Top 7 Remote Collaboration Tools for IT Startups

Remote Collaboration – you can’t do it right without the right toolkit.  As an IT startup and a company with two offices, we have a lot of remote collaborating going on. We’ve been looking for tools that are budget-friendly, easy to use and compatible with our versatile team. So, here’s our personal top 10 remote collaboration tools list. 

Remote Collaboration Tools: Communication

Slack

remote collaboration tools

Slack is that one tool we couldn’t imagine our workday without. It’s easy to use, it provides lots of integrations and it’s affordable. Actually, we are using a free version for our needs. We use it to communicate with our departments, get notifications from our help desk tool, and last, but not least – to agree on a restaurant choice for lunch.

At its core, Slack operates in channels.  A company can create channels to track and archive conversations around teams or projects. Another great thing about Slack is its search feature. Slack archives all conversations, so you can browse through your conversation history.

Skype

remote collaboration tools

We use Skype for communication with clients and remote collaboration with our freelance associates. It’s our go-to software when we want to add a human dimension to our communication with people. The best thing about Skype is that it’s free. Plus, it is widely used by business people around the world so you won’t have much explaining to do.

Skype provides audio and video calls between multiple devices. It also offers group calling up to 25 people. However, Skype does have some reliability issues. That’s when Google Hangouts enters the ring.

Google Hangouts

Remote Collaboration Tools

Google Hangouts is another provider of video and audio remote collaboration. It’s convenient because it’s free and you can enter it directly from your Gmail interface. We never had any reliability problems with it – so, that’s a big plus, too.

Apart from messaging and video calling,  Hangouts also has a feature called Google Hangouts on Air. It enables Google+ users to stream video calls live via YouTube.

Remote Collaboration Tools: Visualization

AWW App

Whether we want to share some ideas, visualize a workflow or make a  web page wireframe, we use AWW App. It’s simple to use and you don’t even have to register for a free service.

AWW App is a collaborative online whiteboard that helps you visualize your ideas, workflows or business concepts. You can invite as many people as you want to collaborate with you in real time. Premium version offers file uploads, unlimited board storage, and a voice communication up to 5 people for 10 bucks a month.

Remote Collaboration Tools: File Sharing

Google Drive

Remote collaboration tools

A brilliant remote collaboration tool that makes our lives easier. Google Drives offers a safe place for all our important files. A wonderful thing about Google Drive is that you can access your files from wherever you are. Whether you’re in office, at home or on a business trip.

With Google Drive, you get 15GB of free storage, good support and a massive collection of third-party apps. For most of the businesses, that’s more than enough reasons to fall in love with this remote collaboration tool.

Remote Collaboration Tools: File Collaboration

Google Docs

Remote Collaboration Tools

Google Docs is another popular remote collaboration tool from Google’s workshop. Our team uses it to collaborate on the creation of web content. Most of the time we use it in conjunction with Slack or Trello (see below).

Google Docs is a great tool for several reasons: it has tons of editing features, documents are auto-saved and you can export them in a variety of formats. And, let’s not forget to mention – it’s free to use.

Remote Collaboration Tools: Project Management

Trello

Remote Collaboration Tools

Trello is a massive help in our team. We use it on a daily basis to manage our projects and tasks. The visual structure of lists and cards makes tracking progress a lot easier. 

Trello is one of the leading project management apps and among the most popular remote collaboration tools on the market. Trello enables team members to discuss a project or a task in real-time. It keeps everybody informed through task assignments, activity log, and email notifications.

 

5 Remote Collaboration Hacks for Less Stress and More Productivity

Remote collaboration can be stressful. Whether you work in a virtual team or as a freelancer, you have to collaborate with people that are miles away, and sometimes even complete strangers. We have a lot of experience working in remote teams ourselves and we know how tricky it might be. So we decided to help you with these hand-picked remote collaboration hacks that will make your team insanely productive.

1. Go Beyond Written Communication

Communication is a multidimensional structure. It consists, not only of a verbal part, but also of nonverbal cues such as body language, the tone of voice, distance and physical appearance. In fact, it’s the nonverbal part that has the most power in getting your message through. The tone of your voice, your gestures and facial expressions are those that speak the loudest.

When you’re restricting yourself to written communication,  you’re striping your message from its full meaning. Even a badly placed punctuation can defer the true meaning of your message. Have you ever spend a half an hour writing an email, only to learn that your colleague has interpreted it entirely wrong? It happened to all of us. And it happens more often to remote teams.

remote collaboration tools
Remote collaboration tools. Courtesy of: atendesigngroup.com

Well, there’s a simple solution to this problem: whenever you can, ditch the written communication! There are plenty of visual and audio communication tools to help you effectively deliver your remote message. Video communication tools like Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom or join.me can bring your remote collaboration to the higher level.

