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February 19, 2019

How a hackathon supports product development and builds culture

Written by Usman Bashir

A hackathon is more than a chance for bright minds to develop new ideas together. A hackathon can build a lasting and inspirational culture, too. That’s one of the main take-aways from a four-hour hackathon that Investis Digital recently conducted on a Friday in our Baroda, India, office.

Our company brings together a blend of expertise, technology, and service to help businesses communicate clearly and authentically with any audience. Doing that means combining diverse skill sets ranging from creative design to web development. We held our first-ever hackathon to bring these disciplines together to collaborate on breakthrough ideas.

We wanted to encourage creativity through a hackathon, but we also wanted to make sure that the output of the effort would support our company and our customers. So we designed the hackathon to road-test some concepts we’ve been developing for Investis Digital’s near-term product roadmap. About 50 professionals gathered in Baroda with the challenge of collaborating on ideas that would support specific product features we are developing in real life. For instance, we gave teams the option of developing an intelligent assistant to support our clients through a voice interface in 2019. Any team developing this assistant would need to develop a prototype using Alexa.

We provided many other detailed rules ahead of time. For example, teams of no more than three people would be given four hours to work collaboratively and efficiently on a solution that they would pitch to judges. Teams were given three minutes each to create demos of their ideas. We wanted our teams to be set up for success when the big day arrived for the actual hackathon.

What happened next exceeded my expectations. Within four hours, the teams brought in a surge of creative ideas and showcased what thinking out of the box really means!

Hackathon 

The presentations of the teams were judged by a panel composed of Stu White, Ketan Vachhani, Kandarp Joshi, and Ashish Parasharya. The panel was amazed by the ingenious work that the participants created. Here are some examples:

  • First place winner: Saumil Nagariyaand Nikhil Vadhawana designed prototypes for voice search optimization and website mirroring. Their voice search solution showed how a website can return results for voice searches in a more fluid, natural way. As more consumers use their voices to search content and manage their lives, optimizing sites for search is a huge issue for our clients. In addition, Nikhil and Saumil demonstrated an automated way to replicate a website via mirroring. This is a critical issue as businesses need better ways to keep their sites operational during disruptions and planned updates.
  • Second place: Simon Varghese and Sunny Bhakta created a way for businesses to provide real-time transcribing of videos and webcasts for their audiences watching the content. Their prototype would make content more accessible for hearing-impaired people who want to watch videos and webcasts – a breakthrough for any brand that relies on the power of video and webcasting.
  • Third place: Payal Shah and Neha Nagar created a content management system WYSWYG text editor. Their solution makes it possible for CMS managers to edit content without requiring burdensome previews. Given the rapid increase in the creation of thought leadership among our clients, any solution that makes the editing of high-volume content easier is a huge win.

These are just three among many workable ideas generated in just four hours.

 

 After our celebration dinner to uplift all participants that evening, I reflected on what the hackathon accomplished. These two takeaways stand out: 

  • Cross-department cultural bonding: the hackathon was a great way for people to work together and discover skills they were not even aware they had. The teams included people who knew a lot about coding and some who knew nothing about it. The ones who lacked coding expertise realized they have stronger product development skills than they had previously thought – and that’s because the experienced coders guided them. In addition, we were impressed by the “hidden” creativity and user experience design skills that revealed themselves during the hackathon. I think the experience bonded our people because we empowered them to act as mini-CEOs of their own ideas. They had autonomy to work together on ideation and implementation. And having only four hours to get the work done was a strong motivator!

  • Rapid product development: as noted, we narrowed the scope of the hackathon on ideas that actually support our product development roadmap. Doing so ensured that all the ideas generated would add value to our company and our clients. A hackathon should not drive your company’s strategy – it should realize your strategy. We now have a set of viable ideas to enrich our own products.

 

What’s next? Well, we’re not going to unleash a flood of hackathons. But we will do more of them – as our product development roadmap evolves. Our focus is on quality hackathons that support the business and build culture. I’m proud of everyone who participated in this one and look forward to what’s next!

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