How to get business value from codefests

Avoid a case of too many hammers and not enough nails with structured ideation before your event.

We all know how it works, some IT departments love a certain technology and every problem can be tailor made to reverse fit the pre-built, pre-decided solution. There is one hammer and everything becomes a nail, in fact often people go looking for nails (business problems) so they can use their wonderful hammer (amazing IT solution). Sometimes the technology actually is awesome, but is it the right answer for that specific question. [paragraph 1 of 5]

Codefests or hackathons take this issue to a new level. (Find out what codefests are and why we do them in this article.) Assembling a bunch of developers and asking them to build stuff during an intense period of collaboration with free coffee and prizes will definitely produce some “cool stuff”. But will it really be useful, who is going to use it and what business value will it deliver? In the case of Facebook it delivered incredible value – the “Like” button came out of one of their earlier hack events. [2/5]

One approach is to ask business teams to come up with ideas that they would like turned into prototypes and possibly future projects. This usually produces an unstructured wish list that is difficult to compare to afterwards and assess whether the solution meets expectations – but it’s a starting point. This Wired article describes a recent event called BeMyApp which featured a speed-dating approach where idea generators had 60 seconds to pitch their ideas just before the event started. [3/5]

There is a key question you must ask when you open the doors after the coding marathon and let people in to see what has been built. Are the sponsors of the event and the business stakeholders coming in with interest or are they coming in with expectation? The former implies they are tech savvy and appreciate the potential value of such events (but actually a bit sceptical), and the latter shows they are tied in with the ideation process from before the event – they expect to see something tangible to address the specific problem they described. [4/5]

Either way you need to link a business problem owner to a passionate IT specialist and light their creative fire with collaboration. Add in a healthy dose of flexibility on both sides, a well run event (find out how in this article) and chances are you have a prototype that triggers a great project and an even better final solution. A codefest shouldn’t be a code factory – knowing how and when to build a hammer is actually more important than looking for nails to use it on. [5/5]

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