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05 September, 2013

How to host a successful hackathon using The Design Method

Outlines, structures for organizing a hackathon that gets results.

The chief concern for running hackathon is having your goal organized and communicated properly. 
Getting the right people for each three person team that is participating is critical.

Step One
Each team needs a journalist, a programmer, a designer or front-end developer.
One of these people will also serve as the project manager for the team.

Step Two
Limit the number of teams competing. Five teams is great, 10 might be too much for a single chair to organize and manage.

I have attended hackathon events in Berlin and Paris and observed the process and I'll be charing a hackathon at Publish Asia on Sept. 13. These are typically two day events. My Publish Asia program is organized into a one day workshop.

Hackathons are very similar in format to the rapid-prototyping and design workshops I have produced around the world over the last eight years.

So, I am sharing tips and lessons learned from leading rapid-prototyping workshops like this as well as tips from experts who have chaired hackathons.

Step Three

Each team needs a journalist, a programmer, a designer or front-end developer.
One of these people will also serve as the project manager for the team.

Here are the tips for hosting a successful hackathon:

Hackathon design workshop

10:00 - Introductions and tech prep: Gather data from delegates
10:15 - Instructions for the Hackathon rapid prototyping workshop: Establish goals for teams and roles. 
10:30 -  Demo: Case studies of recent innovative apps 

Each team needs a graphic designer, a coder and a project manager/editor.

11:00 -  Lecture: The Design Method 
11:30 -  Lead hack team through step one of the method - Brainstorming

12:00 - Reconvene, fast pitch thesis to group, get feedback, iterate and move to step two: Crafting an objective and editorial mission statement.

13:00 - Lunch  

14:00 -  Teams develop the user experience for their ideas: Step three and and four of the method Ask and Answer.

15:00 - Lecture: "Design principles for news apps"
Teams hack their prototypes: Steps five and six of the method. Draw and Redraw

16:30 - Presentations and critiques
Each team gives a five minute powerpoint demonstration or live mockup walkthrough of their concept on a developing world issue.

17:00 - End

Step Four
Get additional expertise

Adam Thomas of Storyful and Hacks/Hackers is facilitating the Berlin Hackathon for WAN-IFRA in Berlin in October and I sent him my outline for comment. Collaboration is critical for the hackers attending the workshop and it is critical for the organizers as well.

Here's Adam's take:

"One thing I've encountered in running/judging these things is making sure teams are really clear on what the outcome is. Many teams get caught up in wire framing when they need HTML, or too busy polishing presentations when they should be iterating...
And then access to experts, just making sure there are enough bodies around to cross-pollinate ideas amongst the teams.
Sometimes it can be nice to offer the chance to pivot for people to swap teams or for teams to join forces when they're working on very similar ideas."

Excellent advice, and this is where my Design Method provides structure to address Adam's concerns.
The Design Method is a step by step process that guides a clear vision, forces iteration and collaboration with participants.

That step-by-step method is something I have honed over eight years in designing almost any new product or service. It takes discipline to get the most out applying it.
And it works - regardless of the tech level of the people involved in the people attending.

Antoine Laurent, the Deputy Director of the Global Editors Network has produced hackathons around the world over the last year.
When he was in Berlin producing a two-day regional hackathon at Zeit Online we talked about what separates winning concepts from less successful ones. 
His answer didn't surprise me. It was not the level of tech used, but rather the quality of the project management.

Mirko Lorenz, the project manager of the winning team from Deutsche-Welle agrees. Well, naturally. Project management is something that Mirko does for his day job and in his open-source startup Data Wrapper, so that role comes naturally to him. 

And that is one of the exciting outcomes from a hackathon. Not only the chance for great ideas to surface but great leaders to emerge as well.

Here are the more for hosting a successful hackathon: