Why the Time Is Right for the Digital Whiteboard

The technology to manufacture digital whiteboards has been in place for years. Why the renewed interest?

January 24, 2017 5 minute read

The digital board is back. This may be hard to swallow. The lack of adoption of the Smart Board left a sour taste in the mouths of many. The hardware that promised to enhance engagement ended up gathering dust. It’s reasonable to look at the resurgence of the digital board with some skepticism. But I encourage you not to close your eyes to the digital whiteboard trend.

Enterprise teams inside and outside of IT are using physical whiteboards in ways we couldn’t have imagined a few years ago. Meanwhile persistent chat and information sharing tools have changed the way we collaborate. Understanding these drivers, can help you assess the value of digital whiteboards within your organization.

The whiteboard goes agile

By now we’ve all heard of agile, the iterative approach to project management pioneered by software developers. Agile relies on hyper-collaboration and a laser focus on prioritization, so teams only work on tasks that bring the most value to stakeholders.

Agile pioneers knew they needed to break down siloed communication for this fast, lean style of work to succeed. Project goals needed to be front and center and the execution of the goals needed to be visible at all times. To create this single pane of glass, they turned to what was in front of them, a whiteboard.

Whether your teams follow a true agile methodology or not doesn’t matter. Agile gave the whiteboard new life. Today whiteboards are less a place to go to work out an existing idea and more a place to create new ones, often through group scribbling, sticky note pasting and finger pointing. They’ve come to embody team collaboration.

Of course, whiteboards present problems for today’s teams. First, they don’t move, which makes remote participation in board brainstorming difficult. Second, eventually we have to erase the board and peel off the sticky notes. Before we do, someone likely takes a picture of the board. Maybe someone even takes notes on the collaborative session. But chances are the picture and notes end up buried in team members’ inboxes. What could have been a start to a great idea fizzles out as a result.

Persistence changes the game

Good ideas come at any time. Whether it’s during a morning coffee or a sleepless night. We used to jot down these ideas in a notebook or note-taking app. Luckily those days are behind us. Now, we can push those ideas to our team in real time through persistent collaboration applications like Slack, HipChat, Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams. This is a big and important shift in collaboration.

When I come up with a new thought about a project my team is working on, I throw it in a virtual room. Soon, someone comments. Others quickly join in. Sometimes employees outside our team are invited in the room to share their perspectives. The idea starts snaking in ways I would never have expected. The persistence of the room allows us to follow and build on the idea’s evolving path.

The explosive adoption of Slack spurred big and little players to jump in the persistent, chat-based collaboration game. It quickly became apparent that teams, especially remote teams, thrived on the experience of being in a virtual room.

Whether an enterprise has rolled out a persistent chat solution across its organization, or teams are using tools outside of the enterprise, this is how we now collaborate. I don’t even like to think about the days when these tools weren’t at our disposal. My mind goes to discussions years ago where great ideas were born only to die on the vine because they didn’t have a place to grow. Strip away a team’s main persistent collaboration tool, and I’d expect you’d have a mutiny on your hands.

How to look at the digital whiteboard

When we consider how the physical whiteboard has evolved as well as examine the collaboration platforms teams have adopted, the resurgence of the digital board doesn’t seem quite so out of left field.

Unlike the Smart Board, which tried to digitize the chalk board, as strange as it may sound, I don’t believe the digital whiteboard is trying to digitize the whiteboard. Don’t look at the digital whiteboard as a replacement for your existing collaboration technology. Instead, view it as a complement to the collaboration tools you already use.

When it comes to the digital whiteboard, my advice is to start small but think big. Find a remote team within your organization that uses a physical whiteboard to generate and execute on ideas, as well as a team that uses persistent chat as a collaborative platform. Train them on the full functionality and integrations of a digital whiteboard, and let the team discover and develop use cases that make the most sense for them. The more ideas, the better. After all, you don’t need to erase any of them.

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