How to Hold a Virtual Hackathon


This post was written by Fike Corporation, a Salesforce customer.

As Salesforce Admins, we’re on the forefront of innovation and digital transformation as we change our businesses. Here at Fike, we’ve seen a lot of change over the 75 years we’ve been in the industrial manufacturing business, but the biggest recent shift has been reinventing our processes with Salesforce. Our digital transformation had really taken off… and then the pandemic hit. 

While the pivot to working remotely dramatically changed our day-to-day working lives, we didn’t let it change our focus on digital transformation. Prior to taking our business virtual, we had scheduled a Salesforce CPQ hackathon to find ways to make our business more efficient. A hackathon is a designed sprint where teams collaborate to find tech solutions, and it’s a tool every Salesforce Admin should use to take a closer look at their processes. Hackathons not only help your team collaborate quickly and bond but also help you find creative solutions to issues you might not even realize you have! Instead of putting our hackathon on hold due to the pandemic, we decided to take it virtual. Normally, hackathons have a fun party atmosphere with pizza and beer, but we quickly pivoted to make our hackathon work over video conferencing. In the end, we didn’t let the pandemic get in the way of our digital transformation. 

While we held our virtual hackathon for Salesforce CPQ, you can use these tips for any solution you’re looking to optimize. Here’s what we learned from holding a virtual hackathon:

Design the agenda for your hackathon

The purpose of the hackathon was to test how easy it would be for our teams to configure workflows and processes using Salesforce CPQ. The goal for all of the teams involved was simply to find new ways to bring as much efficiency as possible to individual processes and our overall business.

We started with an agenda to make sure we had the right plans in place before the hackathon. This included a design phase two months prior to the build week (when the real coding would take place). The design phase built up momentum within the teams, allowing them to formalize their plans and outline what they wanted to build in CPQ. It gave them an opportunity to answer questions like “What do we want to do?” and “What business model do we need to follow?” Giving your teams time for a design phase is the key to a great build week and a great hackathon. 

Make innovation the goal

Sometimes, the best plan is no plan. When you have 75 years worth of accumulated tech problems to fix, the most valuable solutions present themselves when everybody has the freedom to work on whichever problems they want. That’s why we avoided setting any specific KPIs for the hackathon. Our only goal was innovation. 

Three of our product teams were involved in the hackathon: our pressure relief team, our explosion protection team, and our fire team. We chose these teams because of their diverse perspectives. It was a strategic choice to involve teams that would have differing opinions — because we knew those differences would lead to the best innovations during the hackathon.

Expand your virtual audience

It could be argued that working from home actually made our hackathon better than it would have been if we’d been in the office during the build week. Having virtual meetings instead of in-person meetings led to higher productivity and employee participation — and as a bonus, we were able to easily include a large global audience.

To manage the hackathon virtually, we scheduled check-in points and made sure to include other teams and departments whenever it made sense. We included internal technical experts, executive management, external partners, and even our friends at Salesforce.

We had check-ins at the same time every day to make sure everyone was heading in the right direction with their hackathon goals. We also looped in our top-level management to participate in the proposal phase near the end of the hackathon. The three hackathon teams presented their hacks in an hour and a half call (30 minutes per team), and the panelists  were highly impressed with the innovative solutions they created. 

Ultimately, holding the hackathon virtually didn’t hold us back in any way. It still challenged us to break all the rules, question our assumptions, figure out why we do things a certain way, and identify ways to fix everything. 

If you’re looking to optimize any of your Salesforce processes, I suggest trying a virtual hackathon at your organization. Let us know if you host a hackathon, and how it goes, by sharing on Twitter with the hashtag #AwesomeAdmin.

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