EX - Whiteboarding

Running the Board and the Clock

Staring at a blank canvas with the seconds ticking away could stress out the calmest designers, but success is possible with the right strategy.

Updated October 18, 2020

Every interview is an attempt to determine whether the applicant fits in with the organization. Whiteboarding follows in purpose but the method can be difficult to prepare for due to its freeform nature. Add in the distance injected by remote interviews and it can be difficult to acclimate to the situation.

Luckily, there are strategies you can employ to add predictable structure to a whiteboarding session.

Own the canvas

Whether you’re in person at a physical whiteboard or you are operating online via a shared canvas, it is important that you take time to quickly partition off the space. One of the easiest things to do is meander across a blank canvas as ideas strike you. While this will feel great at the time, it will make tracking the progression of your thoughts difficult under rigid time contraints. You’ll also risk coming accross in your interview as messy and unorganized.

Taking a moment to quickly map out the board also acts as a method of time keeping — if you stick to the rules we cover in the exercise below. By literally time boxing the board, you eliminate most of the risk of stalling out when the session gets tough. When that happens, you simply escape to the next area — no questions asked.

Understand the context

Every whiteboarding interview will likely begin with a prompt that you haven’t seen before. Often, the prompt will be related to the industry the host company is focused on — or it could be random. Either way, the prompt you end up with is less important than the process you use to breakdown and frame the problem.

The short list below provides a rough outline of considerations you should be addressing before you begin to create a solution:

  • Who are the users and what motivates them?
  • Are there specific business or industry issues to consider?
  • Where will the product or service be used?
  • How will the product or service be used?
  • Are there known constraints to consider?
  • What are the known unknowns?

As you begin to peel back the answers to these questions, guardrails will begin to create a path for you that will allow you to move forward. You might still be grasping at the problem, but at least now you’re less likely to plunge off a cliff.

Remember how data is displayed

Yes, and...

The whiteboard is an amazing tool for revolutionary thinking. It also is a place where those revolutionary dreams go to die, when the dream of tomorrow has failed to consider the business needs of today.

Contrary to what you might believe, I don’t want you to restrict your revolutionary impulses. Instead, I want you to embrace the ideas that say ”burn it all down,” while also coming up with an alternative option that works within the existing business structure.

The key is showing that you value the existing business while also displaying the ability to think big. Most people can offer one or the other — be the candidate that can do both.

Communicate with the facilitator(s)

Watch the clock

It’s not uncommon to lose 10 minutes just generating ideas and getting underway. If you’re in a 60 minute session, that’s only leaving 40 minutes for a c

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