Including step-by-step instructions, screenshots, short reviews, and our top recommendations
Last updated January 22, 2019
We're adding new tools as we learn about them, and you'll find helpful replies and information from the companies listed here embedded in the full list at the end of the post. You may also want to check out our all-encompassing post on making decisions in meetings -- it's a great companion piece to this article.
The Strategic Planning Meeting Essentials Pack designed by Anna O'Byrne includes a series of online brainstorming and decision-making exercises. If you run these meetings face-to-face, you'll use sticky notes, markers and a whiteboard for those steps in the process.
But, how do you do the sticky-note thing online? You can find dozens of online sticky note and brainstorming applications, but not all of them work well as part of an online meeting.
We decided to test out all the online sticky-note, brainstorming, and decision-making tools we could find to figure out just which ones work best for quick collaborative sessions during a meeting.
Alert! This is a MEGA POST. To prevent wrist strain brought on by too much scrolling, we offer this table of contents.
The Test Process
Just as there are lots of ways to use real sticky notes, there are lots of ways to use online sticky note tools. Right now, we want to find those that work best as part of a real-time meeting.
First, we scoured the internet for all the online meeting tools we could find that seemed like they might work. We searched for brainstorming tools, tools used in agile retrospectives, “online sticky notes”, decision support software, and more. Our original list contained over 50 different products. Then, we began signing up for free trials and running each product through our test use case (described below).
We quickly decided to cut all the simple virtual whiteboards and the mind mapping tools from the list, as they just weren't meant to support the kind of process we need for our meetings. We also cut any product recently acquired by another company, those products that were too buggy for our test, and those that we couldn't figure out. Our final list includes 27 tools.
Our test was based on a technique known as the KJ-Method. While you may not know it by that name, you've probably been in a meeting that used it, because it's simple and it's really handy any time you need a group to quickly sort through a bunch of ideas.
Similar processes ask a team to prioritize each concept against pre-determined criteria, such as importance and urgency, then select the ideas that rank the highest. The strategic planning templates call for ranking ideas like that when planning goals and strategies, so we looked for tools that could support that too.
All of this is easy enough with sticky notes and markers - but a bit tricky online!
The Evaluation Criteria
Obviously the tools we recommend would have to support the process (many don't). Beyond that, we were seeking tools that met as many of these criteria as possible.
1. Easy to use with minimal setup
We're after something a team can use regularly. Something developers can use in retrospectives, executives can use to plan, and sales can use to explore requirements with prospects. This means it has to be super easy to set up a new session.
Also, anything you ask a team to try in front of each other needs to be easy to figure out. If it's confusing, people will get frustrated and embarrassed, and that's no good for your meeting.
2. Easy to invite people
None of the products we explored had support for team audio or video, so we're assuming you'll also be running online meeting software at the same time. There needed to be a way to put a simple link in the meeting that everyone could just click to access the brainstorming tool, or some other really easy way to get everyone connected on-the-fly.
Techniques like the KJ-Method naturally engage everyone in the meeting. When you're together, it's very obvious if someone isn't enjoying the process or simply isn't participating. We wanted to find something that encouraged this kind of energy and transparency in an online setting.
4. A way to export the results; no copy and paste!
When you use real sticky notes, someone has to type up the big ideas afterwards. Right now, we're focused on strategic planning, so we definitely want to put the ideas from our brainstorm to use!
Since you type your ideas into these tools in the first place, it seemed like it should be a no-brainer to get them out again. Shockingly, not so.
5. Scaled to fit the working meeting
Most effective working sessions in the business world involve 3 to 10 people meeting for less than 2 hours. We wanted to find something that worked well at this scale. Some of the products we found were clearly intended for individual use, and others optimize for big conference events with hundreds or even thousands of participants; not what we're after.
6. Inclusive Design & Accessibility
When you brainstorm, you want to get everyone's ideas in the conversation. At Lucid, we strive to make our software work for people with disabilities who may use assistive technologies, and for those joining on phones or other devices. We're far from perfect here, but it's a goal, and one we'd hoped to find shared by any brainstorming tool we'd recommend. Sadly, with one very qualified exception, this was not to be.
Our list currently includes 27 tools, which we've grouped into several sub-categories.
The categories are:
- Collaborative document editors
- Simple sticky note applications
- Retrospective and design meeting tools
- Dedicated group brainstorming & decision support software
- Virtual design spaces & visual management tools
We'll explore each category in turn, explaining how to run the sample process using those tools and screenshots of our favorites. Then, we'll list our top picks and details about the full list of products we tested at the end of the post.