There are also great visual collaboration tools that can help you visualize your message in real time. Collaborative online whiteboards like AWW App are ideal to get your remote team on the same page. So, instead of talking about your ideas – you can actually show them!

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2. Make Sure Everyone is Comfortable with the Collaboration Technology

You have found a great remote collaboration tool. It’s just what you were looking for and you can’t wait to share it with your colleagues! But, before getting too excited, you need to introduce the software to your team. It would be counterproductive to invite your team offhand before they know how to use the tool.

You can elaborate the instructions via email, but it is even better to invite your colleagues to try the tool themselves. Most of the collaborative tools have a free trial period or a demo. So, before making a commitment, let your team members play around with it a bit. If a majority of the team likes the tool, you can proceed with using it regularly. However, if they didn’t share your enthusiasm, you will need to make a compromise and find a tool that suits everybody.

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3. Get to Know Your Collaborators

Similarly to how you need to do a software preparation, you need to make your get-to-know-your-collaborators homework. You shouldn’t miss this step, especially if you have never met your collaborators.

If you’re a part of an international corporation, chances are you will need to talk to someone from another country or even different culture. In those situations, the name on the screen alone doesn’t tell us much. Learning the person’s gender and the correct name pronunciation is the minimum you should do before starting a live conversation.

remote collaboration team members
Getting to know your remote team members. Courtesy of: growingleader.com

Oftentimes you will need to know more than a hint of basic information about your collaborators – like a company position, prior work experience etc. If the person is your co-worker you can easily check its profile on a company’s webpage.

Should you need to collaborate with a freelancer for the first time, checking its LinkedIn profile would probably be the best go-to site to learn everything you might need to know. If you need information about specific groups of people, there are tons of specialized sites that offer such data. For instance, most of the freelance designers and artists have their profile on Behance. Here’s the complete list of the alternative professional network platforms you can use instead of LinkedIn.

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4. Choose the Suitable Collaboration Time

Working in an international company, you are probably going to have a remote collaboration session with a person from another country. Since different countries have different time zones, scheduling a remote meeting could be tricky. But, don’t worry – you wouldn’t have to do it all by yourself.

time zones in remote collaboration
Scheduling remote meetings within different time zones. Courtesy of: rbth.com

There are tools that can help you schedule a meeting at the best time according to your and your collaborator’s time zone. World Clock Meeting Planner or Timezone Meeting Planner are some of them. With a tool like Calendly you don’t even have to know your collaborator’s time zone, just let your partner pick the time that suits him the best.

If you’re gonna have regular remote meetings, it would be the best to establish a routine. It’s important to stick with the appointed time and day of a remote meeting, no matter how busy you are with day-to-day tasks. Discipline is a key factor for this system to work, otherwise, everyone will start to make excuses and soon you would have no one to collaborate with.

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5. Make Sure Everyone is Engaged

To hit the productivity sweet spot, it’s a good practice to give each team member a role. For example, the minute keeper will have to write down the decisions made in the session and the further steps for the next one. The facilitator should direct the flow and the energy of the session. He/she needs to make sure everyone is participating by encouraging team members to give their share of ideas.

The roles should rotate for each new remote collaboration meeting. That way no one will feel bored with getting the same task all over again.

 

Business Model Made Easy: Benefits of the Business Model Canvas

A businesses model is the Holy Grail of every business – a blueprint for your product and how you’re gonna deliver it. It can determine whether your business is gonna make it – or break it. 

Traditionally, every company had their business model written in a business plan. Yet, things have changed. 100 – page long plans got too clunky to keep up with a fast-moving nature of lean businesses and startups. Last decade a new approach has been developing, that fits perfectly with the new agile environment. It’s called the Business Model Canvas.

Elements of the Business Model Canvas

Before digging in the benefits, we’ll shortly go through the elements of the Canvas.

Business Model Canvas - Elements
Elements of the Business Model Canvas

1. Key Partnerships:  What can the company outsource to partners so it can focus on its key activities?

2. Key Activities:  What key activities company does to deliver the value proposition?

3. Key Resources:  What unique assets company has in order to compete?

4. Value Proposition:  Why would customers want to buy and use the product? Why is it different than other similar products?

5. Customer Relationships:  How do you interact with your customers through their “journey” with the product?

6. Channels:  How do you promote, sell and deliver your products to customers?

7. Customer Segments:  Who are your customers? What do they feel, see, think?

8. Cost Structure:  What are the business’ major cost drivers? How are they linked to revenue?

9. Revenue Streams:  How does the business earn revenue from the value propositions?

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Benefits of the Business Model Canvas

It’s Short and Intuitive

Unlike lengthy business plans, the Business Model Canvas fits on a single sheet of paper. We can divide the model scheme into three groups of elements:

1. On the left side of the model are product related elements outlined in blue. They represent all activities and resources necessary for a product delivery. Product-related elements create costs.

