What’s the Point of Pointless Weekend?

If you follow Viget, you know we describe our innovation lab, dubbed Pointless Corp., as neither pointless nor a corporation.  Pointless Corp. provides a structure for us to work on our own projects, typically over months or even years. 

Occasionally, we like to move a little faster.  Pointless Weekend is our version of the 48-hour hackathon.  We pick, plan, design, build, and launch an app in two days beginning Thursday evening, ending Saturday evening.  Sometimes those quick projects turn into our longer-lasting Pointless products, as was the case with Baby Bookie and Shorter Order (formerly known as Lunnnch) -- both outputs from previous Pointless Weekends.

Pointless Weekend 2014

Starting at 6 pm ET last Thursday, teams from each of Viget’s three offices met over pizza and beer to discuss the dozens of project ideas individuals added to a set of Google Docs during the week.  While it’s easy to throw out ideas in a doc, it’s hard to pick the one that both matches the skills and interests of the team available and can actually be completed within 48 hours.

The intent was to have each office work locally on their own project.  To help it feel like the company-wide event it is, we had each office on a video feed.  As the evening progressed, the teams from HQ and Boulder talked and decided to team up.

JamBells

The HQ/Boulder team created JamBells, a mobile web app that creates a handbell choir among friends on the fly using your phone.  This was an opportunity to work with some interesting technology, including accessing accelerometer data within a mobile Chrome browser. We were able to dabble with device motion API, Elixir-based Phoenix web framework, websockets, Audacity, React.js, and more.

While technically live, it’s still a bit rough around the edges (optimized mostly for iPhone 6) so we’ll be tightening it up in the coming weeks.

Pearl

The Durham team also chose a project that included some cool tech, including React.js and Mailgun.  Unlike JamBells the game, Pearl is a utility we hope to use internally.  It’s the brainchild of Anna, our senior recruiter, to help her manage the flow of summer intern applicants we receive each year.

We’ll share more about each project in future posts.

So, what was the point? Launching is great, but the real value of Pointless Weekend has little to do with the apps themselves. This year highlighted a few key points:

  1. Experiment & Learn.  Lawson got to experiment with accelerometers and optimizing the timing of the bell motion.  Zachary got to implement email parsing using Mailgun. Nate was able to grow his experience in React.  Steve experimented with a new way to make design patterns in Photoshop.  Anna -- who spends most days recruiting team members -- got to work with a team to deliver a project.  Ryan and Mitch spun up a Rails app that took a MIDI file and turned it into a structured data format.  These and many other examples were relatively unique challenges we haven’t had a need to tackle with recent client work.  Pointless Corp. gives us an outlet to experiment and learn.
  2. Purify Process.  With such a tight time frame, there is no time for nonsense.  The process was as lean as possible. Communication had to be efficient. Decisions were made very quickly. Only the most critical steps were taken.  It’s a great reminder that effective process isn’t about bloated plans and deliverables: it’s about aligning team members, goals, and progress with as little friction as possible.
  3. Team. We have an awesome team here at Viget.  Crazy talented, passionate, and hardworking. We love working together, especially concurrently on a single, focused project. Seeing people volunteer their personal time to team up and tackle a difficult challenge was inspiring. The compressed timeline made for a unique style of collaboration. In just two days, we came together even more and are stronger for it.

Now, we’re on to thinking about ways to make the two apps even better. We’re also wondering which of the dozens of ideas that we didn’t work on should be on our list of future Pointless projects.

Brian is Viget's co-founder and CEO. He does everything from advising our clients to building our conference tables with his bare hands in our Falls Church, VA, HQ.

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