Over the past year our team has grown from two people to seven. It's great to add all these talented people to the team, but it's not without growing pains. One of our biggest challenges has been sharing our work with the team and getting feedback. We know that as we grow no one person will know every detail of each project, but it was getting to the point where some wouldn't hear about a project until it launched (or even later than that).
This hasn't happened because of a lack of documentation. We use Pivotal Trackerto track details about each user story we solve (I'll be writing about how we use Pivotal Tacker soon).
Each user story in Pivotal Tracker comes complete with documentation, a list of actionable requirements and links to Invision mockups. The entire company is onHipchat all day with a room just for our team and project specific rooms for project discussions. And of course we use good old faithful email.
But there's one big problem with all of these channels... everyone is busy with their own work. There's not enough time to check every source just to see what the rest of the team is up to and what they might be able to give feedback on. There's no passive (not to mention easy) way to take a peek at what others are doing. This can sometimes be easy in an office environment since you can just go sit next to your coworker, but that's not always the case. To compound our troubles we are a fully remote team!
There has to be a better way!
Share links in Flock
We use a tool created by some of the Formstack team called Flock. Flock is an app for virtual daily standup meetings. It's really great way for the whole team to know what everyone is working on. For the longest time we answered the traditional stand-up questions:
- What did you accomplish yesterday?
- What do you plan on working on today?
- What problems are standing in your way?
This gives everyone a great snapshot of what the entire team is completing, working on and possibly needing help with. But after using it for several months, I found that the third question was rarely being answered by our team. You would occasionally see something menial (and not work related) like a doctor's appointment. Doctors appointments are important but we usually put personal events like this on calendars or we let everyone know via Hipchat. So to make better use of that third question we changed it to:
"Share early and often. Link to one thing you want thoughts or feedback on from the team. (If you don't have anything share a funny gif)"
This question does a few things for our team.
First, it gives us a daily reminder that we want to have an open and collaborative work environment. Even if we don't have anything worth sharing at the moment we are reminded that we want to share early and often.
Secondly, it's helped collaboration throughout the team. Conversations are happening that didn't before. Front-end developers are giving great early feedback when they normally wouldn't have the opportunity until much later in the process.
Finally, if you don't have any work to share it's a great place to share a blog article, link to a website or post a funny gif.
It's great to go through these links everyday to see what everyone is working on, what they're reading or start the day with a laugh from a great gif.
[Right] Maciej, one of our Front End Developers often shares a great gif like this since code isn't always easy to share.
We've been using Wake for almost a month now and we couldn't be happier with it.
One of the biggest benefits of Wake is the expectation that we are sharing work while it's still in progress. This makes everyone more comfortable sharing work that's rough around the edges. Designers are sharing more often because we set those expectations early. And that's awesome!
Because designers are posting more often they're getting more feedback. The first line of feedback within Wake is sidebar comments. This is a great place to give praise, ask questions or even kick off a bigger discussion.
One of the most valuable things about Wake is that these comments often lead to better discussions outside of Wake. This is the second line of feedback that happen through Hipchat, Hangout or Zoom. I've already heard of several calls and discussions that originated from a Wake post and subsequent comment.
Flock and Wake are just two ways that our team collaborates. This certainly isn't an end solution because we're always looking for ways to improve. They have certainly helped us look over each others shoulders and provide great feedback. Why not try playing around with different tools and work-flows to help improve collaboration on your team. Improving great collaboration and communication is a lot like working through the design process... keep iterating on new ideas until you fix the problem.