2. Colored green, on the right side of the scheme, are customer related elements. They represent all aspects of a product that customers are in touch with. Customer-related elements create revenue.

3. Previous two elements interfere with each other and create a central element – the Value Proposition.

Dynamics of Business Model Canvas
The interaction between Business Model Canvas elements. Courtesy of apf.org

It makes sense – right? This logical structure makes the model catchy and easy to understand. Plus, the visual representation and spatial layout of elements make the model even more intuitive.

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It’s Easy to Modify

This is the world of continuing changes. Especially in the business world. New technologies, market niches, customer needs…all of those affect your business model.  So, finding an easy way to adapt your model to the changes is crucial.

Imagine rewriting a 100-page long business plan. It isn’t a pleasant thought – right?  Well, the Business Model Canvas is certainly a faster way for updating your business model. It will probably take you under 10 minutes to completely rewrite your old model.  However, if you stick with a business plan, it will take you longer than that just to read the first two pages.

It Focuses on a Customer Value

As I mentioned in a previous paragraph, the central part of the Business Model Canvas is the value proposition. It represents the coherence between what you’re selling and what customers need. Most importantly, it should highlight the uniqueness of how you bring that coherence.

Characteristics of Value Proposition
Characteristics of a Value Proposition. Courtesy of Convert.com

If you can’t define a clear, concise customer value proposition it may be a sign of a bad business model. The value proposition is the most important part of the Business Model Canvas and you have to explicitly define it. So, if it turns out you’re not really sure what your proposition is – you can promptly react. You will get a timely signal to redefine your business model and avoid possible disastrous outcomes.

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It Works

The Business Model Canvas is proven to work – and not just in the startup environment. Mega companies like LEGO, Microsoft or General Electric are also using this approach.  They have all realized the power of this simple tool.

LEGO has revamped the entire business model using the Canvas.  Not only did they avoid the bankruptcy, but they quadrupled the revenue and brought back the love of the kids around the world.

LEGO Business Model Canvas
LEGO Business Model Canvas. Courtesy of G. Motter

Make Your Own Business Model Canvas

It’s time for you to make your own Canvas. Click the interactive canvas below and use the post it tool to add new or edit existing post-its. Zoom in for the details, or zoom out to see a big picture.

7 Reasons To Use Remote Meetings Whiteboard To Save Money & Time

Complex and cumbersome conferencing software is not only a costly investment, but it also lacks flexibility. That’s why more and more companies transit to another solution – remote meetings whiteboards! These collaborative real-time boards are easy to use and save a lot of money. Most of the real-time whiteboards also have a built-in voice communication solutions which give you a real feel of the face-to-face meetings.

How To Save Time With Remote Meetings Whiteboard

1. Don’t need to travel

You don’t need to actually travel to your subsidiary or a client’s office to have a meeting. Just share the real-time interactive whiteboard with your meeting colleagues and you’re ready to go!

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2. Don’t waste time on keeping meeting minutes

Since you’re all together on the same board, all your ideas and conclusions are visible in real-time. You can also save your boards for a later review in your dashboard. There’s no more need to keep meeting minutes or taking photos of an office whiteboard to have successful remote collaboration.

remote meetings whiteboard helps you on meetings
Stop wasting time keeping meeting minutes
3. Don’t wait for a feedback

Being on the same board creates an environment of an instant feedback. There’s no more waiting for a colleague or a team leader to answer your email or respond to your slack thread. Most importantly, you can give specific feedback, that leaves no room for misunderstandings or communication errors. It’s all transparent and available in real time.

Leave an instant feedback using a remote meetings whiteboard.
Leave an instant feedback using a remote meetings whiteboard. Courtesy of Velcom.by
4. Don’t waste time on staff training/assimilation

Assimilating to a new piece of technology can be really painful and takes a lot of time. Since collaborative real-time boards are very easy to use, assimilation period is much shorter than with complex software.

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How to Save Money With Remote Meetings Whiteboard

1. Cut travel costs

Business travels cost money. Sometimes thousands of dollars. When you’re using a remote meetings whiteboard you’re not only cutting the need to travel, but the travel costs, too.

remote meetings whiteboard cuts your business travel costs
Cut your business travel costs
2. Don’t buy expensive conferencing software

Remote meetings whiteboards are far friendlier for your budget than any conferencing solution. Moreover, monthly subscriptions are much more flexible, too.

