Trello as ”whiteboard simulator”

””Trello

I’m very into Kanban and really proud of the visualizations we have made on our physical whiteboards. Nevertheless, I’m curios about online Kanban tools. I follow their development and debate about them on Twitter. One day I saw the following.

””Tweet””

Introduction

I thought for a while, and then it all of a sudden hit me. That’s brilliant! Now I had an idea on how to solve the remote workshop I was planning for! It was at the end of the year, and the annual budget restrictions have made traveling impossible. We had participants from three different locations that needed to attend the workshop. I wanted the workshop to be vivid, I’ve read somewhere that the best form of communication is between persons discussing in front of a whiteboard. Now I had an idea on how to do this, without having all the participants together in the same room.

This is how we did it

First of all, I must explain the one thing that makes it possible to use Trello as a “whiteboard simulator”. That is the automatic update function. If I move a card on my laptop screen, that update is shortly thereafter visible on the screens of the others looking at the Trello board. This happens without any form of manual reload or refresh. It also works in the iOS and Android clients.

Second, you must of course have some kind of sound for your meeting participants to complement the Trello board. For example Skype or a phone conference.

Third, make sure all meeting participants are on Trello and can see your ”whiteboard simulator” board before the meeting. You don’t want to spend valuable meeting time on technical connectivity issues.

Preparations

””Trello

As for any successful meeting, proper preparation is needed. When I use Trello as a “whiteboard simulator” I prepare two things:

  • Lists – The lists shall represent some initial structure of the topic to be discussed. In the example I’ve provided, the discussion should be about product requirements. It made sense to have a list for ”Business requirements”, and another for ”Technical requirements”. One list is used to store action points that comes up during the discussion, I call that list ”Further actions”. If a card can be ”closed” on the meeting, it’s moved to the ”Done” list.
  • Cards – To get the discussion going, you can provide some cards (sub-items)  to begin with. It should be the obvious ones, to use as starters. I put them in a own list called ”To discuss”.

One other good thing to think about before the meeting is the following two roles:

  • ”Discussion facilitator” – One person that facilitate the discussions.
  • ”Trello updater” – One person that listens to the discussions and update the Trello board to reflect it accordingly.

The two roles can be handled by the same person if he or she can handle that. To keep flow in the discussions though you want to avoid pauses for updating the Trello board. If that can happen ”seamlessly”, it’s to be preferred.

During the meeting

””Trello

During the meeting the ”Discussion facilitator” talks much and try to steer the discussion with the other participants. For example: ”Have we thought about this requirement? No, so let’s add it as a technical requirements then”. The ”Trello updater” then adds cards to the Trello board accordingly. But also to move the cards around, update them with comments, sets labels (color marking), add members (avatars) to show responsibility etc.

After the meeting

””Trello

If you have played your cards well (pun intended) before and during the meeting, there is not so much to do afterwards! No protocol is needed since the discussion have been captured on the board. Further action points should also have been made as cards. What you may want to do, is to move or copy the “action point “-cards from the ”Whiteboard simulator” board to a ”Project board”. This is very easy using Trello. You just select a card, choose move or copy and put it on the destination board.

Advanced option (to create hierarchy or dependencies)

Shortly after I published this blog post Cristiano Basso (@csbasso on Twitter) reached out to me. He wanted to inform me that it’s also possible to link a card to another in Trello. If you click on a card, and use the ”Share and more…”-option, you can copy the link to the card. That link can you put on another card to ”create” a dependency between the cards, or if you want to make a hierarchy between cards. You can either put the link as an attachment to the card, or as part of a checklist as in the picture below.

””Trello

Benefits

These are the benefits of using Trello as a ”whiteboard simulator”:

  • Get interactive meetings even with remote participants.
  • No protocol is needed afterwards, it has already been done during the meeting and is visible to all participants.
  • No action points needs to be prepared after the meeting, they have also been done.
  • It’s very simple to get started.

The disadvantage is of course that you can’t draw pictures as on a physical whiteboard. However, pictures in digital format can be added as attachments to cards.

Summary

I hope I have convinced you of a new usage of Trello as a ”whiteboard simulator.” Let’s try it out on your next remote workshop and get back to me with your feedback! Also, I do think Trello has a lot more to offer apart from being only a “whiteboard simulator”. Maybe I will come back to that in later blog posts.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

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