10 of My Development Needs and Cardiff NHS Hackday

Cardiff NHS Hackday 2015 - from above
Cardiff NHS Hackday 2015 – from above

I was going to call this post “Don’t worry about the slashed training budget…. Send your people to NHS Hackdays and get them trained for free…”.

However that gives the wrong message and would send some Organisational Development Professionals into a bit of a ‘tail spin’. The idea doesn’t quite fit with conventional thinking.

The point I’m trying to make is that NHS Hackday is much more than a bunch of enthusiasts getting excited about technology and fixing medical problems. It exposes the people who participate to a wide range of ‘development opportunities’ that you might wait a lifetime to experience in many traditional personal development programmes.

I should say that I have been very lucky over 20 plus years to experience a wide range of training and development courses. Everything from online Health and Safety compliance courses through to Raft Building with ropes and logs (the dreaded team-building) and ‘Speaking Confidently’ with an opera singer. Most of the experiences have been very good, and I would like to think they have helped me become better at my job(s). However, nothing comes close to 36 hours of NHS Hackday when you are fully immersed in trying to make something that is real. Something you believe will make a difference. If you could transfer that essence into other training and development situations I think it would have a huge positive impact.

Here's some paper and pens - explain your idea!
Here’s some paper and pens – 2 minutes to explain your idea!

What about My Development Needs?: Just to prove I do think about this stuff, and don’t swan off to random gatherings on the weekend, this I how I thought the NHS Hackday helped with 10 of my development needs (it’s also annual appraisal time, and my Boss might read this).

  1. Networking Skills. I bet there isn’t a single organisational competency framework that doesn’t have ‘networking skills’ featuring somewhere. Well, Hackday is the perfect place to practice these, 36 hours to network with a 100+ people. I must admit to drawing comfort from the fact that although I might have the lowest IQ at Hackday, I probably wasn’t the most socially awkward person in the room…
  2. Speaking Confidently in Public. Always tricky to develop this skill, well try this….. the Saturday Morning Pitch! Getting your point across, in 60 seconds, to a packed lecture theatre of 200 really clever people, beats anything I’ve ever experienced on a training course.
  3. Visual Communication. “Here’s a sheet of flip chart paper and some pens. You have 2 minutes to create something that explains your idea, and then post it on the boards”. It really happened! Again, a skill I often use in real life, and there’s nothing like practicing it under real pressure. I could name and shame someone here who cheated – and turned up with printed posters, but I won’t…..I’ll be doing it next year.
  4. Influencing Skills. Now you have to convince some people, over who you have absolutely no power, to come and work with you for the next 2 days. It was at this point I was wishing I’d done training in hypnosis and mind control. This is one of the toughest things I’ve done in ages.
  5. Teambuilding. No empty barrels, ropes and logs to help out; just a table, some chairs, an extension lead and flipchart paper. All that stuff you learn about setting the vision, working to people’s strengths, communicating clearly and respecting the needs of all team members are used in overdrive at this stage.
  6. Project Management. ha ha ha, there wasn’t a PID, Gantt Chart or a Prince2 Manual in sight! With less than 24 hours on the clock we were ‘stripped down, flexible and outcome focussed’. I’ve not yet done ‘Agile’ Project Management Training, if I do, I hope it’s a bit like this.
  7. Problem Solving & Learning from Failure. This alone would sum up the Hackday experience. As it turns out my original idea ‘needed some work on the detail’ to put it mildly. Approaches like ‘brainstorming’ (in a non obvious way) get dragged out as part of the creative thinking process. We did try some things that didn’t work, learnt from failure and moved on (quickly).
  8. Time Management. Did I mention we had less than 24hours on the clock? The prospect of presenting our working solution to the other Hackers at 3pm the next day is a great incentive to manage the time effectively.
  9. Decision Making & Prioritisation. It’s easy to delay decision making and do more fact-finding when there is no pressure. The urgency of Hackday meant that we made rapid decisions about what we were going to do and stuck with them. Prioritisation meant that some of the things we could have done, or were ‘nice to do’s’ were put aside for another day.
  10. Thinking On Your Feet. If the 60 second pitch on saturday morning had felt like a challenge, the 150 seconds to present your working prototype to your peers on Sunday afternoon was on another level. Then to top it off you get questions from the Judges. Cue what you learnt on the ‘thinking on your feet’ course.
  11. Dress For Success. A long time ago I really did go on a course like this, well it was the 1990’s. The observant will have noticed that this is number 11 in my top 10 list, which is a deliberate mistake. I just wanted to point out that not every course you attend will be effective. It’s clear, from the picture below that I didn’t take on board the lessons from ‘dress for success’. What was I thinking keeping that hat on?

So, whats the PONT?

  1. NHS Hackday was about so much more than a group of enthusiasts fixing some problems.
  2. The act of working with other people to make something real creates a sense of enthusiasm and commitment that is impressive.
  3. For me, it tests and develops all of the things I think are important in my personal development, and I would recommend it to anyone.

Links to other NHS Hackday Posts I’ve written here:


Picture via Paul Clarke https://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/12153390494/in/set-72157640139264593/

Failure to learn lessons from the 'Dress for Success' training
Failure to learn lessons from the ‘Dress for Success’ training
Our product partly developed.
Our product partly developed.





About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here: https://whatsthepont.com/churchill-fellowship/

1 Response

  1. I wasn’t cheating, I was using the ‘tiger principle’. To stay alive, I don’t have to out run the tiger, just get my daps on faster than you!! Perhaps next year we could line up two ideas that go together, like a game of agile Coding Relay?

    Otherwise, can’t agree with you enough … Hack day is just the best experience of what you can do with a diverse bunch of people with unusual superpowers.

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