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3. Don’t waste money on maintenance

No hardware – no maintenance. No maintenance – no costs. When you buy a subscription to a remote meetings whiteboard you also get an access to technical support. If anything goes wrong the support will fix it with no extra costs. However, if it doesn’t – you can always request a money refund.

These are the seven reasons why I find remote meetings whiteboards better for your business budget and schedule. If you have any other suggestions, I’d like to hear them in the comments.

10 Ways How Visual Collaboration Can Make You a Productivity Ninja

Many companies use visual collaboration tools when they deal with big projects. They involve people speaking different languages and living in different time zones. Despite that, they all have to work together. One of the most cost-effective and productive visual collaboration tools are online whiteboards. They erase time, geographical and language barriers. Check this 10 ways how visual collaboration whiteboard can skyrocket your productivity!

1. Allows real-time collaboration with people around the world

Let’s say you were working in a big software company with offices around the world. You have scheduled a business meeting with your Australian subsidiary, while your office is in the UK. So, you’re 10 hours behind them. As if that’s not uncomfortable enough, you don’t know how to explain their UX team what you’d like to change on the mock-ups they’ve sent last week.

But, what if you had a visual collaboration whiteboard? You could share it with a click of a button to your Australian team and make your comments in real time. You could show them what you’d like to change. And most of all, you would come to a mutual understanding faster and without frustration.

remote visual collaboration
Remote visual collaboration. Courtesy of: mindbowser.com

2. Breaks language barriers 

Images make sense to everybody despite cultural, geographical, ethnic or language differences. Imagine you’re having Japanese clients who don’t understand English quite as well as you’d like. You have sent them your project documentation written in business English. Unfortunately, their team leader had a very hard time understanding some of the requirements.

If you had a visual collaboration whiteboard, you’d map the concept using the international symbols and diagrams. The Japanese team would understand the symbology that you have visually presented to them and you’d avoid further misunderstanding.

visual collaboration tools break language barriers
Visual collaboration erases language differences. Courtesy of: rtrfm.com.au

3. Brings together people with different professional backgrounds

Let’s say you’re working on a web design project with team members from different departments. A lot of different professionals work on the project: marketing specialists, UX designers, front-end developers, graphic designers. Team leader asks you for an opinion as a marketing specialist. After observing it, you say you’ d like to change a banner copy. But, UX designer didn’t know that you were referring to a header, so he changed entirely different part of the page.

If you were collaborating on a visual collaboration whiteboard, these misunderstanding wouldn’t happen. You would simply mark the part of the wireframe you’d like to change, avoiding misinterpretations.

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4. Creates synergy 

Combining the audio and visual communication while collaborating you’re getting the most of your remote collaboration. Many visual collaboration tools, including online whiteboards, have built-in voice call systems. Using those tools on remote meetings and brainstorming sessions will make you feel as if you’re face to face with the people you’re communicating with.

5. Simplifies presentation of complex concepts

Studies show that visual communication is the most effective type of communication. People only tend to remember 10% of what they hear and 20% of what they read. However, they actually tend to remember 80% of what they see.

You have all probably heard the phrase: A picture is worth a thousand words. Showing your ideas to someone is always better than just telling them. That’s why infographics are so popular these days. Therefore, the visual collaboration will transfer your thoughts more efficiently and thus you’ll be more productive.

visual collaboration helps you grasp complex concepts
80% of what we remember comes to us visually. Courtesy of netimperative.com

6. Helps you understand a big picture

Imagine you were starting a new project and you got tons of project documentation. Text files are endless and reading them lasts forever. But, there is another way. With a visual collaboration whiteboard, a project leader can map out a visual concept and share it with a project team. The team can easily scan a concept and get a big picture of the project.

Visual collaboration tools help you see the big picture
It’s important to see a big picture. Courtesy of: huffingtonpost.com

7. Makes work in progress easier

Your team is working on a new design of your company page. You have mapped out the initial concept and sent it out to UX designer. But, every few days or so, someone from the team thinks of another change or idea to implement in the initial design. Sending new requirements and changes via email would be chaotic. Inevitably, the designer would misplace some requirements and wouldn’t implement them. Having your design concepts stored and available for editing whenever you think of a new idea, is a much more productive solution.

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8. Helps you handle urgent situations 

You work in a construction company and spend much time on sites. You are on your way to a new client, carrying a blueprint when your colleague calls you that he found a major calculation error on it. There’s no way you can correct that mistake anymore, except writing on top of it.

Not only that doing that will make the blueprint messy, but it will also make you look unprofessional. Visual collaboration tool would come in handy. You wouldn’t have to carry on a printed blueprint at all. You would have your tablet with a blueprint saved on it, and you could easily correct the mistake.

