Building Cycle2Work: how to get a side project finished

What do you do when you have a really interesting side project going on, but everyone is full of work on more important customer projects and can’t find the time to finish it up? You organise a hackathon! That’s what we did for Cycle2Work, our automatic reimbursement scheme that rewards colleagues for commuting by bicycle instead of driving.

Cycle2Work has been in use in mondora for about six months: it is an interesting project in which we connect to the app Strava so that work commutes are automatically recognised and logged. mondora has decided to give a reimbursement of € 0.20 for every km cycled to and from work. This motivates people to be more physically active and maintain good health, which is really important in our job where we sit at a desk all day long. A nice side effect of this programme is the reduction of CO2 that we “save” by cycling rather than driving to work. Keep in mind that mondora’s office is located in a rural area where public transport is not an option for most people and the average distance travelled by a colleague is 70 km per day.

some Instragram snaps from colleagues using Cycle2Work
Until now Cycle2Work was an internal project with no user interface and that could not easily be extended to our customers and other stakeholders outside the company. As the project benefits people’s wellbeing, the environment and the local community, we considered it important to complete it and enable others to make use of it. However, being a side project it was always getting pushed aside and never finished, so we decided to take action. As we are a managerless company no one was going to come and say “right, today you’ll be working on Cycle2Work”, so it was up to us to get organised and this is why we chose to have a hackathon. Here’s what we did!

Finding a date

First of all we had to find a date that worked for everyone who wanted to take part and we did this through a Doodle poll. We identified Thursday, October 26th as the best option, although we were all working on Friday morning too. We decided it would be a rather short hackathon, that it would start with pizza and beer (essentials) and that it would finish by 2 am.

Planning

Then we got together during Friday evening drinks and made a plan: we identified what was missing to complete Cycle2Work, what the Definition of Done could be, what technologies we would use and what elements we would have. We also organised practical aspects of the hackathon, such as asking if we could have access to the office at night, making sure Zeus the alsatian was locked up, where we would order pizza from and so on.

Preparation

Finally, in the week before the hackathon we did some prep work, so that we would arrive on the 26th with some basic infrastructure in place, ideas for the landing page layout, texts, etc. On the day we worked as usual until about 6 pm, then we went to get some shopping and order food.

Hackathon essential steps: eat — plan — code!

 

Getting Started

Our first mistake was that we started too late: by the time we had eaten and talked about the final details it was already 9 o’clock. However, the mood was good, the team happy and everyone was eager to get going. We set up a Pomodoro timer of 25 minutes work and 5 minutes break and worked through the evening and into the night. It didn’t all go as planned and there were quite a few last minute issues to fix, but it was great to work in such a committed team and the outcome was positive.

Outcome

Our goal was to finish Cycle2Work in one night. We didn’t make it. But we got a good chunk of it done and, most importantly, we formed a team that is now working on the project every day. We’re almost there! We also learned a lot in our first hackathon: how to prep and get organised better for example, or that we should start earlier because by 1 am it’s hard to concentrate and get things right. We learned that we have to plan for the unexpected and that things never go according to plan. We also learned that we are able to plan and execute something autonomously, with no one telling us what to do (not even the customer in this case) and that we work well as a team and have lots of different skills that combine perfectly to obtain great results together.

Another, more unexpected benefit of our hackathon was the engagement of our most junior colleagues. There are some people in the company that don’t have much work experience and are usually quite shy in approaching a new project: they tend to keep their ideas and opinions to themselves and are scared to participate actively in team work. By working on this side project, in a different environment, these junior developers were able to find the courage and commitment to contribute actively to Cycle2Work and help the team in reaching the goal of completing everything in one night. This is a wonderful lesson learned for everyone that we will definitely be applying to customer projects too from now on!

Our overall aim is to share Cycle2Work with the world: we would like other companies to take part and to set up reimbursements, prizes or other incentives for their employees. Through the landing page cycle2work.iopeople and companies will be able to see their standings compared to others and view how many km have been cycled and how much CO2 “saved”. Soon we will also integrate cycle2work with other software so that reimbursements or prizes get paid out automatically. For now you can view our landing page that is not quite finished and within the next few weeks you will be able to join the programme. We hope you like it…. Happy cycling!

Watch the Hackathon video here!

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