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IBM Cambridge Research Center

  Project: Big Boards: Using large displays in project management

Researchers: Steve Whittaker, Heinrich Schwartz

A Collaborative User Experience Project:

Despite a wealth of electronic coordination tools for coordinating the software development process, we find many groups choosing apparently outmoded "material" tools, such as white boards, in critical projects. To understand the limitations of current electronic tools, we studied two groups, contrasting the effectiveness of both kinds of tools. We show that the size, public location, and the physical qualities of the material tool engender certain crucial group processes that current on-line technologies fail to support. For example, a large wallboard located in a public area promoted group interaction around the board; it enabled collaborative problem solving, and informed individuals about the local and global progress of the project. Furthermore, the public nature of the wallboard encouraged greater commitment to the project and resulted in the participants updating the rest of the team on its status more often. On the other hand, material tools, fall short of on-line tools in other dimensions, such as complex dependency tracking. As a result of this study, we believe that some of the benefits of the material systems we observed should be incorporated into electronic systems to make them more useful, and we suggest design alternatives that could bring these benefits to electronic systems.

Related publications:
TR 94-04, Steve Whittaker and Heinrich Schwartz.
Back to the Future: Pen and Paper Technology Support Complex Group Coordination