3 Types of Hackathons and How They Deliver Value

By Ty Swarts and Mauricio Figueroa, Capital One


Among tech-focused organizations, hackathons are a cultural mainstay. As companies across industries increase their digital efforts, they may not fully understand the value generated by these events. While hackathons can provide several excellent benefits, it’s important to approach them with a specific objective in mind and to understand the time and resources needed to conduct one. Simply put, a developer’s time is valuable, so you want these events to be successful. In order to achieve this, your objectives need to align with your desired outcomes.

The most common hackathons tend to fall into three categories:

1. Explore a New Technology (Usually part of a product marketing storm)

2. Annual Event (Cultural event)

3. Part of the Product Life Cycle (Product Development Acceleration)

  • Facebook - Like Button and Timeline
  • GroupMe - Mobile Group Messaging Owned by Microsoft
  • Easy Taxi - Most Downloaded Taxi App in World

Each of these formats provides its own value, as well as limitations.

 

Explore a New Technology

This is one of the most common formats for a hackathon, as it is often used as part of the marketing campaign for a new solution. This type of hackathon can be an external or internal event, meaning the host may be the software provider or your internal organization. In either case, the goal here is learning and technology adoption. You’re hoping to demonstrate the value of a new platform to the end users, in this case, the developers.

Value Drivers

navy, red, and yellow rectangles in a vertical row with white text in the middle of each. each one has a navy and white pie chart on its right side and a white icon on the left side. icons are a brain, microphone, and smiley face, respectively.

How to Measure Success

  • Developer adoption and NPS.

 

Annual Event

Several major technology organizations host annual hackathons, using them as major events that support the organization’s desired culture. This format offers a chance for team members to work together with other members of their organization that they may not normally interact with. These events can become display opportunities for developers who are hoping for an opportunity to flex skills, demonstrate potential, and expand personal networks, as well as allow organizations to reinforce their culture around innovation and technology.

Value Drivers

navy, yellow, and green rectangles in a vertical row with white text in the middle of each. each one has a navy and white pie chart on its right side and a white icon on the left side. icons are a brain, smiley face, and magnifying glass respectively.

How to Measure Success

  • Participation metrics, improvement in candidate quality, and improvement in engagement scores.

 

Using a Hackathon in Product Development Lifecycle

A hackathon centered on product development is often the most impactful and the most challenging. The objective is to rapidly push a team through the ‘prototype’ phase of the design process. This requires quickly organizing an event with the right type of product, in the right phase of its development, with the right developers' schedule. Prior to the event, Product, Design, and Tech leads will have already defined the key pain points to be worked on.

Value Drivers

Grey, navy, yellow, and green rectangles in a vertical row with white text in the middle of each. each one has a navy and white pie chart on its right side and a white icon on the left side. icons are a timer, brain, smiley face, and magnifying glass respectively.

How to Measure Success

  • Quality of prototypes and reduction in implementation time.

 

circular flow chart in shades of blue with black text and black numbered dots for each section. there is a black rocket ship between steps 3 and 4. the blue sections of steps 3 and 4 are also outlined in green.

At Capital One, we recently organized a hackathon for product development acceleration that yielded amazing results. Within our commercial bank, 50 individuals spent a week designing prototypes to solve key issues surrounding the replacement of a legacy platform. These prototypes have accelerated the replacement of the existing system and dramatically reduced time to release a minimal viable product.

Square picture collage containing one large image of a group of associates in a hackathon room. Smaller images make up the rest of the square and include pictures of a wall with red, white, blue, and orange sticky notes; a wall with white paper with black and blue text and orange sticky notes; a man putting white papers and orange sticky notes on a wall; a wall with black text written on it, and a man pointing to a wall with white papers and orange sticky notes on it.

Above: Capital One User Focused Design Session

Focus on Your Desired Outcome

Hackathons not only have the potential to produce prototypes that can drive significant business, and/or technical value, but they can also help generate ideas that could disrupt how an industry works. The key to creating productive hackathons is to create strategic objectives that are aligned with desired outcomes.

Best of luck leading your organization’s next hackathon!

 


Capital One Tech
Capital One Tech,

Stories and ideas on development from the people who build it at Capital One.

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