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How ThoughtWorks Scaled Remote Collaboration and Communication With Trello
Picture this modern workplace: Teams are encouraged to self-manage and self-organize themselves and projects. They’re motivated to work with integrity and curiosity in the pursuit of excellence. And employees have the flexibility to work remotely.
No, this isn’t fantasy—it’s the reality for over 7,000 employees who work at ThoughtWorks.
“As a globally distributed company with clients all over the world, it’s common for us to work with colleagues and clients who are not in the same office. Autonomy and trust are ingrained in our culture at ThoughtWorks, so if someone has to work remotely, we trust that they can self-manage to get their work done,” says Sumeet Moghe, Product Manager at ThoughtWorks.
ThoughtWorks is a global software consultancy with teams and employees across 14 countries who work in their 43 offices or remotely. They operate with a hybrid work model which means they have a distributed workforce, where teams work with clients either on-site at their offices or remotely in order to provide innovative, software delivery solutions, services, and products. The goal of every project and engagement for the ThoughtWorks team is to ensure that clients receive the best talent and service, no matter where their employees live and work.
ThoughtWorks prides itself on its agility and adaptiveness—in fact, they literally invented the concept of distributed agile! The agile methodology is a set of delivery ideals and principles that enables the ability to create and respond to change, to deliver value sooner. This is a particularly important benefit for distributed and remote teams who rely on flexibility and iterative work sessions to accomplish great things together (especially since teams are not in the same space or time zone). With strong guiding principles and core values, cutting-edge technology, and adaptive processes in their toolbox, ThoughtWorks has been able to hone their ability to work as distributed teams throughout their 27 years in business.
However, like so many organizations around the world, this agility was put to the test in 2020 when COVID-19 put the entire world into a tailspin.
One of ThoughtWorks’ 43 offices is located in Wuhan, China. With 1,800 employees across ThoughtWorks China and nearly 300 in Wuhan alone, leaders had to act quickly in order to protect the health and safety of employees and clients.
The decisions and processes they followed in Wuhan for closing offices and transitioning employees to 100% remote working environments became their playbook for the entire organization. From China to Chile and every home office in between, there was one digital collaboration tool that ThoughtWorkers, as they refer to themselves, could depend on as their digital workspace: Trello.
We were previously using Trello in a very basic way—the same way you would put cards or Post-It notes on a wall. Now we’re taking advantage of the many features and creating a richer experience for using the tool.”
Head of Strategy within TechOps at ThoughtWorks
A Globally Distributed Company Accelerates Remote Collaboration and Communication
ThoughtWorks is a large Trello Enterprise customer and the tool allowed them to scale and expand their workflows based on the growing needs of their teams, organizations, and outside forces that changed how they worked with each other and clients.
“The global leadership team set up a special projects group to coordinate the company’s response to COVID-19; with members pulled from across departments and regions, that group naturally turned to Trello to coordinate their activities,” says Andy Yates, Head of Strategy, TechOps at ThoughtWorks.
On January 21, ThoughtWorks Wuhan formed an emergency team tasked with formalizing a plan to keep ThoughtWorkers and clients safe. The next day, leaders from ThoughtWorks China decided to close the Wuhan office and the following day, the government announced a city-wide lockdown of Wuhan.
Their leadership and emergency teams relied on their distributed agile delivery experience in order to pivot to remote work and make smart decisions amidst constant change. Trello was used to coordinate the many moving parts related to the company’s COVID-19 response. Now the organization is relying on the digital collaboration tool to prepare and coordinate their plans to safely re-open offices around the world.
As the entire organization shifted to 100% remote working environments in a very short period of time, their use of Trello took new shapes and forms. Historically, ThoughtWorkers used Trello primarily for their own task management and project management on internal projects and with clients.
“We used to have our own project management tool,” explains Andy Yates. “We decided to sunset the internal development of it and when we started looking for a replacement, we realized that a majority of teams were using Trello for other projects. There was a groundswell of opinion that Trello was the right fit so we used that as a signal to formalize the use of the tool at ThoughtWorks.”
The Origin Story Behind The Organic Adoption Of Communication & Collaboration Tools
As the Head of Strategy within TechOps, one of Andy’s core responsibilities is to assess tool and technology usage across the organization alongside team members like Marina Rodrigues Moschetta, Product Owner at ThoughtWorks and other stakeholders like Sumeet Moghe.
“We have an exploratory culture so people are always looking for the next greatest tools and ways of working together,” says Andy.
What does that mean in the day-to-day? Andy and his team could receive a minimum of five requests per day to review tool usage and options from thousands of employees and hundreds of clients. This tool and vendor review process is all managed in Trello and allows Andy and his team to coordinate and communicate with the other departments in the company who are a part of the process, such as legal and finance.
Whether someone is in the office, working from home, or working on-site with a client, everyone can share context and information through Trello.”
Product Manager at ThoughtWorks
Overall, ThoughtWorks uses a standard set of tools, like Trello, Zoom, Mural, and Google Workspace, so everyone has a common jumping-off point for collaboration and communication. With Trello as a core part of that tech stack, ThoughtWorkers organically adopted the use of it in a variety of ways.
