At first glance, this is not a board hack. I’ve been working more and more with remote teams lately, and that makes the use of physical, easily hackable materials much more difficult. So my concept of a hack has altered slightly. What ‘hacks’ to the physical process will make it work for a team that is not co-located?
I’ve run retros where a couple of team members have been remote. And I always make sure to enable them to participate as fully as possible in the physical sticky note activities – by getting them to message/slack.text them to me so I can write them up. But what about when everyone is remote? What happens then? Last week I ran my first retro where the entire team was remote. That’s right, not one of us was in the same room!
So my beloved post-it notes were replaced with a tool called stickies.io. It lets everyone log into a shared ‘wall’ where they can individually create sticky notes, then we can group them, vote on them and discuss them. We used Google hangouts, with chat and also Slack for text communication. It certainly was not as good as a physical interaction, but it turned out better than I expected.
What did we learn?
- The experience was “equalizing” – we all learned what it felt like to be someone working remotely. Usually this team has 4 or 5 people co-located, and they tend to get most of the air time in meetings, having everyone remote meant the interactions were more equal.
- Facilitating when you can’t see people’s faces is difficult. It took a while to get used to scanning Hangouts, watching the chat, Slack and reading the sticky notes. Practice makes perfect!
- We had to turn off video because the connection was dropping out. This improved the connection, but the facilitating was even harder.
- stickies.io is tricky to use on a small screen with so many people (easy to stick notes on top of one another, and group them by mistake). But it is infinitely scalable so a big screen made a big difference.
- For me, the cognitive load of interacting with the technology (typing, organising stickies) whilst facilitating was much more difficult than dealing with physical post-its, so having a second person move the sticky notes around and another capture actions while I facilitated helped a lot. This will probably get easier the more time I do it.
- It’s can be to tell who someone is from their stickies.io avatar, especially if it doesn’t match their Slack and their Hangouts avatars. Next time we might preface each sticky with the author’s name.
- We were pretty good at not talking over each other. This team is used to having 3 or 4 remote members at any one time, so they are aware of this already, if you’ve working with a team not used to this then you might need some tactics to combat it.
stickies.io has a handy feature that allows the facilitator to switch the board to incognito mode so that everyone can focus on just their own stickies – solo brainstorming. Of course, there’s always someone who wants to game the system, so in less than a minute one of our developers had hacked this too. Not quite the kind of hack I hope for…