MYOB shares hackathon survival guide

MYOB shares hackathon survival guide

Hackathons give staff the chance to think about innovation in a new way, says Keran McKenzie, MYOB futurist in residence.

Credit: Dreamstime

Pivoting on well-established processes and systems can seem difficult for businesses. Even creating an environment for new ideas to spring forth can sometimes be a struggle.

Technology company MYOB demonstrates there are ways that businesses of all sizes can encourage innovation and collaboration amongst staff.

For the third year in a row, MYOB has kicked off its annual hackathon – a two-day event across all four of the company’s largest offices in New Zealand and Australia and including staff from all divisions.

“This year we’ve put the emphasis on involving all staff across MYOB,“ Keran McKenzie, MYOB futurist in residence, tells CIO New Zealand.

“It’s great to see sales, marketing and admin involved, not just developers. To help with this, we ran regular information and pitch sessions around the business before the hack days and have prizes for best technical and non-technical hacks.”

“We find hackathon teams that incorporate a broad range of expertise do really well as they bring together different perspectives and ideas for tackling a project.”

Hackathon teams that incorporate a broad range of expertise do really well as they bring together different perspectives and ideas for tackling a project

Keran McKenzie, MYOB

The business of innovation

Read more: ‘Every business unit is now a technology start-up’: Gartner

He points out hackathons have become more popular as these give staff the chance to think about innovation in a new way.

“They are events where people from across a company come together to dream up new and innovative ideas to deal with any conceivable business problem or process.”

The MYOB Hack Days begin with staff pitching their ideas to all participants and teams forming according to interest. The following day and a half is dedicated to working in the teams – planning, designing, coding and collaborating on all aspects the project requires.

The final afternoon of the event is for the teams to showcase their finished creation in the company’s ‘marketplace’, giving the judges and all MYOB employees the opportunity to view the innovations, ask questions and provide feedback.

“We are always impressed with the innovative solutions that the teams create,” says McKenzie.

“The evolution of the solution is amazing to watch as teams refine the problem, listening to each other and sharing ideas. In 24 hours, teams collaborate to create incredible products to enhance or build on a wide variety of problems.”

Previous Hack Days solutions range in use from improving internal processes such as meeting room bookings or car park allocations to ones that build on MYOB’s existing product suite. The rough prototypes presented at the marketplace can often then be taken and refined to be put into market or for internal business use.

To enhance the fresh thinking and assist the teams throughout the hackathon, MYOB says it invites key suppliers and educational institutions. This year, representatives from both Microsoft and Amazon Web Services are on hand to provide advice in most offices, and a number of IT students are involved.

In MYOB’s Auckland office 14 students from across both the University of Auckland and AMES Institute of Technology have taken up the opportunity to apply their knowledge in a practical setting.

Computer science student from the University of Auckland Louise Whittaker says the experience is invaluable.

“Being involved in the MYOB Hack Days event allows me to experience how technology companies innovate and create IT solutions in a short space of time. The teams are made of up MYOB employees from a range of different roles across the organisation which gives me a great chance to network and create business relationships for the future,” she says.

MYOB’s 8 steps to running a successful hackathon

Set the scene

Before the event, form a committee in charge of running the event and begin to build the anticipation throughout the business. Posters, internal communications and presentations to employees drum up interest. MYOB went as far as creating a website for employees to register interest and begin sharing ideas.

Get the whole company involved

Emphasise that this is an event that all employees can participate in and encourage them to get involved. It’s not just about your technology teams.

Create a fun and collaborative environment

Set a fun theme and decorate the office. Provide goodies to keep the teams happy.

Book out meeting rooms

The teams need somewhere to work on their projects so keep your spaces free and create areas that enable collaboration.

Provide sustenance

Put on a launch breakfast, lunches and of course celebratory drinks and nibbles for the end of the event. Make sure it’s special, enjoyable and memorable for everyone involved.

Discourage burning the midnight oil

Although teams will be excited about their project and may want to work on it into the wee hours of the night, especially when given such a short timeframe in which to produce a result, encourage your staff to stick to working hours so it doesn’t impinge on valuable personal or sleep time. Well rested employees are more efficient and productive.

Add an element of competition

Have the final products judged and prizes awarded to add that extra element of motivation. MYOB also presents a ‘people’s choice’ award in each office allowing everyone to be involved in the judging.

Bring in external influences and inspiration

Invite external experts from within your industry to attend and be on hand to help teams with their projects. Encourage new ideas by inviting students or employees from associated organisations to get involved with a team.

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