We are a distributed company

We do our work from all over the world. This lack of colocation makes it hard to use standard Agile tools like sticky notes and dot voting to collaborate.

We have a weekly team check-in during which we also try to teach each other something. We needed to generate and rank ideas for these learning sessions recently so I looked around to see if anyone else is talking about how they do this remotely. I found a few tools, but their free versions didn’t support the number of people on our team so they weren’t useful for a quick trial. I also didn’t want the team to spend a bunch of time learning a new tool.

We use Trello quite a bit, and Trello includes a voting feature, so I decided to give that a try.

While on a video conference, with all of us looking at the same Trello Board the group took 2 minutes to silently add cards to a List with 1 idea per card. Each person was asked to add at least 2 ideas. After generating the ideas, the group took 2 minutes to silently read all of the ideas and to notice if there were duplicates, or things that were similar and could be combined. We then had an open discussion where people could note items that might be combined. The discussion was concluded with a thumbs up/thumbs down/ thumb neutral vote (we were on a video conference) to combine the cards or not. After the discussion, each member of the group was asked to cast 3 votes. We re-arranged the cards according to the votes and we now have a nice prioritized list of topics that the group wants to learn and discuss.

Difficulties

  • It was hard to move the cards around to group them. Perhaps using multiple Trello Lists as a work space would have allowed more room to work. An individual advocating for a grouping of ideas could move candidate cards into an empty list so that the team could easily look at them together.
  • Trello only allows a person to cast 1 vote per card. Many dot-voting techniques allow you to cast all of your votes for 1 idea if you feel strongly about it.
  • Trello cards aren’t anonymous, so it might make it less likely for a person to add a controversial observation or idea, in a retrospective for example. Depending on the size of the group a handwritten sticky note might not be very anonymous either.

I’d like to keep experimenting – maybe a Google doc with virtual sticky notes & dots?