In praise of the humble whiteboard

Software developers (including ourselves) have long used large whiteboards for collaboration on projects. Whiteboards are fast and easy to sketch ideas and to modify them as the ideas flow.

Around a year ago, I made a significant investment in a small (A4-sized) whiteboard (it was around a fiver from memory!).  For the past twenty years, I have been an dedicated note-taker using Black And Red notebooks and a Pentel P205 pencil.  I went through dozens of them (and would often keep them for over a decade even though I never referred back to them).  Whilst they did often contain lots of important notes from meetings and training sessions, they were largely full of scribbles whilst I was deploying software.

These scribbles were largely meaningless and transitional.  They would be notes that had no value after the fact; simple tick lists of tasks I needed to do or quick notes on bugs to attend to.

I had a bookshelf full of scribbles that had no value at all. I could go through notebooks in weeks.

So, I thought I would try something different when on-site and use a small whiteboard.

I have found it has completely changed my way of working and it also gets a lot of people talking and asking questions.

Having notes on a whiteboard really focused me even more than previously. I know that those notes are totally temporary (I could wipe them off in a second) and that provided an urgency to them. 

If I had a series of tasks to do over the next couple of hours and created a list for those, I would remain very focused and complete that list much more effectively.

If during testing, I had found an issue (yes, our code does, from time to time, have bugs - the key is we find them and address them!) and made a note; I found it made me lock onto the issue and get it resolved as I wasn't able to just make a note in a notebook and move onto the next task.

Knowing the note is temporary is the key to my focus. I need to resolve it and wipe it from the board before moving onto other tasks.

The whiteboard is also a great collaboration tool. If I need to work through an issue with the engineering team on-site, we can use the whiteboard to draw out any connectivity challenges and discuss the best way forwards.

It's not for everything; I certainly wouldn't recommend you take one into your next meeting to record important project information for example! But, for immediate tasks and focus, I have found it made a huge difference to working through deployment.

It sounds ludicrous that a £5 whiteboard makes such a difference to on-site efficiency, but I do truly believe that it has made more difference than any other process or tool I use.

If you are an on-site operative of any type (engineer, programmer etc.), then I can only urge you to try out a small whiteboard for yourself and see if you get a similar boost in productivity.