How to setup the simplest collaboration environment?

Agile is truly about simplicity and it is most apparent in the tools and practices our team uses everyday. Take our visual workspace for example, the place where high collaboration occurs on a daily basis. It doesn’t have to be a complex software package like some of the tools I’ve seen in the marketplace (I still have yet to try them all, but I do have a list and a reminder to try them out to see if they have potential). I find that once you put information in electronic format you have to do a lot of management (and reminding) to get people to read it. If you can get away with having it up front and center where everybody involved on the project can quickly and easily find out these 4 pieces of information, then you’ve got it made:

1. What’s planned for this iteration?

2. What’s done so far?

3. What’s remaining?

4. What’s the progress?

If a stranger can walk into the room without prior knowledge of the project, and within seconds know what tasks are complete, what tasks are remaining, and what the progress is… imagine the collaboration this environment would generate for the team and customers working on the project?

So how do you setup the simplest collaboration environment? Well, you don’t have to go to the “outer most reaches of Calgary” to find it, as Adam wrote in his blog. But you do have to put a little sweat into it! Trust me it’s well worth it if you need big custom boards and only want to spend a fraction of the cost. I’ve setup two offices (my old office and just last week my new office)using this environment and will probably do the same for my office at home. Here’s the details:

Whiteboard Purchase:

  • You can go to your favourite home building/renovation store like Rona or Home Depot and look for 4×8 feet sheets of white Tileboard. This material is also called Melamine Tile. It’s typically used to build shower stalls, but the finish is basically the same as regular whiteboards found at office supplies stores. Make sure the surface is smooth and glossy (and bring a dry erase marker to test, I didn’t tell you to though). The board will run you about $72 each. You’ll need a truck (thanks Joel) with a 6 foot bed because these 4×8 sheets don’t bend very well.



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Counter clockwise from the top left of the first picture: 3 foot level, tape measure, hammer, two sided tape (holds down parts of the board that are not flush against the wall), Tim Hortons Timbits and coffee (mandatory), power screwdriver, wall anchor screws, screw head holders/covers, pencil, whiteboard marker (to test the surface), utility knife, drill bits and miscellaneous bits/screws.

Putting it up:

At least two people are required to put it up but with three it makes it even easier. You’ll need about 30-40 minutes for each board. Basically level it, put some pilot holes into the board and wall, drive in the anchor screws, place the screw head cover holder in, drill the screws until the back opens up and tightens, finish it off with screw head covers. There you have it, “the simplest collaboration environment” (I recommend putting at least one in each office, you can never have too many whiteboards). They look like this:


@ the old office:





@ the new office:






Here’s a little more information on how to use your simplest collaboration environment from Mike Cohn: Instead of the typical index cards we use sticky post-its by 3M, not just the regular ones but the “Super Sticky” type (I think 3M made these especially for agile task boards). You don’t have to worry about tasks falling off the walls and getting lost. They actually work very well and you don’t need thumb tacks or magnets like with regular index cards.



That’s it!