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The tools that make our lives easier

I can already hear you thinking… “Another blog post about tools?” Well… yes. And no. Because nothing in IT is ever true or false, right?!

I will aim at explaining how tools assist us in supporting our values, in facilitating our way of working rather than give a technical how-to explanation. I’m sure there are other and better blog posts out there that can explain to you the ins and outs of each tool.

Whiteboards

The first tool I want to elaborate on is the Whiteboard.

We use whiteboards for creating our Service Blue Print, for discussing processes, for designing solutions, for displaying the backlog, for tracking tasks and progress, for our daily scrum meetings… We use whiteboards every day. One of the main reasons we do this is increasing the shared understanding within our team.

PRO-TIP
Removing permanent marker from a whiteboard is rather easy. Go over the permanent markings with a whiteboard marker and then erase it while the whiteboard marker ink is still wet.
There! It’s like magic!

The truism that a picture says more than a thousand words is one that applies completely to the use of a whiteboard. The strength of visualising just about anything aids us throughout the entire process of software development.
Combine your usage of a whiteboard with the proper accessories. Whiteboard markers are a given, but have you tried using magnetic strips? Or using matrixtape to create somewhat more permanent structures on the whiteboard?

PRO-TIP
Since magnets stick to whiteboards longer than sticky notes, you can create name-tag magnets using magnetic strips. Names are used for a longer period and get shuffled around a lot.
On top of that it visualises who is working on what and helps people focus on the task at hand.

Sticky notes

Next up is the usage of sticky notes.

They come in all sorts of colours, sizes, with lines or just plain ones. All of them have the cool feature that you can write on them and then stick them on just about anything. Including a whiteboard!
Make sure you get the super sticky ones though. We regularly have to re-arrange the sticky notes we use during our meetings or when creating one of our designs.

There are a number of best practices to follow when using sticky notes, most of them can be found a bit lower. We often use the super sticky flip-charts (easel sheets) as well. Combine these with sticky notes and you have a multi-functional, adjustable way of creating designs that you can easily take with you and show to your customer on-site. This will improve customer inclusiveness and working together towards the most optimal solution.

PRO-TIP
When using the super sticky flip charts, take into account that your sticky notes will not stick to the part of the flip-chart that contains its own glue on the back!

And obviously there is the fun that can be had in post-it wars!

Image credit: spectacle_studio

Here are the best practices we follow when using sticky notes:

  • Sticky notes are cheaper than analysis documents
  • Watch out for curling! Pull them towards you instead of upwards. As shown here.
  • Don’t fear using colour-codes and add a legend to explain it!
  • Always write in CAPITALS
  • Use a marker with a sharp point!
  • When you have porous walls, use the 3M easel sheets to put your sticky notes on
  • Avoid writing on sticky notes when they’re already on the wall. Chances are you’ll end up with ink on the wall!
  • Sticky notes are also a good way of promoting inclusiveness. Anyone has the time and opportunity to write what they think if you have to write it down on a sticky note.
  • Don’t feel like you need to re-use the same sticky note. Just duplicate it!
  • If you’re creating a diagram and are unsure/don’t want to commit to linking two boxes by drawing a line on the whiteboard, draw the line on a sticky note and put it in between the boxes.

Digital tools

There are 2 digital gizmos that I want to point out that make working with the tools above so much easier:

Notebloc - It’s an app for your smartphone that lets you take pictures of, for example, whiteboards and then cleans them up for better readability! Store them and share them.
Miro – Formerly Realtimeboard. A collaborative tool for creating visualised boards. Has built-in support for digitalised sticky notes, story maps, process flows, all kinds of diagrams and an easy way to export all of it to images

I’ll end with a non-exhaustive list of more technical applications that we use to facilitate our work. Each of these, in their own way, aid us in supporting one or more of the core principles we uphold.

Trello - A collaborative tool for creating task boards.
XMind - Easy to use tool for creating mind-maps
Github - Centralized way to manage a backlog, code, releases, …
LastPass - The last password manager you’ll ever need
Draw.io - Free and online tool to create all types of technical drawings.

Summary

To recapitulate, we use whiteboards as a central point in many of our meetings. We draw and design together to increase shared understanding. We make extensive use of sticky notes, as this assists everyone in the team to express their opinions. Making sure everything is digitalised increases our opportunities to include our customers in the development process, even when they aren’t always present when making the drawings or designs.

Want to see these things in action? Take a look at these blog posts here and here.

Do you have a story to share on how to use sticky notes?
Are there other tools or tricks you use that weren’t covered here?
Feel free to drop us a message, we’re always eager to learn!

More to come in future posts: how we use time timers and hourglasses in meetings, which visualisation techniques we use, the benefits of having large screens at team islands, why it’s important to have mobile whiteboards next to fixed ones, etc.

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