8 tips + templates for effective whiteboarding sessions
It starts with a single idea. Someone offers a thought or suggestion that inspires the rest of the product team to think more creatively. Folks begin asking questions and making bold connections. Momentum builds as the team sketches out concepts on a whiteboard. Together the group generates more compelling insights and solutions than any team member could have come up with on their own.
At least this is the Platonic ideal of a whiteboarding session. The reality for many product teams, however, more often leads to stagnation than innovation. Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you are not clear about the problems you are actually trying to solve. Or you lack the right tools to capture and evaluate ideas with your teammates. This can cause meetings to devolve into aimless or long-winded discussions — with plenty of random ideas but few actionable insights.
In order to become a more innovative and high-performing product team, it helps to grasp what makes brainstorming productive and impactful. This guide will cover tips for better ideation and collaboration in whiteboarding sessions — so you can share ideas, generate better insights, and ultimately deliver a more innovative product to customers.
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Why do product teams have whiteboarding sessions?
Before you can manifest your ideal whiteboarding session, you need to understand why product teams engage in whiteboarding in the first place. The short answer is that creative thinking and collaborative ideation are key to innovation. Successfully delivering value to customers and the business over time hinges on your team's ability to come up with bold new ideas.
A visual brainstorming exercise such as whiteboarding can be particularly useful for capturing, organizing, and refining ideas. Whether you are outlining product requirements, designing potential features, or creating a customer journey map, a whiteboarding session makes it easy for everyone to put their thoughts on a shared board. Usually this entails drawing, writing, or adding digital sticky notes — a simple and effective way to gather and explore ideas in order to uncover the best ones.
You can use whiteboards to enhance any of the following product-building activities:
Capturing and refining product strategy
Mapping customer journeys
Brainstorming ideas for new features or enhancements
Sketching wireframes, diagrams, and mockups
Making prioritization decisions
Documenting product team processes
Who should participate in virtual whiteboarding sessions?
Innovation is collaborative by nature — a variety of perspectives often leads to richer insights. This is why virtual whiteboarding should be an inclusive and cross-functional activity. Anyone who is involved in the product development process can (and should) engage in virtual whiteboarding. This includes the core product management and UX teams along with the broader product team — representatives from engineering, product marketing, customer support, and more.
Typically a product manager leads the whiteboarding session, which can last anywhere from half an hour to two hours. It is also worth noting that while virtual whiteboards are particularly useful for remote or hybrid teams, some co-located teams also choose to use them for collaborating asynchronously or saving a digital view of ideation sessions.
In terms of the frequency of your whiteboarding sessions, it depends on what your product team is trying to accomplish. Some folks who need to come up with lots of new product and feature ideas use virtual whiteboards daily. Other teams meet on a weekly or monthly cadence. What matters is that everyone is willing to come together and contribute to the ideation process.
Best practices for more productive whiteboarding sessions
Clarity, structure, and a culture of collaboration are key to more effective whiteboarding sessions. Of course, you also need the right tool. Many product teams use purpose-built virtual whiteboards that include note-taking functionality, real-time or asynchronous collaboration, templates for specific product-building work, and integrations with the other tools you already use.
No matter which tool you use, these tips will help you have more productive whiteboarding sessions:
1. Define goals
Shared goals bring focus to your ideation session. Your purpose should stem from the problems you are trying to solve. Rather than prescribing certain outcomes, you want to provide a target for people's creative thinking.
Before scheduling a whiteboarding session, clarify the objective of your time together. For example, your goal might be to come up with three ways to improve your user signup flow or to examine feedback on a certain product feature.
To clarify the aim of your session, ask yourself:
What are we hoping to achieve?
What problems are we trying to solve?
How will we know that we have accomplished our goals?
2. Set an agenda
An agenda is more than a list of what you will cover — it also provides a sense of direction and outcomes. Share the agenda ahead of time so people know what to expect. With some tools (such as Aha! Create), you can add an agenda right to your board for easy reference.
You might include the following components in your agenda:
Review goals for the session
Brainstorm on your own (10 minutes)
Share favorite ideas (10 minutes)
Explore promising ideas as a group (15 minutes)
Wrap up and action items
3. Prepare your board
A blank canvas can be overwhelming. Set up your board ahead of time so attendees can see how they will participate and how you will organize information. For example, you can create zones or columns for different types of work or add initial ideas on digital sticky notes to jumpstart people's creativity.
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4. Welcome participants
At the start of the meeting, take a few minutes to provide a brief orientation — basics on how the whiteboard works, how folks can participate, and how you will move through the agenda. Making people feel comfortable will encourage everyone to contribute more freely during the session.
The various options for participation — such as sticky notes, emoji stamps, drawings, and text tools
When participants should verbally share their ideas or add them to the board
How to access templates, view the board after the meeting, or share it with other teammates
5. Make it fun
Creative thinking thrives on flexibility and fun. To get the team in the right mindset for ideation, try an icebreaker or warm-up exercise. Here are two exercises that product teams use to switch into a creative headspace:
Bad ideas: Break people up into small groups and assign each group a "bad" product idea (ex. sardine popsicles). Set a timer and have each team come up with selling points for their assigned idea. Then, have each team pitch their bad idea to the larger group.
Alternate uses: Present the group with a common item (such as a stapler, lint roller, or blender) and see how many alternate uses for the item the team can generate in three minutes.
6. Gather and organize ideas
Both solo and group ideation can yield meaningful insights. Before having a larger group discussion, allot five minutes for people to gather their thoughts and add them to the board. Once you have collected all ideas and discussed insights together, it is time to categorize the ideas.
Here are some options for organizing them:
Mark ideas the group wants to pursue by drawing circles around them, adding tags, reacting with emojis, or changing the color of the sticky note.
Group the best ideas into frames or containers. For example, you could organize feature ideas along a quarterly timeline or into user stories.
7. Preserve future work
Not every thought generated during a brainstorming session will fit the scope of the meeting. But some could be valuable in the future. So create a parking lot to save those thoughts going forward. You can do this by designating part of your whiteboard — a frame, a sticky note, or even a large rectangle shape — as the parking lot for the meeting.
Include the following information:
A brief description of the idea
Who shared it
Potential next steps or timing for when to revisit the idea
8. Discuss next steps
How productive was your whiteboarding session? Devote a few minutes at the end of the meeting to cover what will happen next and assign action items. This could entail:
Sharing key takeaways with product leaders to get their input
Translating sketches generated during the meeting into mockups
Summarizing the top feature ideas to the broader team
Exploring the feasibility of certain ideas with other cross-functional groups
Returning to the board over the next few days to add new ideas
Whiteboarding as a team can kindle your team's creativity — helping everyone communicate and capture their best ideas together. Done well, it can also get folks incredibly excited for what is coming next, whether that is building a new product feature or redesigning an aspect of the overall customer experience.
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