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9. Keeps you in the loop when on the go 

Whether you’re on a business trip or you work from home, you might want to keep track of your latest project updates. Visual collaboration whiteboard handles those situations perfectly. All your boards are saved online and updated in real time. You can access them via your personal computer or mobile device.

Visual collaboration tools help you when you work from home. Courtesy of: lab.securegroup.com

10. Inspires your creativity 

When more people work together on a single project, their imagination creates a synergy which sparks creativity. Individual ideas combine, creating new ideas, better and more creative. Visual collaboration between people initiates new inspiring ideas and positive emotions. Some colors even stimulate creativity. So, visual collaboration tools like online whiteboards can definitely boost your creativity.

Try out premium AWW online whiteboard completely free for a month.

Design Thinking Chronicles: A Beginner’s Guide to Productive Brainstorming [Online Brainwriting Template]

Brainstorming. A brilliantly simple concept for generating new ideas. No wonder it’s the most used ideation technique in a design thinking process. Yet, as simple as it is, not everyone is doing it well. In this blog post, we’ll give you a few simple suggestions for more productive brainstorming. 

Prepare the Brainstorming Environment

Before you start brainstorming, you need to set up some ground rules to be sure that everyone is on the same page. Here are five rules to create positive and motivational brainstorming environment.

1. No Negativity

There is a known brainstorming motto: No idea is a bad idea. Defer your judgment and stop your negativity. There’s no place for criticism in brainstorming sessions. Create a positive environment where all members can freely express their ideas.

2. Encourage Wild Ideas

Remember how every idea is a good idea? Well, then a crazy idea is the best idea! In the brainstorming session, nothing is too crazy or wild. Only after the brainstorming ends you’ll filter out unattainable or impractical ideas. 

3. Build on Other People’s Ideas

This is an advantage of a group brainstorming. By sharing their ideas at loud, other participants can start a real storm of ideas in your mind. You can build up ideas on other people’s proposals or combine two ideas into a third one.

4. Stay focused

No emails, no calls, no interruptions. Call off all the meetings and conferences. Turn off the sound on all devices in the brainstorming session room. You need to be fully focused on the ideas.

5. Everyone Takes Part

The person who guides the brainstorming session has to ensure that each member participates. There’s no hiding behind those loud ones. If there are introverts among brainstorming team, the moderator should engage them.

Brainstorming Rules. Photo Courtesy: Gavin O’Leary

Present the Problem

We have talked about problem definition in our last blog post. To be sure that everyone understands the goal of the brainstorming, you need to clearly define the problem.

Guide the Brainstorming Discussion

The main part of brainstorming is the ideation itself. Unless you want to end up in a chaotic clamor, this stage has to be guided. You can use one or more techniques to help you out through the processHere is a list of some of the most popular brainstorming techniques that will result in brilliant and innovative ideas.

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Reverse Brainstorming

This is a technique where you reverse the whole process of brainstorming. Instead of finding a solution to a problem, you are looking for any possible way of causing the problem. This is the most useful method when you can’t directly find a solution to a problem. The process looks like this:

1. Clearly identify the problem or challenge.

2. Reverse the problem by asking: “How could I cause the problem?”

3. Brainstorm the reverse problem to find reverse problem solutions.

4. Once you have gathered all solutions to a reverse problem, reverse them into solution ideas for the original problem.

5. Test these solutions.

Reverse vs Standard Brainstorming
Reverse vs Standard Brainstorming. Photo Courtesy: Eugene Shteyn
The Stepladder Technique

The Stepladder is another great brainstorming technique. This method helps you avoid falling into a trap of groupthink. Groupthink occurs when a group reaches a consensus without thinking critically about the lead idea. The method itself is very simple:

1. Group leader presents the problem to all the members of the group. It is important that he doesn’t direct the group in any way. Leave adequate time for each member to study the problem.

2. Form the initial group of two people who will discuss the problem among themselves.

3. Add a new team member to the group. The new member presents his/her ideas before hearing any previously discussed ideas.

4. Add another team member and repeat the process from the step 3 until there is no team member left to add.

5. Made a final decision after hearing ideas from all team members.

Brainstorming - stepladder
The Stepladder technique. Photo Courtesy: Rebecca David

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Brainwriting

Brainwriting is an easy alternative to the classic verbal brainstorming. In the classic version, each participant contributes with only one idea at a time. But, brainwriting allows each member to write down as many ideas as they want at the same time as others.

There is a modern, online version of brainwriting. It is carried out on online whiteboards, instead of their traditional counterparts. In the online brainwriting, every member participates at the same time on the same online board. The big plus of using online whiteboard is the possibility of remote brainstorming. You don’t need to be in the same office or even on the same continent. This is very convenient for international businesses.