With an Enterprise plan, they have access to create unlimited teams, boards, Power-Ups, and native-task automation via Butler. These robust features make it easy for anyone to start projects and collaborate together in Trello. Trello boards can be created in seconds and users can start planning any project with enough structure to organize, prioritize, and take action. The ease and flexibility of the tool makes it even easier for ThoughtWorkers to self-organize and self-manage. In addition, Trello Enterprise offers a centralized dashboard experience that enables admins to easily manage permissions and users in real-time.
“We were previously using Trello in a very basic way—the same way you would put cards or Post-It notes on a wall. Now we’re taking advantage of the many features and creating a richer experience for using the tool,” explains Andy.
One of the most common ways ThoughtWorkers use Trello is for internal and client project management.
In an in-person meeting for project planning, whether that was at a ThoughtWorks office or on-site with a client office, the end result would be a bunch of physical cards on a wall or several ideas scribbled on a whiteboard. Since their team prefers this way of brainstorming and collaborating, they needed a digital solution when they all started working remotely.
Trello became that digital whiteboard and workspace for their teams to map out project plans, tasks, and timelines then easily assign owners as well as provide additional context to what’s needed to get the work done.
“Even when we go back to a physical office, it’s unlikely that we will go back to using the physical boards. A lot of people in the company now understand the value of collaborating digitally and how it makes it an inclusive experience. Whether someone is in the office, working from home, or working on-site with a client, everyone can share context and information through Trello,” explains Sumeet Moghe.
For example, Sumeet led the planning of one of ThoughtWorks’ events, Converge. Of course with COVID-19, they had to adjust their plans and host the event online. Zoom was their choice for hosting the online event and Trello was their choice for planning it. Their event board was set up kanban-style with lists to track the progress and completion of tasks. Kanban is a method for visualizing work, limiting work in progress, and maximizing efficiency. It’s a process for constant improvement in the flow and quality of work. Kanban is a framework that allows for extensive customization and Trello’s interface and features allows teams to visualize this flexibility and easily adapt to any change.
They used the Calendar Power-Up to clearly see when tasks were due. Labels were used to identify the category of a task (such as for Communications, Speakers, or Registration). The board served as the event team’s central hub for coordinating, collaborating, and communicating remotely in order to put together a virtual event without a hitch. From marketing to speaker coordination, there are several moving pieces to planning an event and Sumeet and his team found Trello to be the most intuitive way to manage this back and forth.
“I love the flexibility of Trello. No matter the use case, it’s customizable for the projects or tasks I’m working on with my colleagues. You can choose your own adventure,” says Sumeet.
Trello became a place for social connection. For example, the team in Brazil is using a Trello board to keep track of birthdays so they can celebrate and create this togetherness when they can’t physically be together.”
Moschetta, Product Owner at ThoughtWorks
Fostering Togetherness With Trello
As all ThoughtWorks’ offices closed, teams in all regions were quick to innovate how they could stay connected and simulate that in-office experience online. They have always been a distributed company but how do you introduce new team members or bring people together over coffee or birthday cake in a virtual world?
ThoughtWorkers self-organized to create a solution. And once again, they found their answers in Trello.
“Trello became a point of social connection. For example, the team in Brazil is using a Trello board to keep track of birthdays so they can celebrate and create this togetherness when they can’t physically be together,” explains Marina Rodrigues Moschetta, Product Owner at ThoughtWorks.
In addition to birthdays and celebrations, ThoughtWorks is also using Trello to share information about things happening in the organizations across its several regions. Everyone has access to the boards which has improved transparency and inclusivity for all employees.
The human resources and recruiting team also transitioned their processes successfully to a digital workflow within Trello. Even as the organization started to shift to a 100% remote model at the beginning of 2020, they were still hiring and onboarding new employees and managed the process in Trello. Instead of delaying start dates, the onboarding process was set up in Trello.
The onboarding board—called the First Year Experience (FYE)—is used to welcome a new hire and give them information and context into what it’s like to work at ThoughtWorks, who is on their team, and the project(s) they will be working on. The board has a variety of lists that are informational and actionable. The ‘Board Overview’ List shares information about how to use the board, first years expectations of the new hire, and resource links. The next list is the ‘Week 1 Checklist,’ which is used to onboard the new hire and assign them tasks for getting started at ThoughtWorks. Each card on the list is a to-do list and Advanced Checklists are used to provide granular detail as needed for each task. There are also lists for ‘Ongoing Activities’ as well as ‘Goals.’ These lists are regularly used and updated throughout the new employee’s first year and cards are moved to the ‘Done’ list when they are completed.
In addition to their core responsibilities and projects, ThoughtWorkers will also collaborate with other team members in different regions on internal projects. They used Trello to work together on these internal projects related to interests and passions. There was an increase in the use of the tool as more and more employees worked remotely since it provided an intuitive structure for virtual collaboration and communication.
“Our goal is to make it easy for people to do the right thing. Trello allows us to provide a structure for collaboration, without rigidity—it can be customized to any process, project, or team,” says Andy.
The Future Of Company Collaboration
Even as they continue operating with a hybrid work model as offices safely open, the ThoughtWorks team expects employees will still primarily collaborate, innovate, and communicate through digital tools.
When teams have the support, tools, and trust to self-manage and self-organize, they can create amazing things together. Even for a company that has been honing their remote work processes for over two decades, ThoughtWorks discovered new and innovative ways to use digital collaboration tools to continue working together, serving clients, and maintaining a feeling of togetherness.
Whether their teams return to the office or stay home, one thing will remain the same—Trello will function as that digital workspace for ThoughtWorkers everywhere.