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Manifesto trials Geekbot: here’s what we thought

The age old balance between team meetings and individual project deadlines is one much of the world’s workforce is familiar with. But whilst many walk this tightrope on a daily basis, finding the right formula to remain on track is still a work in progress.

In the current pandemic, this balance has become even more important. Country-wide lockdowns have pushed teams which can work remotely to operate on digital communication channels only. Video software providers like Zoom, which saw its usage jump 30-fold in April, have experienced rapid growth due to this one-way migration of activity.

Whilst virtual meetings have become the new norm, many organisations’ teams are feeling ‘meeting fatigue’ more than ever before. Every meeting happens in the same environment, there’s no ability to move between different office spaces, and the lack of any physical interaction tends to make every meeting feel relatively similar.

At Manifesto, we wanted to see whether we could improve the tension between time spent on group meetings and individual workflows with a tool like Geekbot. The ultimate aim was to reduce meeting times and give more room for headspace so quality work could be delivered.

 

 

What’s Geekbot?

Geekbot is a plugin for Slack, the direct messaging tool we use here at Manifesto. It allows you to automate standups.

For agile development teams like Manifesto’s, a daily standup is essentially a strategic huddle. It’s designed to keep the team informed on each other’s activities and connected throughout each project.

Geekbot allows you to automate questions for a standup which can then be answered via a Slack channel – rather than through a 15 to 30 minute morning meeting.

Whilst 15 minutes doesn’t sound too disruptive, when teams are working across projects these do cause interruption to important focus time. According to a University of California Irvine study, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.

Typical standup questions on Geekbot include: ‘What did you do yesterday? ‘What will you do today?’ ‘Are there any blockers to your progress?’ and ‘How do you feel today?’

 

What we liked

Geekbot did succeed in reducing the time Manifesto’s strategic partnership team spent in meetings. We thought it was easy to set up, and helpfully the team was able to edit responses they submitted to the questions if priorities for projects changed or expanded in scope.

This flexibility, paired with the ability for an entire team to get visuals on the ongoing progress of various projects, did help to align the team without building up meeting overhead.

The team also particularly liked the ‘How do you feel today?’ question that you could choose to add in the configuration. Whilst many countries tiptoed out of lockdown gradually, the UK has held its lockdown position steadfastly for some time longer. This has only heightened the risk of feeling isolated for many employees working from home in the UK, which makes daily questions centred round employee wellbeing incredibly valuable.

 

What we didn’t like

Without any best practices put in place, we found as a team that not every member would read every update – despite the team having visuals on the information. 

So whilst Geekbot did help us to align some workflows, it did also lead to some misalignment and crossed wires on some projects.

The way Geekbot works means each team member – in this particular team there are at least 10 – will post their standup updates on the same feed. Whilst this is helpful for project managers (PMs), individuals found this could create a lot of noise.

We also found that as a result of cutting out video-based meetings entirely, the team as a whole felt less aware of what each other was working on, and hence felt less connected.

 

Using Geekbot with best practices

Having trialled Geekbot, the team uncovered a number of best practices to maximise its efficiency. 

One tip we discovered was around individual standup updates. We found that if you tag the people related to your project work that day, then the people who need to see that update will, and hence you avoid crossing wires.

This means that whilst individuals are only bothered by relevant updates, PMs can have full oversight over everyone’s workflows.

We also felt that PMs should still have one-to-one standups where needed, for example when there is the need to go through specific ticket details or acceptance criteria for a client.

As for reducing noise and ensuring maximum visibility between the team, we found that if individuals completed their standups at roughly the same time, then everyone could digest them more easily. This avoids standups dripping through and causing disruption throughout the day.

 

Cost

One of the big considerations for any organisation is whether a piece of software is worth the price you pay for it each month. 

Whilst Geekbot did reduce meeting times, help keep staff connected daily and minimise workflow confusion once best practices were implemented, the tool does come at a price.

Geekbot costs $2.5 per user per month, whereas competitor tool Standup Alice costs just $0.99 per user per month. Standup Alice also allows you to open a thread for standups (Geekbot creates an individual post for each), which is helpful in reducing slack channel noise.

 

Final thoughts

The team felt that whilst cutting meeting overhead was helpful, there is still a need to connect via video chat once in a while. So, Manifesto has decided to keep Monday standups in person.

All in all, the team would be happy to use Geekbot, even when Manifesto gets back into its offices. 

But with work streams constantly shifting during these uncertain times, we decided that – for now – a daily reminder on Slack would suffice. The team already understands the formula standups take and can apply some of the learnt best practices to a daily thread in this format.

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