Whiteboards are great for most meetings. I do my best to avoid meeting in rooms without them. They’re great for keeping group discussions focused. But they’re not so great if you want to extract and explore a lot of ideas. Here are some of the reasons why:
Only one person at a time can be writing
I this is technically wrong, but my point is the person acting as the scribe is a bottleneck. They can only capture what they hear, or chose to write down. Having only one person to filter ideas at the board can feel like they’re hogging the mic at the Karaoke bar.
You will run out of room
Not matter white size you have, the whiteboard never seems big enough. When you run out of room, you start erasing. You don’t just lose the ideas, you lose context too because the adjancey of things can useful information too.
Dry Erase Markers Stink
I’m not talking about how the smell. I mean they’re terrible writing and drawing instruments. Dry erase markers run out of ink quickly, they smear constantly, and you can’t do detailed work because their tips are too big. The worst thing about them, some colors stain the whiteboard.
They’re affixed to a wall
Most big whiteboards are on the wall of some conference room and can’t be moved around. So the ideas have to stay in one place. This can be a pain if someone else needs the whiteboard. Not to mention, writing on vertical surfaces doesn’t feel as natural as horizontal ones.
I realize there are some workarounds to the above issues, but they’re all lame. For instance, you can take a picture, but how often do you ever look at those after the fact? What I’m trying to say is whiteboard aren’t great at capturing ALL of a group’s ideas.
When it comes to collecting a lot of ideas from a group, I find it’s much better to give everyone equal access to the writing surface at the same time. That’s why I use the Butcher Paper method.
The Butcher Paper Method is simple. You roll out a big sheet of thick paper on a table and let everyone write, sketch, or scribble as you talk through your ideas. It’s a very organic process ideal for divergent conversations like defining and redefining the problem space. It’s a much more collaborative experience because people can be contributing ideas in realtime, without worrying about turn-taking.
Here’s what you need…
- A 36″ roll of 40lb white butcher paper (unwaxed)
- Post-it notes
- Sharpie Markers Black and Colors
- A large surface like a table (even the floor)
- Painter’s tape
First thing, protect the writing surface
Sharpies and permanent markers can bleed through paper on onto the table. To prevent that, cut off a sheet of paper the length of the table and tape it down at the corners. This will also help make the writing surface smoother if you have a textured table.
Lay down your writing surface
Roll out a sheet of butcher paper that is longer than the table surface. Let it hang over the edges. This will keep it from sliding around, and also give you some extra room if you need more.
Give everyone a marker
I usually just give everyone a black marker and leave the colored ones in the middle in case people want to use them. It’s up to you if you want to use the color markers to indicate who wrote what.
Take your spot around the table
The beauty of the Butcher Paper Method is everyone has equal access to the “idea space”. They can move around and even break into different sections and work together on all four sides. Try doing that with a whiteboard.
How you work and what you put on the paper is really up to you and what works for your team. I can draw and am very comfortable sketching things in realtime. However, drawing skills are not important. It’s really about creating a permanent record of ideas generated. The final output can be hung on a wall for review, and easily rolled up and mounted again somewhere else.
A secondary benefit of using this method, you will have a permanent artifact of your early work. This can fun, even useful to look back on later in your project.