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Hackathon Planning Tips

Looking to explore potential use cases for hackathons? Need help with hackathon planning?
Blog-Hackathon Planning 1

Looking for some hot tips to improve your hackathon planning? Are you interested but not sure where to start?

You’ve come to the right place. We often explore potential use cases for enterprise and SMB customers who want assistance with hackathon planning they want to host or co-sponsor. We’ve come a long way from managing “coding” parties” in the 1990s and have learned a thing or two:

  1. The success of hackathons truly lies in your ability to get early alignment on your expectations and objectives; and
  2. You know the saying “we’ve got a guy for that…”, well, organizations need “guy” or “gal” who can manage this as a program with a certain degree of focus. 

Traditionally, hackathons come from identifying a problem and then considering different ways to solve it. For instance, how can a new tool or app fill a supply chain gap? Today, companies in industries like finance,  IT/telecom, health, manufacturing, public services, retail, supply chain and transportation routinely host or collaborate in internal and external hackathons. Why are they so popular? Hackathons can provide a significant boost to building an internal culture of innovation and finding potential partners to launch new partners and services.


To give you an idea of what goes into hackathon planning. Ideally, planning will begin at least 8 weeks prior to the event, and all of the goals and key milestones will be tracked in a project management or roadmapping tool. Below is a high-level overview of the 4 major milestones to address when you’re managing a corporate hackathon end-to-end.

Planning: Step 1 – Prep

Estimated Time = 2-4 weeks


Determine your objectives and expectations of the hackathon event,  approximate duration (1-3 days) and approximate date


  • Come to an agreement with internal stakeholders on the expected outcomes
  • Write the program plan to outline the goals, timeline, participants, budget,
  • Select vendors to help support the hackathon planning and delivery and promotional product or prize give-aways
  • Complete legal agreements for participants
  • Determine if a hotel room block is needed for the out of town participants

Planning: Step 2 – Concept Development

Estimated Time = 6-8 weeks


End-to-end planning for the nature of the event, the participants, and logistics


  • Establish challenge/s for the event and build a structured agenda for the hackathon (1-3 days)
  • Solicit and secure judges and mentors (this will be promoted!)
  • Solicit & secure participants
  • Finalize date/time/duration
  • Select location that can sufficiently power an event like this
  • Block hotel rooms, if relevant
  • Reserve any additional services (like transportation to/from the event, catering, WiFi, rideshare codes, IT support staff for connectivity assistance)
  • Create promotional content and release on a schedule leading up the event
  • Finalize prize/s and any promotional product give-aways for the event
  • Determine setup/teardown and registration / check-in procedures
  • Hold meetings with volunteers, planners, and other staff to run through event logistics and agenda – important: make sure they are prepared for problem-solving on the fly, if needed; include a list of contacts for emergencies or questions to give to the volunteers, planners, and other general staff
  • Send agenda to mentors and judges with any special instructions for check-in or logistics
  • The day before the event set-up: make sure all printed materials, decorations, handouts are organized and ready for set-up and all work needed to-do has been assigned

Planning: Step 3 – Event!!

Estimated Time = 1-3 days


End-to-end running of the event, including setup and teardown


  • Setup event and run registration table
  • Leader makes opening statement and introductions
  • Determine teams  + begin challenge
  • At conclusion of challenge, judges confer or finalize voting
  • Announce winners + award prizes
  • Leader makes closing remarks
  • Event teardown and clean-up

*Note: if possible, setup the day before the event begins to give yourself some time to address last minute changes or issues like power/connectivity that may occur

Planning: Step 4 – Post-Mortem

(Estimated Time To Complete = 1-2 days)


Complete review of the event for future reference


  • Conduct extensive retrospective about the end-to-end event prep process and outcomes
  • Document learnings and metrics on prep people/process/outputs
  • Document learnings and metrics on event people/process/outputs
  • Prep for any follow-on activities (like partnership agreements) that come out of the event


To get started, here are some potential objectives for an area of focus:

#1. Internally-Focused: Hackathon as a Process

Leveraging expertise of employees, this format encourages creativity and problem solving to foster intrapreneurship and solve issues to improve cross-business unit collaboration within your organization.

#2. Externally-Focused: New Product / Feature Development with Startups, Freelancers, or B2B Customers

This format encourages the creation of product or feature enhancements for potential business partnerships or collaborations with your organization for innovation pilots.

#3. Externally-Focused: Recruitment

Networking with talent, this format provides a safe space to meet with and test out potential talent that GS1 may want to hire or contract for either development or evangelism roles within your organization.

#4. Externally-Focused: Developer Evangelism

Building awareness in the developer community is a critical component of evangelism. This format provides an opportunity to network with and introduce tools as a part of initial evangelism efforts. 


Challenge ideas (aka “challenge statements”) bring structure and purpose to the event and will be an important determining factor in the solicitation of participants, mentors, and judges. Challenges are problems to be solved, and practically speaking, they may not all be solved in one event. However, having a few challenge ideas identified early on is an important foundational element to the overall hackathon planning process.  

First, we usually begin with identifying general problems to be solved and then aligning them to our annual, broader company goals to help us with prioritization. Below is an example of how we’d organize a worksheet to get started brainstorming potential challenge ideas. We included some example information to illustrate how to use it:

Brainstorming: Challenge Ideas
1 Improve quality and traceability of data in for a master data management application
2 Develop a new process to automate high volume accuracy and completeness of fields in your application that will be used for cross-reference
3 Use AI/ML (emerging technology) in a process related to improve customer service experience
4 etc
5 etc

Then, we align the various challenge ideas to the companies goals and hackathon objectives. This helps us build the business case. 

Target Hackathon Objective  Company Goal To Which Challenge Idea/s Does It Align?
Internal Hackathon as a Process Cross-business unit collaboration 1 (example)
Foster intrapreneurship
Improve internal processes for a particular standard or API 2 (example)
External New Product / Feature Development Create mature prototypes for new product or feature development
Collaborate with member to harness their technology to solve a product or feature problem
Work with startups or emerging markets to develop a mature prototypes for potential partnerships 3 (example)
Recruitment Test skills for future hirable talent
Developer Evangelism Build awareness or education

Hackathon Planning: Judging Parameters

In the early stages of prep, it will help you to shape your ideas if you can also consider what the judging parameters will be and how much each category is worth. This is critical because the judging parameters should align to the challenge idea. 

Here are some common parameters that could be suitable for any of the above challenge ideas that you can use as a starting point:

  • Creativity – Bringing the “wow” factor to solve a problem
  • Usability – Usefulness of the product to solve a problem
  • Technicality – The technology used to create the solution
  • Scalability – Potential for future upgrades to improve upon the solution
  • Business Value – Solving a problem while aligning to the business goals

It might be helpful to provide a scorecard for judges, too, especially if you assign a maximum “weight” to the judging paramaters.

What’s Next

We support customers in all phases of hackathon planning and production. When you’re ready to accelerate your innovation initiatives with a super sweet successful hackathon, contact us. We have a free hackathon planning tool-kit that will be published soon, too. Stay tuned!

For Further Reading: Infographic –