Brainwriting vs Brainstorming
Brainwriting vs Brainstorming

Click the interactive online whiteboard below and start your own brainwriting session.

1. Click the tool menu and choose the sticky note tool

2. Invite other team members by clicking the invite/share button and have your creative juices flow.

3. Move sticky note by clicking it and moving it with the four-headed arrow.

4. Add as many sticky notes as you want by double-clicking anywhere on the board.

5. Change the color of the sticky note by clicking the sticky note and color wheel tool.

Crawford’s Slip Writing Approach

Crawford Slip writing is designed to generate ideas from large groups of people. Using this method you’ll be sure that everyone is participating and no one is dominating. The process is simple:

1. Present the problem to the entire group.

2. Hand out the certain amount of “slips” of paper to each participant.

3. Give participants the time to write down ideas. They need to write down each idea on a separate slip.

4. Collect the slips and remove duplicate ideas.

5. Assess the ideas.

Have you tried some other brainstorming method yourself? We want to hear them  – email us at dorotea@awwapp.com.

Design Thinking Chronicles: How to Define the Problem [Free KWL Chart Template]

Defining the problem is an integral part of design thinking process. It requires the clear understanding of the user’s needs and it’s often the hardest part of the process. Follow these practical steps and look at how we defined the problem with a help of Space Saturate and KWL Chart. 

Making a Good Problem Definition

Human-centered

You need to frame a problem statement according to the specific user and his needs. The human is in the center of the problem, so avoid defining the problem around a technology or a product.

Broad enough to allow creativity

Don’t be too specific about the implementation of the solution of the problem. Of course, you can’t build a spaceship if you are an interior design company, but try not to focus on the specific solution. Give yourself a space for creativity and various designs.

Narrow enough to make it manageable

On the other hand, don’t be too broad with your statements. It will cause the confusion about the clear actions your team members need to take. There have to be some constraints that will show you the right direction of the next steps.

Design thinking problem definition

A Problem Definition Process

I’m gonna guide you through the problem definition process that we have made in AWW app. The goal was to find out which functional and user experience problems are users facing while using different visual collaboration tools.

We decided that testing out tools ourselves will bring the best results. Firstly, we have defined the most common use cases with the help of our customers. Then, we have selected few most popular visual collaboration tools. We have rolled up our sleeves and tested three collaboration whiteboard tools during a three-day period.

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Since we got very broad results, we decided to focus on one specific use case. So, we selected visual concept building for developers. Then, we picked another three tools to test out. This time tools were more specific as well.

We picked up the list of online concept mapping and workflow visualization tools that were ranked as most used and best one. That enabled us to see and feel the same worries that users are facing when using certain tools every day. So, we ended up with the list of observations and suggestions from the user point of view. 

Space Saturate and Group

Space saturate and group is a method of bundling ideas, observations and experiences that you have gained in the first phase of design thinking process. It is a collage of findings from entire team gathered in one place.

Design thinking , Space Saturate
Space Saturate and Group. Courtesy of The Interaction Design Foundation.

We have made our space saturation on a separate Trello board. But then we realized that’s not visual enough, so we copied all our observations on a clear AWW board. Then, we grouped the observations and synthesized them in clusters. The result was a clear vision of the problem users are facing when using visual collaboration tools.

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KWL Chart

To visualize the path of our learning, we made a KWL chart inside AWW board.

Design thinking , KWL Chart
KWL Chart in Design Thinking: Visualization of the Problem Defining Process

The above KWL chart shows what we had known, what we wanted to know and what we have learned. So, our testing process resulted in these facts:

  • there are a lot of specialized tools for concept mapping and workflow visualization on the market
  • most of them are not user-friendly in terms of accessibility and intuitiveness
  • you need to go through several steps of the registration process before starting using them
  • tools offer a limited set of highly specialized features
  • they are not flexible enough on the things you can do in your own style
  • tools are overpacked with the pre-made assets, so it’s hard to make a way
    through them
  • there are the limited number of users with whom you can share the concepts

Here is the interactive KWL chart that you can edit with your own findings and observations. You can even invite other team members and colleagues to take part in brainstorming and knowledge sharing. After you’re done, you can save the board in your repository to review the chart with new findings, as you learn more.

A Point of View = A Problem Statement

Having all these facts in mind, we have structured a meaningful and actionable problem statement. In other words, we have formed our POV – a point of view.

Define your point of view with this easy guideClick To Tweet

Design thinking POV
Defining the Point of View. Courtesy of: http://tlpnyc.com/define-stage/

 

POV: Developers need a flexible, easy-to-use visualization tool which they can access immidiately because they need to visualize their concepts.

