I'm Mentoring at Internet of Things World Hackathon 2014

4 Tips for a Good Hackathon

Hello, I’m Marty Caplan, principal at The Ludologist Game Production Consulting and I’ll be a mentor at the Internet of Things World Hackathon in Palo Alto CA June 17th-18th 2014. More info here: http://iotworldevent.com/hack/

As a producer, I’ve been the guide and judge for quite a few hacks in my time. Since you want to get something interesting done in a short timeframe using the limited skills and materials at hand, I have a few tips that are helpful to keep in mind especially at the very start of the hack. These draw from SCRUM, so folks who are familiar with Agile/SCRUM will have a leg up, here. 

1. Might as Well Face It You’re Addicted to Skills

Getting the most out of each team member’s skillset is how you set yourselves up for success. Right at the start as you introduce yourselves, write on a whiteboard the primary and secondary skills of each person. The team can then look over the skillset at hand and will naturally start to gravitate to a hack goal.

2. Are We Not Men? We Are DEMO

Given the skillset on the team, discuss and agree on an initial a Minimum Viable Demo, or in SCRUM terms, definition of done, as soon as you possibly can for the hack. This definition can be as simple as “a working android app” at first, as it should be flexible enough to adapt to the iteration that will happen over the course of the hack. Crown your MVD with a catchy title and write it down as a mission statement for the team on a whiteboard. This will change over time as sprints are completed, but having it as soon as you can increases team focus and give a first rally point for the hack. Moreover, when (not if) this statement changes and gets more detailed, it provides milestones that demarcate each iteration.

3. Sprintin’ with the Devil

The team need to husband time very carefully, as it is the most valuable resource in a hack. For each day break time up into three time periods (or sprints) with a break and huddle in between. Discuss and assign features to individuals on the team, ensuring they agree they can get that particular thing done in the time frame given. If not, break the task down in to sub-components and spread amongst time boxes, other team members, or both. Use a whiteboard with a grid with rows for each team member, rows showing not started, in progress and done and features on stickynotes placed to indicate the state of each one.This way everyone knows how long they have to complete their part and the team can refine the MVD at the end of each sprint. 

4. Celebrate Good Hacks Come On!

A hack should have a lot of fun in it for the participants. Try to keep things just a little bit ridiculous and silly both in terms of content and moment-to-moment work. Especially important is celebrating when a feature is shown and the overall MVD is as done as it can be at the end of the hack. Humor typically engages the team and provide a stress release during the process, and usually helps sell the concept to judges at the final demo at the end of the hack.

Thanks for reading. I hope you all find these tips helpful for the upcoming Internet of Things World Hackathon and I will see you there! Happy Hacking!

Marty Caplan

The Ludologist Consulting

http://www.theludologist.com

http://twitter.com/the_ludologist