As an eQMS specialist who frequently works with agile teams, I often walk away from meetings thinking, “Boy, do I wish I owned stock in 3M, the original makers of post-it notes!”

While post-its are famously used for design sprints, their versatility makes them a naturally powerful brainstorming tool for agile teams. It was at a recent design workshop with a high-growth, hyper-scaling startup when I realized that the humble post-it note is also a double-edged sword.

At the meeting, everyone was buzzing about the next version of their software. I was there to help visualize the quality system that would support a smooth release and cover compliance bases simultaneously. As the session progressed, the post-it notes accumulated. This didn’t seem to be an issue; in fact, I encouraged this as a way to keep track of side points and action items.

As we approached the end of the session, I was bemused to see team members whip out their phones to photograph the collection of post-its. This was how they attempted to capture meeting results and facilitated follow-up. Now, multiply that by the dozens of meetings these caffeinated techies participate in each week.

Come Friday, what would anyone make of the multitude of scribble montages? Is there any substance there, or is it just a stack of colorful modern art-esque blobs that marks the passage of time, not the evolution of smart ideas?

And perhaps most importantly of all — how would anything they’d jotted down on those tiny scraps of paper stick if there’s no system in place to ensure action and follow-up?

Stop the post-it pile-up

While there are undoubtedly well-organized boards that make good use of post-it notes to organize information, too often, they become a productivity black hole akin to the notorious desk paper pile, where promising initiatives get buried in bureaucracy.

With this insight, I gently asked my photo-snapping clients to please put down their phones and stop hiding behind post-it notes. Instead, here’s how we wrapped things up, so there was a clear path forward:

  1. I allocated time toward the end of the meeting to wrap up the session.
  2. Each person read the post-it notes out loud so the group could choose from three options:
    1. Toss if the topic was already discussed or a non-issue or had low priority/unrealistic ideas. It’s key to be brutally honest here.
    2. Push through, then toss if the topic on the post-it isn’t central to the project at hand but still has importance. For example: in our discussion of the product roadmap, we discussed better office security. We sent a Slack message to share our concern with the security officer, and then tossed the post-it to the dustbin.
    3. Everything that’s left is an action item. Use your favourite project management tool to organize these next steps. (My choice is Confluence minutes/tasks.) Then toss the remaining notes!

If you want to make wall art out of post-it notes, by all means, do it. But if you’re coming up with sticky action items that truly make a difference to your development, then make sure your follow-up isn’t a façade.

If you have questions about my post-it process, please feel free to reach out!