Post last updated Aug 2020
In 2018 I had the opportunity to develop and implement a learning hackathon. As a result of this event we came up with some truly inspiring solutions that impacted the bottom line.
Here's how you can leverage the power of a hackathon to inspire cross functional teams to develop some truly great learning solutions.
Start with the goal in mind
Determine what you want to accomplish with your event before running it. What are the challenges your team is facing now or in the near future? What outcomes would help you solve them?
Example Outcome: At the end of the hackathon we'll have solutions presented that will reduce attrition of high potential employees this year.
Craft quality challenge statements
Once you've identified the challenges you want to tackle, you'll need to turn them into challenge statements. (Alvin Chia, Hackathons Unboxed: A Field Guide to ideating, Leading and Winning) Each written in a way that will help the teams craft solutions that fit expected out comes.
Make sure to include any constraints in these statements as well. They act as boundaries that the teams can use to work within or around as they form their solutions. Are there any constraints around the solutions like budget, culture, or time?
Example: How might we reduce attrition of high potential employees this year, without impacting current work streams, at little to no cost?
Make it a challenge
By limiting the time frame, and treating it as a competition, you provide a similar sense of urgency as being handed a tough project with a quick turnaround.
Example: The hackathon will run for one week with the expectation that each participant and team will dedicate at least 24 hours coming up with the solution.
Commit to the event
There’s rarely a “good time” to run an event like this. Whether you do it now on your own terms or later on someone else’s you’ll be investing this time either way. Pick the time that works best for you and stick with it.
Recruit creative cross functional teams
To solve challenges you'll needed teams filled with resourceful people from across your organization and not just your learning team. This provides different perspectives, insights ,and in the end will lead to more holistic and creative solutions. (Alvin Chia, Hackathons Unboxed: A Field Guide to ideating, Leading and Winning)
Create teams with:
Draft a diverse panel of judges
To evaluate the solutions, recruit judges who are directly impacted by the outcome of the presented solutions. These judges can provide relevant feedback and appropriately evaluate the solutions that ware presented. Don’t be afraid to have some diversity of thought here as well.
Craft a solid score card
Be very careful when developing the judging score card. How you score the solutions will heavily impact the solutions that are developed. The elements of the score card serve as a guide for the teams to ensure they’re including the right things in their proposals. For example, if you focus on creativity vs. viability you may end up with solutions that you can’t start implementing this year or next. Your score card should reinforce your goals for the event.
Prepare teams for success
Communication and making resources available to the teams is of the utmost importance. Provide pre-read documentation to get each team up to speed on current processes, make them aware of the judge’s panel, and the score card in advance of the kickoff session. (How to Run a Successful Data Hackathon with data.world) This helps to connect team members early, acclimate them to the current way of doing things, the hackathonesignathon process, expected outcomes, and to whom they’ll be presenting their solutions.
Kick off your event
Get the teams started and then get out of the way. The goal is to get the teams ideating as quickly as possible, not listening to someone talk about what they’ll be doing. (Alvin Chia, Hackathons Unboxed: A Field Guide to ideating, Leading and Winning)
During the event, be attentive and available to answer questions, share those answers with everyone, and provide any support documents such as templates or materials. Provide time for each team to meet with members of the judge’s panel to discuss and get feedback on their solutions. You should check in with each team and provided feedback as well.
Present, score, and provide feedback
On presentation day, each team should get the same amount of time to present their solutions and answer questions from the judges. For example, give each team 10 minutes to setup their presentation, 20 minutes to present, and 15 minutes to answer questions from the judges. During the presentations the judges use the score card to evaluate each solution.
Keep scores secret until all presentations are complete. Ask the teams to step out while the judges discuss and deliberate each presentation. When the judges are ready, ask the teams to return. To save time have one judge provide consolidated feedback for each team prior to announcing the winner.
Once feedback has been given, announce the winner, their prize if any, and celebrate! Each team has worked hard and deserves a little fun to close out the event. The prize doesn't have to be extravagant. Some credit or money towards items from your company store should be enough.
Evaluate the event
Ask for feedback from the teams and judges via a survey or focus groups. This information will help setup your next event for success.
Make the solutions happen
Now that you have your solutions, don’t waste time. Choose the solutions you want to take to the next level and put resources behind them. (Hackathons Aren’t Just for Coders)
Reach out and ask the teams to break their solutions into workable tasks, prioritize, and get to work on what makes sense! There’s no reason you can’t include cross-functional team members in the work. They’re just as invested in making them happen as you are.
Running your own hackathon can seem intimidating. However, using the tips above and resources provided in this article will help you to achieve your goals.
As learning leaders you know the challenges facing your team and company. This process provides you with a means to tap into the creativity of your organization, over a short period of time, to address them.
Want to learn more? The following resources helped me to run a successful session.
Sometimes even your best efforts don't produce the targeted behavior change or business outcomes your learning solution was created to solve. Not every project will be a rousing success so it's important to know what to do when things don't go as planned.
It can be tempting to point fingers and look for reasons outside of your control as to why things went wrong. Maybe you feel that you weren't given enough time, resources, or information to do the job. However, what's needed now is a level head and a willingness to work together across business units to fix any identified issues and turn things around. A deeper analysis can always be completed afterwards.
Here's how you can turn things around:
I had the opportunity to interview with Cornerstone and discuss how we use their Learning Management System at Accolade. For me the biggest benefits are it's reporting and curriculum management capabilities.
At Accolade, we make sure that the content we develop can be used across the organization. Instead of tying a module to a specific customer we do our best to make the materials generic so that they can be re-used within multiple learning solutions. We'll then address customer and role specific content in additional self-paced learning objects or during practical application scenarios. Having the freedom to leverage content across the organization has helped us to rapidly respond to learning needs without having to create multiple versions of materials.
Feel free to read the case study if you'd like to learn more about how we leverage Cornerstone's capabilities at Accolade.
The last entry in my series of instructional games is Lyrical Genius. Learning a new language can be difficult, this game attempts to inject a little bit of fun into the process. Players are asked to listen to a clip of a popular song and match words on the screen with the correct lyrics.
Game number two on my series of instructional games is Mathlock. Growing up I loved watching the Matlock T.V. show. The main character inspired the plot of this mobile game intended to help children learn how to solve word problems.
As part of my Instructional Technology Masters program at Bloomsburg University I attended a class on instructional game design. Throughout the class we were challenged with developing a series of proposals for instructional games that could be developed for a variety of devices and needs. It was an absolute blast and one of my favorite classes out of the entire program.
Over the next few months I'm going to post the top three games that I proposed for a few reasons. First, I enjoyed creating the proposals and want to share them. Secondly, in the interest of sharing if you're reading this and interested in creating non-commercial work based off of them...feel free. Thirdly, I'd like to hear your feedback. What could I have done better or included?
With the exposition taken care of...let's get started.
Many years ago I started my first business venture, ISDTemplates.com. The premise behind the site was to provide easy to use graphic templates for eLearning courses. The plan was simple...help people to create engaging education by letting them focus on their content and not worry about the design. I had that covered!
Engaging people leader and accomplished Instructional Designer with over 15 years of experience creating effective learning solutions and building innovative learning teams.
© John Parsell and johnparsell.com, 2018 - 2022.