With the clearly defined POV, we can proceed with further steps of the design thinking process. How are your experiences? Do you have something to add? Please let me know at dorotea@awwapp.com.

Design Thinking Chronicles: How to Get to Know Your Customers [Free Empathy Map Template]

Empathy. All people have it. But oftentimes, we forget how to use it. We are used to having presumptions about people around us because it’s easier to have biases about someone than to actually get to know him/her. However, empathy is a vital part of design thinking process and crucial part of getting to know your customers. It requires time and effort, but it is the right thing to do, and in the end, it pays off. Follow these steps and learn how.

Why Is Empathy Good For Your Business?

Empathy is the first out of five phases of design thinking process which we covered in the last blog. It is often highlighted as the crucial part of the whole process. But, why is it so important? Can we go without it?

Although there are various market research methods, none of them can explain why people act like they do. While traditional research methods focus on facts about people, empathy gives us an insight into another dimension – consumer’s motivations, fears, thoughts. And these are all important to portrait a full picture of a customer.

In order to build things people want, you first need to understand people, put a human into a center. Only with a full picture of a customer, you will fully understand his needs. That means, without an empathetic understanding of a customer, you will build products that you want, and not him.

You can't build a solution for a problem without a clear understanding of a problem.Click To Tweet

Going to the Core of the Problem

We in AWW app are trying to empathize with our customers and find out about the struggles they are facing at their jobs. We believe in building a relationship from the start. So, we use email tool to communicate with customers as soon as they register. In the welcome email, we ask our customers these questions: “Why did you sign for AWW? What do you hope it will help you with?”

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When they answer those, we are asking further questions – sometimes called 5 Why’s. With every question, we go deeper into specific details of their problem until we get a complete picture of the customer. For example, we can ask them to describe the way they think AWW will help them with a certain task. Or which aspects of the certain task were they struggling before they did it with AWW. And most important of all – what is their end goal, the purpose of doing the task anyway

Sometimes, when we feel the customer is willing to give more, we schedule a call to make a stronger connection and have a better insight into customer’s needs.

It is important to ask your customers about their problems. Don't only try to validate your product.Click To Tweet

Final Illustration of Your Customer – Empathy Map

Now it’s time we put all that data on a paper. Or maybe it’s better to say – a map. Empathy map is a useful tool for putting together all the information you have gathered in your research. In our case, it is a general problem-defining map and not a UX – evaluation empathy map. In an example below, we have portrayed a product owner from an international software company.

Empathy map is divided into six segments:

  1. Pain – All the frustrations, obstacles and struggles customers are facing in their everyday life, that your product can solve.
  2. Gain – Needs of the customer in the area your product is covering.
  3. Say & Do – Attitude in public, behavior towards others, actions.
  4. See – Environment, what the market offers, current solutions to the problem.
  5. Hear – Tips from friends, family, and colleagues. Advice and suggestions from influencers.
  6. Think & Feel – Things that are really important. Worries and preoccupations. Aspirations.
Empathy map example
Empathy map example for AWW customer
Pain

As you can see, our product owner is facing the problem of the different time zone as she is in the USA office, and the development team is in Vietnam. She is facing the language barrier as she doesn’t speak Vietnamese, while Vietnamese team is struggling with English. At last, she finds written treatises hard to process and lacking visual aid.

Gain

Her goal is to get on the same page with all the members of the international team in real time. Also, she wants to cut down any possible misinterpretations that might happen due to poor language skills from both sides of the team.

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See

The way she tackles the problem right now is not satisfying. She does have a physical whiteboard in her office, but it’s not practical to access it at 5 am when the meeting is usually called. She prefers a solution which she can access from the comfort of her home. Also, the whiteboard has a limited space and she can’t collaborate with the rest of the team members on the content of the board in real time.

Think and Feel

Very often she feels overwhelmed with the size and density of the treatises in a written form. Sometimes she feels frustrated over the language barrier between her and her Vietnamese colleagues. 

Say and Do

She would prefer a visual tool which will enable her team to section off a part of the written form on which they agree.

Hear

She has heard of AWW app from her colleague, as a possible solution to her problems and she decided to give it a try.

Free Empathy Map Template

Want to try it yourself? Click the Start drawing button on the interactive image below and doodle out your first AWW empathy map. Use the text tool to fill out the map, and zoom in the image if you feel you don’t have enough space. 

You can share it with your team members and colleagues or you can do it on your own. When you’re done you can click invite menu and download the image to save the map to your computer. To have the best drawing experience try our premium features for free.  

