The whiteboard has been a popular medium for problem solving since its early introduction to the workplace in the 90s. So popular, in fact, that whole modes of collaboration have sprung up around it.
Whiteboarding has always been around in some form or another. Of course, chalkboards are most obvious predecessor to the whiteboard. But so are plans written on the back of cocktail napkins and envelopes, or little diagrams and doodles that become incredible products. The digital whiteboard is only the latest, greatest way to bring your vision to life.
Whiteboarding is used throughout the workplace to solve problems, visualize ideas, and define workflows. This process allows team to structure their thoughts in a public setting, where they can generate actionable feedback. The whiteboard is much more than just a place to scribble out notes — it’s a critical element in the session, a place for mapping and brainstorming.
What is whiteboarding?
At the most basic level, it’s using a whiteboard to organize and document ideas. This can involve a literal whiteboard hung on the wall or a freestanding easel with a pad of paper. The modern solution is a digital whiteboard that can take notes, translate handwriting into legible text, auto-save your sessions, and more (i.e. the Vibe Board).
However, there’s so much more to whiteboarding than just writing notes. It can refer to anything from collaboration in classrooms to conducting sales presentations to displaying skills on the spot for a job interview.
The whiteboard is a source of inspiration as much as it is a place for tracking it. A whiteboard can serve as the organizational locus for a brainstorming session or the place where the abstract threads and visions swirling in your imagination take shape and come to life.
For our introduction, we’ll be discussing how using a whiteboard to visualize and document ideas can transform your ideation process. Here we go!
Successful whiteboarding use cases:
Presenting ideas and getting feedback
Whiteboarding can create a valuable competitive advantage for sales teams. Having the ability to illustrate pain points and follow them to resolution gives prospective clients something visual to grasp onto during a presentation. Rather than simply saying “our product does X,” you can guide your prospect through the process, highlighting value and empowering them to participate in your presentation.
For your account managers and customer-facing teams, whiteboards can lead to more productive meetings, organize recaps, drive collaboration, and much more. Having a place to organize everyone’s thoughts can keep meetings on track and ensure that key touchpoints are addressed.
Visualizing complex problems
Using verbal communication to describe complex systems or define workflows isn’t ideal for every setting. In many instances, a simple diagram can make a concept easier to grasp. Using graphic representations of abstractions can give people the concrete foothold they need to develop a firm understanding. For UX designers, this visual brainstorming component is indispensable.
Boosting internal productivity
Sometimes, it’s the little things that inspire productivity. For avid list makers, few things are as satisfying as the physical action of crossing an action item off. Whiteboards can serve as active sites for task planning, but they can also serve to document wins.
When whiteboarding goes wrong
However, whiteboarding isn’t a recipe for success all the time. Without proper planning, the whiteboard can create confusion, constrict ideation flows, even lead to your great ideas getting erased out of existence. Thankfully, the fixes to these problems are usually pretty straightforward. These situations make whiteboarding a hazard:
Focus isn’t clearly defined at the start
Without a clear and defined focus, your team may end up trying to solve several different problems at the same time. That’s why any whiteboarding session needs a facilitator who is prepared to guide everyone toward an established goal. Before you start brainstorming and problem solving, your facilitator should take a moment to define what problem is being resolved during the session, and set an itinerary for the meetup.
One organizational practice that facilitators love: divide the white board into a problem space, where the problem is defined and analyzed, and a solution space, where it’s solved.
Another valuable way to keep everyone on track is to set up a “parking lot” on your whiteboard. This space is where valuable ideas that are outside the scope of the current session can wait for later discussion. That way, people feel like they are being heard — and their ideas don’t get lost in the mix — while everyone stays focused and on task.
Handwriting isn’t legible
When people can’t read what you write on the whiteboard, the power of the exercise is lost. This can present a problem — what if the best facilitator you have can’t write on the whiteboard? You can assign someone to write for them or use a digital whiteboard that translates handwritten notes into text, so everyone can read along.
Often, bad handwriting is the result of poor spacing. Whiteboards can quickly get filled up with ideas and diagrams, which limits the amount of space available for new ideas. With Vibe, you don’t have to worry about this. Pinch and zoom to create more endless space on the canvas, or start an entirely new board and share with your team without losing any work.
When you’re working on a Vibe board, your ideation isn’t confined by physical limitations. Think outside the frame!
5 Key Tips:
There’s a lot to whiteboarding, much more than we can cover in one blog post. To get you started, here are some rules for the road:
Don’t Fear the Eraser
Whiteboarding will always create some amount of clutter as people unload their brains — it’s part of the process. During a session, not everything written on the board will create value. When something no longer fits into the picture, don’t hesitate to remove it.
Whiteboarding in a shared space comes with some degree of risk. When you leave for a lunch break, things may get erased by your colleagues. When using traditional whiteboards, use your phone camera to document progress before stepping away. If you have a digital smartboard like Vibe, that’s not necessary — everything you do is being saved in the cloud, all the time. You’ll never lose a session to the dreaded eraser again.
Tag and Share
Assigning action items and putting the new ideas to work is a big part of whiteboarding. With Vibe, you can use integrations that connect to your existing workflows to tag colleagues and remote workers for review.
Use whiteboarding as a way to promote inclusivity. Whiteboarding can break down power dynamics in a collaborative setting, allowing people who are less headstrong to comfortably contribute their ideas. It can also make tracking ideas and recognizing people for their contributions easier for facilitators.
Have Some Fun
There’s more to whiteboarding than just work, work, work. Whiteboards tend to become hubs for inside jokes, workplace graffiti, even games. All these can be part of a productive day, and creative facilitators can even use this joyful approach to whiteboarding in guiding their ideation. With whiteboarding, the sky’s the limit when it comes to creativity.
Have fun with it!
Start thinking about your next great idea. See what Vibe can do for you.