Using Collaborative Document Editors for Brainstorming in Meetings
Collaborative document editors let teams write documents together in real time. These tools aren't intended for brainstorming specifically, and they don't have anything that really looks like a sticky-note, so we were surprised at how well they worked in our test.
Tools in this category
Example: How to use Google Docs for brainstorming
Anna taught us how to use Google Docs for brainstorming, and it works pretty well with a bit of advanced set up. These steps would be the same for the other products in this category.
Here's what you do:
- Before the meeting, create a new document with headings for each of the steps in your process.
- Get a link to the document you can paste into your meeting. For example, here's a view-only link to our sample document.
- When it's time to brainstorm, ask everyone to first type their ideas in a separate document. Then, they'll paste these ideas under the first heading. You'll need a separate timer for this part. We use the one built into Lucid.
- To group ideas, copy and paste them into new sections. Add a new heading for each group.
- Then, decide how many votes each person gets. Each person types an X next to a heading to mark their vote.
- Count up the Xs to determine the winning themes. Renting a house wins!
So, what did we like about using collaborative editors, and what were the drawbacks?
- Pretty easy to use. Most people understand how to type in a document, and how to copy and paste.
- You get an instantly useable result. The outcome of your brainstorming session is literally documented in the... well, in the document.
- This is the most accessible option. Perhaps the only accessible option, really. Microsoft, Google Docs and Etherpad have all put effort into supporting people using assistive technologies.
- No guidance; you have to figure it all out for yourself. Some tools in other categories will walk a team through the process, but here you're on your own.
- Invitations can be awkward. Something like Google Docs can be great for a team, but tricky when you work with a client who doesn't use a Google account at work. To avoid this, you can either make your document public (so people don't need to log in to edit it) or use an open tool like Etherpad.
- Doesn't scale: This process worked pretty well when we tested it with just 5 or 6 collaborators. When we involve more people all editing at the same time, though, it's a touch insane. Very 1000 monkeys with a typewriter. When you consider that these are tools people use primarily to write documents it makes sense; that's not exactly the kind of activity that works best with 10+ folks all editing at the same time.
- It's just not as cool. When you do a sticky-note exercise in person, the group gets energy from moving around and working with all the color. We found the tools that replicate some of this movement and color online to be more engaging. Brainstorming in a document mostly feels like work.
Collaborative editors are a solid choice when working with a small team and you know how to set up and lead the exercise you're using. These were the only really easy option for teams with accessibility requirements.
Using Simple Online Sticky Note Tools
When you imagine what an online sticky-notes tool might look like, you're picturing one of these. Yellow, green and pink squares with writing on them, “pinned” to a board with, yes, a cork-inspired background image. Teams can add items all at once, and click to drag the notes around.
The dividing line between simple sticky notes and virtual design spaces (also featuring sticky-note-esque boxes) is a soft blurry one. We've separated the groups based on how we'd use each tool - your mileage might vary.
Tools in this category
Example: How to use IdeaFlip for brainstorming
- Create a new board before the meeting.
- Get the link to your board and paste it into your meeting.
- When it's time to brainstorm, ask everyone to first type their ideas in a separate document. Then, take turns creating one note for each idea.
- To group similar ideas, either just drag them on top of each other in layers, or draw a box around them to create a group. Stickies within the box can be moved around together, and you can add a label for the group.
- Once you have your groups set, ask everyone to vote for their favorites. You could do this by adding Xs to the text, or happy face stickers! While IdeaFlip doesn't have an explicit voting feature, the friendly stickers make a nice alternative.
- Figure out which concepts win by counting up x's/happy faces.
- Export the board. You can export a IdeaFlip to PDF, PNG, or CSV, or Excel but some of these tools don't have an export, so you may need to copy and paste anything important from your sticky notes.
- Simple is as simple does. These products are all pretty easy to use for short sessions. They don't have a lot of extra features that might confuse people, and the interactions are all basically point-n-click.
- Great for the literal thinkers in the group. I know I've personally been asked at least 9,000 times for how to do “sticky notes online” by someone working to run an agile retrospective with a remote team. If you or someone you know has a super strong idea of how to run a meeting using sticky notes, this very literal approach will make them comfortable.
- Kind of fun. All the bright colors and happy add-ons, with stickers and videos and such, make these products fun to use with a casual audience.
- Mostly free or inexpensive and embeddable. Some tools in this list don't even ask you to sign up before you create a board. All of them have easy links you can share with collaborators, and many can even be embedded directly into a shared webpage.
