How to organize a team-building hackathon
September 12th, 2017
What is timeboxed, fun, collaborative, experimentative, and meant to solve customer problems? If you guessed a hackathon, you’re right! A few months ago, the Desk.com WOW team, which is comprised of technical support, customer success, and solution consultants, had a few short days to brainstorm, build, and ship novel ‘hacks’ for Desk.com customers and internal business partners. The result? Over a dozen new support articles and new extensions with the canvas feature for the Next Gen Agent console.
While hackathons are not meant to replace a typical product management cycle, it gives an opportunity for teams to build things they see as pressing customer issues. Not confined to just Silicon Valley companies, even governments are getting into the action running targeted hackathons to solve pressing problems.
How did we run the Desk hackathon?
First, we organized a small team of 3 people, and set up a few Google Hangout sessions to discuss how to structure the event. Because Desk has a globally distributed team, we decided to give a week prep time ahead of our in person global team meeting for teams to start working on projects. During our team meeting, there were only a few hours in between other sessions to get any real hacking done since presentations were held on the Thursday of that week. To make it easier, we assigned teams, gave a short list of topics that had been requested by customers and our internal team as ideas, but left the actual decisions up to the teams on what they wanted to work on. Next, we recorded a short intro video with the instructions so everyone would hear and see the message when they came online. Then the group formation, brainstorming, and the hacking began.
Second, when our team arrived for the global meetup week, we had a quick meeting to get everyone aligned on the same page and answer questions. Most importantly, we wanted to emphasize that it would be a fun event — not simply work squeezed into a shorter interval. The entire week was just that — a fun, jam-packed series of days of learning, meeting with old and new colleagues, and squeezing in a few hours to finish up hack projects.
As part of our instructions, we asked all teams to present their hacks live and in person. It was fantastic to see how teams approached interesting challenges and created cool solutions that customers could easily implement. Plus, many were very very entertaining. What’s more fun that making your colleagues laugh and solve hard problems?
Want to see some of the stuff our team came up with? Check out these articles that describe a few of the hacks created.
How to include the customer’s original message in the Auto-Acknowledgement
Add case statistics with a Canvas application
Use Canvas to Create an Article with Your Draft Agent Response
Preview Textile in the Next Gen Agent using Canvas
As you can see, we were able to turn team building into a fun experience with really customer-focused outcomes. This is a net win all around, and something that we aim to do a couple of times a year. Why not challenge your team to try something like this? You’ll be surprised what great innovations may come from it.