Whiteboards play a large role in IBM’s design culture. (Movable whiteboard walls even dangle from the ceiling at the company’s Austin studio). So, when the global pandemic forced IBM designers to work from home, many bought whiteboards with them. Fast forward a year later, though and many remain untouched. Why? IBM’s digital product team found a better solution: Freehand, InVision’s digital whiteboard.
“We adapted our normal in-studio world into a digital world, and that opened some cool opportunities because it got the whiteboards out of the design studio,” says Josef Bodine, UX design lead. “I brought them into architecture and engineering meetings.” Freehand also helps Bodine’s team communicate with their China-based development team.
In a webinar, Bodine shared how teams across IBM use Freehand, and his best practices for using the virtual whiteboard to balance free-flowing collaboration and moderation. Here, his three best tips:
Set one clear goal
Rather than simultaneously managing multiple goals, Bodine recommends centering each meeting or planning session around a single goal. Also, be sure to set the expectation of what will be tackled in the meeting as early and clearly as possible. When everyone is focused on accomplishing the same task, the session entertains fewer distractions and tangents, and the group more easily moderates itself.
Use a template
In order to include a diverse set of perspectives, IBM’s product planning sessions often include representatives from other business units outside of EPD. In order to be as inclusive as possible while still maintaining focus, IBM created a “Product Pyramid” template in Freehand to visualize the product plan. It shows how everything in the plan is related and builds off on each other. Sometimes they go through the template as a group. Others, they use it to encourage participants to tackle the sections they feel passionate about. By structuring the session visually, less time and energy is spent having to guide the group through activities.
Continue the conversation
The team at IBM designed the pyramid to serve as a living document. Because it allows for asynchronous collaboration, perspectives of those who were not in the session can be easily added. It also can be referenced and refined as the product development cycle moves along—and makes for an easy launching off point for retros, as well as a spot to store important lessons learned for future sessions.
Brittany Anas is a Denver, Colorado-based freelance writer. She is a regular contributor to publications including Apartment Therapy, Forbes and Men’s Journal and previously was a reporter at the Daily Camera in Boulder and The Denver Post. She worked three years as a federal background investigator before transitioning into a full-time freelance role.