 

 

Design Thinking Chronicles: Introduction into Human-Centered Problem Solving

Despite having a word “design” in the name, design thinking is not an exclusive methodology of designers. Many leading international brands like Apple, Google, Samsung, and General Electric use design thinking approach to solving problems in a creative and innovative way. Many leading universities in the world like Stanford and MIT teach design thinking method. But, what exactly is design thinking and why is it so popular? 

What Exactly is Design Thinking

Let’s put it in a simple way: Design thinking is a methodology for solving a problem in an innovative and creative way, with human needs as a starting point. As in everyday life, in order to solve a problem, you need to define the problem first. Defining the problem requires a bit of investigating the needs of people who use your service/product. So, it all starts with getting to know your customers and their motivations, fears, emotions, and hopes.

But, why should you bother your team with some new method? Isn’t that just for designers? The answer is, you are already guessing, no! Design thinking is in a way a synonym for building things people actually want.

It is really not just a design in a narrow sense of the word, it is a way of doing things. Doing things in a way that will benefit both your customers and your company. Implementing design thinking into your business model offers a framework for innovation that contributes to the organic growth of your company.

Design thinking puts a human into a central focus of your business and consequently, it adds value to your customers.

5 Steps of Design Thinking

What is the right way to implement design thinking into your business? Are there any steps? Although there are several proposed methods in the use, we’ll demonstrate the 5 stage model, proposed by leading design thinking school, Hasso- Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University.

5 Steps of Design Thinking
5 Steps of Design Thinking. Photo Courtesy of Dee Lanier
Empathise

Empathy is crucial to a human-centered model such as design thinking. In the first stage of the process, you are focusing on gaining the empathetic understanding of the problem you are trying to solve. Getting to know your users includes observing, engaging, and empathizing with users to find out their motivations. However, the best way to gain understanding is by immersing yourself in the matter of concern and developing the personal experience of the issue.

Let’s say you are a cosmetic company and you’re trying to figure out the problems your users are facing in their everyday life. You’re gonna need to talk to your customers and find out facts like what they do for a living, what is their daily cosmetic routine and what skin conditions they have. But also, you’re gonna need to try your products for yourself and see how they work for you.

Empathizing with customers allows you to set aside assumptions and gain a real insight into user’s needs.
Define

Once you have gathered all your data, it’s the time for your team to analyze and synthesize it into a single sentence that illustrates the problem. Rather than putting the problem as your own wish or need, build it around your user’s need. So, instead of defining the problem as “we need to increase our cosmetic products market share among women between 35 and 45”, it’s better to define it like “women need nourishing skin care without parabens to revitalize their face skin”.

design thinking process
Design thinking process. Photo Courtesy of Designshack
Ideate

At the end of the second phase, you ended up with the human-centered problem statement. That is the perfect starting point for the next phase – ideation. Your team can now start thinking outside of the box to come up with different ideas of a solution to a problem. Various points of views can generate different kinds of solutions.

Following the example from above, your team members can think of a nourishing woman serum, cream or emulsion. There are various techniques for generating ideas like brainstorming, brainwriting, mind mapping, SCAMPER, and visualization. AWW can help you out with writing down and visualizing your new ideas and sharing it with the other team members.

Prototype

It’s time for building some prototypes. You need to turn out the ideas you came up with in the previous stage into scaled-down versions of a real product. Prototypes may be shared and tested by the team members or on a small number of people outside the team. In this phase, you will create set of prototypes, each of them implementing one idea from the previous stage.

For example, you can test out the prototypes of the serum, cream and emulsion on 35-45 women focus group from our scenario. The goal of prototyping is identifying the best possible solution to a problem defined in the second stage. So, at the end of this stage, you will decide whether you’ll go with the cream, serum or emulsion.

Test

Finally, in a testing phaseevaluating team tests out complete products using the best solution prototypes. Although it is the last stage of the model, the process itself is iterative. Often the result of testing phase is used to redefine the problem to some extent from the step two, or to inform the understanding of the users from step one.

Let’s say, your tests have shown that the cream has had the best results and you decided to launch the cream. Based on the feedback from the market, product designers will be able to make even better versions of the original cream.

Non-Linear Character of Design Thinking Process

design thinking non linear process
Non-Linear Process of Design Thinking. Photo Courtesy of The Interaction Design Foundation

Design thinking process is not a linear process. The information and resources are constantly flowing between each of the phases in both directions.

Even stages themselves are flexible and serve more as a guide for undertaking certain activities when implementing design thinking concept. They can be repeated, switched and conducted at the same time if that’s what’s necessary to find the best solution possible.

Design thinking is not just a popular idea which will fade away in few months. It is here to stay for next generations of great product developers and designers. Implementing it in your company will gain you the knowledge and a better understanding of your users and allow you to build better products. Admit that you are already falling for this concept and the only thing you need is a little push. So, jump!