Hackathon Planning
How to Run an Internal Hackathon (The Right Way)
Hackathon Planning

How to Run an Internal Hackathon (The Right Way)

Your guide to organizing a productive hackathon that maximizes creativity and collaboration.

So, you want to organize a hackathon for your team? You’re in the right place.

Not everyone feels their most creative when they’re in their daily grind. Let’s be real, most workers don’t have time to add blue sky projects to their workload, either. That’s why so many companies use hackathons as an opportunity to shake up day-to-day work and spark creativity—typically leading to a great outcome for the company.

That being said, there’s a lot to consider when you’re planning to run a hackathon within your company. Read on to find out what you need to know.

What is an internal hackathon?

Simply put, an internal, or corporate, hackathon is an event organized by a company where employees are asked to think creatively and solve a unique problem. It typically involves creating an application, software, or brainstorming ideas to solve business problems. They're usually only open to current employees and are sometimes also called private, internal, or company hackathons.

The goal of an internal hackathon is usually to bring employees together, inspire innovation, generate new ideas, and drive organizational growth.

Related: 8 Types of internal hackathons to drive innovation within your organization

What is the purpose of a hackathon?

In general, hackathons are designed to drive innovation by asking participants to use their skills to creatively solve a problem. Internal hackathons have essentially the same purpose. Since internal hackathons are only open to employees, the problem they're solving is usually specific to the organization that’s hosting the event.

How do you organize an internal hackathon?

There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes planning and prep to make sure a hackathon runs smoothly.

Here’s how to put together a winning hackathon:

Determine your goals

Internal hackathons should serve a purpose. While there are a ton of reasons to host a hackathon, it’s important to have specific goals from the get-go.

For example, some companies host hackathons to help generate innovative ideas. Whereas other companies might be more focused on team building or helping their employees gain new skills.

To help with planning, ask yourself three questions:

  1. What are we asking people to do?
  2. Why should they participate?
  3. What does success look like?

Plan the logistics and timing

Once you’ve determined the goal of your hackathon, you’ll need to plan the logistics of the event. Consider the timing, rules, and judging criteria and think about how you’d like people to participate.

The event duration will depend on factors like your overall goal for the event and the number of people you’d like to participate. For example, a smaller hackathon with the goal of producing polished, well-developed projects might take a week. In comparison, a company-wide hackathon might only last 1-2 days to avoid business disruption.

Set the rules and parameters based on the goals for the event. Make sure these are crystal clear and that you’ve shared them with participants well in advance. It’s good practice to share the judging criteria in advance, too.

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Get other teams on board

Getting other teams involved early is key to ensuring participants are excited and prepared for the event. Along with getting stakeholder buy-in, you’ll likely want to engage the following teams:

  • Business development to help identify possible pain points that the hackathon could address
  • Internal communications or human resources to advertise the event internally
  • Admin support to help with logistics, like sourcing prizes

Don't forget to tell employees who aren't participating in the event that it's happening, too. That way, other teams can plan it into their workflow if a lot of developers will be busy with the hackathon.

Choose a hackathon platform

Using a hackathon platform will make it a lot easier to manage your hackathon. From planning, to reporting, you’ll be able to plan the event, communicate with participants, and track results in one place.

When you’re deciding which platform to use for your hackathon, it’s important to consider what’s most important to you. For example, if this is your first time running an internal hackathon, you might want to choose a platform that offers stellar customer support to help you through every step of the way.

In general, a hackathon platform should:

  • Be easy to use (for organizers and participants)
  • Enable communication and collaboration
  • Give participants flexibility in structuring their projects
  • Make it easy to measure your hackathon results and ROI

Some platforms, like Devpost for Teams (DFT), include templates to help organizers and participants save time. DFT uses two types of templates—hackathon templates and project templates. The hackathon templates make it easy to set up and organize the overall event. The project templates help participants frame their projects and gives them the tools to browse and join projects.

Why should companies run hackathons?

Internal hackathons reduce attrition, foster collaboration, and create fun! They allow you to leverage your company’s greatest resource by setting aside time for creativity–sparking ideas that can have a massive impact on your business.