- Many feel technically immature. A lot of these tools were clearly started as side projects, and can be a little buggy. They're mostly free, so given the price, you may find the occasional glitch a non-issue.
June 2017 Update: IdeaFlip has come along since we originally posted this article. They now have more robust support for the session leader and a stand-alone version appropriate for use behind corporate firewalls.
- Seriously inaccessible. There is A LOT of drag and drop used here, and keyboard controls come few and far between. And let's not even get started on the semantics!
- Gets unusable when there's too much going on. These tools work best with either only a few people, or only a handful of ideas in flight at once. When you try to have more than 5 people working on lots of ideas at once, it becomes quickly impossible to see what's going on. Notes flip on top of notes, colors change out, you lose the item you were working on… Chaos!
Conclusion: Recommended for very small teams only
These online sticky notes tools look like they're designed for personal use, and some may even be good for helping small teams create visual task boards. But for any team trying to brainstorm and prioritize ideas at scale, we'd suggest using a different type of tool.
Using Retrospective and Design Meeting Tools
These products have more process support than simple sticky-note tools, but not as much as the decision support products we'll discuss in the next section.
Designed by software and web developers for software and web developers, these products do a great job supporting the collaboration processes used in agile development meetings.
Tools in this category
Example: How to use IdeaBoardz for brainstorming
- Create a new board before the meeting. You can start with predefined columns, but for our example, we'll just use a simple blank space.
- Get the link to your board from your browser and paste it into your meeting.
- When it's time to brainstorm, ask everyone to first type their ideas in a separate document. Then, take turns creating one note for each idea. (Be prepared: this might be slow.)
- In IdeaBoardz, you can group ideas by dragging them on top of each other to combine them.
- Once you have your groups set, ask everyone to vote for their favorites. In IdeaBoardz, you can give each card a “thumbs up”.
- Use the vote count shown at the bottom of each card to see which ones win.
- Export the board to PDF (the Excel export is wonky here).
- Explicit support for grouping and voting on ideas. When you get to the voting step, it's really helpful to have an easy way to cast a vote and have those votes counted.
- Free or inexpensive. You can quickly get a sense for these products to see if they work for your group, without risking your budget.
- Light-weight. You won't find a lot of extra features that get in your way here.
- Limited templates or guidance. These products were designed with specific processes in mind, and they assume the people using the product already know how to work the process.
April 2016 Update: Retrium has grown quite a bit since the original review, and now supports more workflows.
- They speak developer-ese. And if you're a developer, that's actually a good thing. In Boardthing, you literally use HTML tags to format information on your card. Crazy powerful for people who code; limiting for those who don't.
Conclusion: Recommended for development & design teams
For development and design teams collaborating on internal projects, these products provide an excellent combination of simple process support, low cost, and no-fuss customization.
For the non-technical folks or those working with people outside your team, collaborative documents or decision support tools are a better choice.
Using Dedicated Brainstorming and Decision Support Software
The virtual meeting tools in this category explicitly support processes like the one we're trying to test, and many other related group techniques too. Most include built-in templates that walk the group through each step, and all of them generate detailed reports. That said, tools in this category aren't right for everyone.
Tools in this category
Example: How to use GroupMap for brainstorming
Not all of the tools in this category have a free trial, but GroupMap does, so we'll use that for our example.
- Before the meeting, select a starting template and adjust the settings to fit your meeting.
- Paste the link to your GroupMap into your agenda.
- When it's time to brainstorm, instruct everyone to join the GroupMap and begin adding ideas. When you use a tool like this, you don't have to type ideas in a separate document first; the software can be set up so everyone's ideas are private until you're ready to go to the next step.
- To group ideas, click to the “Group” step inGroupMap. You'll select several ideas by simply clicking on them.GroupMap will prompt you name each group.
- Once the groups look good, click to go to the “Vote” step, and vote away. The software takes care of handing out “dots” and letting you know which items win.
- When you're done, export your report. You can download your ideas as a prettyPDF, but you might find the Excel spreadsheet more useful. You have options!
- It's super obvious how to run the process. Tools in this category explicitly support this kind of activity. When you need to group ideas, you click on buttons with labels like “Group Ideas”. Voting and ranking features actually figure out how well each idea scored for you. And the built-in templates will teach you new ways to collaborate that you can use in other meetings.
- Usable for non-technical folks. Participants see simple boxes for entering ideas, and clear instructions at each step, which helps a lot when you meet with people who don't spend all day working online. Fabulous for brainstorming with executives!
- Excellent reporting. Each of these products supplies reports in several formats. You can get a shiny PDF overview, and download individual ideas to spreadsheets.
