, Team A are assigned to the Product Development office and Team B are assigned to the Project Management office, people can move their equipment the night before if they wish.

You’ll need to decide if you’re providing food or if people will need to bring their own. By providing food it ensures people eat around the same time, and assists with that competitive, but friendly atmosphere.

“round white ceramic plate filled with waffle” by Rachel Park on Unsplash

For example:

  1. Thursday morning — No food provided, let teams organise their own breakfast meet ups.
  2. Thursday lunch — Sandwiches and salads.
  3. Thursday evening — Pizza is a good option as you can collect pre orders beforehand and it’s easy to tidy away the mess. However not everyone is a fast food fan, so salads, fruit and pasta may be worth looking into too. Ideally, you want finger food people can eat whilst standing around in a communal area.
  4. Friday morning — if you have a kitchen you could provide food for people to cook (again, making someone a breakfast sandwich can be the start of a great a relationship).

Alternatively you could provide a continental breakfast, or order in.

Snacks — ensure you have a mix of healthy and unhealthy snacks like:

  1. Nuts
  2. Crisps
  3. Sweets
  4. Fruit
  5. Crackers

Drinks — Decide if you’re going to allow alcohol to be consumed. If so you may want to buy some along with soft drinks such as:

  1. Coke
  2. Diet Coke
  3. Orange juice
  4. Sparkling water

Useful tip: Ensure you have extra bin bags and recycling areas ready to collect the mess.

When organising the hack-day be sure to establish the ground rules. Perhaps there are no rules, but stipulate there aren’t any!

Things to consider;

  1. Team sizes (is there a max)
  2. Ideas have to be approved by CEO perhaps
  3. Does it have to be related to work . e.g Should it contribute to your product?
  4. Health and safety
  5. To be in with a chance of winning does the project need to be completed? What about if people run out of time?

Teams should be given a set amount of time to prep for their presentation and the presentation itself should have a time limit.

Photo by Ariel Besagar on Unsplash

Things to consider:

  1. Categories — do you need a mix of categories?, for example: favourite project, most helpful, epic fail, most innovative.

2. Voting — do teams vote as a team, or as individuals, it’s worth taking the time to create voting cards to make this process simpler.

3. Don’t make the voting system too complex, some teams may have been awake the whole 24 hours and will be tired.

4. Prize — will there be one? If so what is it and can it be shared between a team?

At least one — two months before the agreed date send a company wide email to explain what is, why you’re running one, the date and times along with the rules.

Explain the timeline of events. For example when ideas need to be submitted by, how to submit an idea and when teams need to be in place by.

Start to build energy and excitement around the day by creating promotional posters to put up around the building!

When the big day comes around, enjoy it, as those 24 hours will fly by!

Louise Howells

Project delivery, strategy, company operations, leadership…