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.
However, as 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 their annual hackathon – a two-day event spanning across all four of the company’s largest offices in New Zealand and Australia and including staff from all divisions of the business.
“Hackathons” have grown in popularity as ways for businesses to escape the normal business routine and 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.
“Our hackathon is not restricted to the developers, we have individuals from all across MYOB participating together. Sales, marketing, admin, and developers,” says Futurist in Residence Keran McKenzie.
“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.”
The MYOB Hack Days event begins with individuals 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 Keran.
“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 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 fourteen 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 top tips for running a successful hackathon are:
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.
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.
For further comment or other information please contact:
Rebecca Huang, MYOB NZ Public Relations Consultant
M: 021 112 2720 / E: email@example.com
Gerard Blank, The Agency Communications Limited Director
P: 03 341 5841 / M: 0275 243 629 / E: firstname.lastname@example.org
MYOB (ASX:MYO) is a leading cloud based business management solutions provider. It makes business life easier for approximately 1.2 million businesses across Australia and New Zealand by simplifying accounting, payroll, tax, practice management, CRM, websites, job costing, inventory and more. MYOB provides ongoing support via many client service channels including a network of over 40,000 accountants, bookkeepers and other consultants. It is committed to ongoing innovation, particularly in cloud computing solutions, and in 2015 was awarded the BRW award for the most innovative large company for 500+ employees and placed 2nd in BRW’s Most Innovative Companies Award list across all categories nationally. For more information, visit myob.co.nz or follow @MYOB on Twitter.