Cultivating Good Projects
Not every project makes a good hackathon project. It is extremely important to maximize the following qualities in the projects at your event:
- Clearly articulated. Projects should have a clear question or problem they are trying to solve plus a reasonably specific proposed solution that brings us a step closer to social good.
- Attainable. Most projects will accomplish about 25% of what they think they can accomplish in the limited time they have. Manage each project’s goals so participants are able to feel accomplished at the end of the session, not interrupted.
- Easy to onboard newcomers. Projects should have ready-to-go tasks for newcomers with a variety of skills and at a variety of skill levels. For coding projects, these tasks can’t require an intimate understanding of the code base, and make sure the build environment can be spun up in less than 20 minutes. Make a list of tasks to tackle ahead of time!
- Led by a leader. A “subject matter expert” guides a project to real-world relevance. Ideally the leader (or one of the leaders) is a stakeholder, or a good proxy for a stakeholder. Additionally, it is never enough for a project leader to just be an ideas person. Beware when the leader is a stakeholder but can’t foresee how he or she might be implementing along with the rest of the team.
- Organized. For projects with four or more members, especially newcomers, the project leader’s role should be to coordinate, ensuring each team member has something to work on and helping to welcome new team members.
Treat these bullets like a checklist. Projects that think about themselves in terms of these qualities tend to be successful and more productive.
If you know what projects are going to be worked on at the event, the earlier you can get those projects thinking about this the better. Meet with project leads and talk about these components of their project ahead of time if possible. As an organizer, having this information about projects can also help you route participants to projects they may want to work on.