- Designed for the Enterprise. There aren't many free or even inexpensive options in this category. Turns out, the big companies and organizations take decision making very seriously, and they're willing to pay for this kind of support. The companies who make these products know that. This is not universally true for all these products and things change all the time, but as of today, most decision support software comes with a sales call and a contract.
- Learning curve included. Each of these products reflects their founding team's unique facilitation soul. They all use slightly different templates and slightly different terminology for the steps in a process. You will need to test out a few examples with friends before you pick a tool for keeps.
Conclusion: Highly Recommended
These products give you the benefits of having a trained facilitator armed with packets of sticky-notes on staff. If you can afford it, learning to use a dedicated decision support tool can add a level of richness, engagement and effectiveness to your meetings that you can't achieve any other way.
Using Virtual Design Spaces & Visual Management Tools
The products in this category work great for visual planning and management. Think of them as the digital equivalent of a war room, where the walls are covered in notes and drawings and pictures, all interconnected and evolving over the course of the work. Each note represents some concept or piece of work in progress. The notes fill out the “information radiator” - a big whiteboard where people can walk up and see the project status at a glance.
At first blush, these tools sound pretty much the same as their simple sticky-notes relatives. But make no mistake - these are the city mice, with more sophisticated features, complicated options and higher expectations than their country cousins.
Tools in this category
Example? No example.
If you wanted to run a real-time brainstorming session during a meeting using one of these tools, you could do so following the same steps we outlined for simple sticky note tools. With a few exceptions: Mural.ly, Stormboard and iObeya include easy-to-use features for grouping ideas and voting. But really, you should look seriously at the products in this category only if you want a way to visually manage your work on an ongoing basis.
Great for Visual Management.
Not Recommended Just for Quick Brainstorms
These are all very cool products for visual management as a core part of your business. Anyone using a Lean manufacturing process, building a user experience map, or laying out a visual strategy will find these products useful.
If you already use one of these visual management tools, you can also use it for quick brainstorming. But if you're looking for something specifically to support engagement during meetings, you'll have better results with a product purpose-built for brainstorming and decision support.
Our Top Recommended Tools for Online Brainstorming and Decision Making in Meetings
After all that, here are the products that stood out from the crowd. We recommend adding one of these to your online meeting toolkit.
#1 GroupMap, Stormz, or Powernoodle
We loved the ease of use, attractive design, clarity of the process, and excellent reporting provided by all three of our top recommendaitons.
For teams and small organizations, both GroupMap and Stormz offer a free trial and a monthly subscription option. Occasional users probably won't experience big differences between these platforms. Both are easy to use and generate really useful results. Lucid Meetings customers should consider Stormz, using our integration to ensure the results from your brainstorming session get stored with your other meeting records.
Powernoodle serves Enterprise customers, and is a great choice for those organizatons looking to improve their capacity for large scale engagement and quality decision making.
Enterprises should evaluate all three platforms; each offers unique integration and power-user features that create distinct advantages for some settings.
#2 Google Docs, Microsoft Word Live, or Etherpad
Brainstorming in a co-edited document worked better than we expected, and starting with a product everyone already knows how to use eradicated the learning curve time. These are also the only viable option for those of you with accessibility requirements. Finally, free is a very good price!
#3 IdeaBoardz or BoardThing
Recommended with reservations.
These products support our test process and offer a good alternative to development teams. But they lack the flexibility, power and finesse of our top choices, and didn't provide the reports we were looking for.
Recommended for designers and others managing work visually.
Mural.ly and iObeya fully support our process as part of a larger, deluxe visual management platform. Neither platform is free nor lightweight, but both can be an excellent choice for teams who benefit from visual collaboration both during and outside of meetings.
The Full List: Details & Screenshots for 27 Tools
In alphabetical order.
Decision support tool with a free trial, so you can try it yourself. Some templates included, and they offer customizable processes too. 1000Minds focuses on helping groups prioritize alternatives based on pre-determined criteria, rather than brainstorming, so we don't recommend them for facilitating free-form online meeting sessions. Definitely worth checking out if you're looking for decision support software, though.
This screenshot from their website shows just one step in the decision making process.
Updated June 2017
Recommended for some audiences
Create cards, add images, group cards, and dot vote in this online application from Dave Gray and the team behind Gamestorming.
Boardthing received a major update in early 2017. They now offer a generous free trial and an affordable single-facilitator license. The updated version is easy to share with a group, fully supports the mechanics of the KJ technique, and includes exports in several formats.
Behold the updated video tour.
We continue to recommend Boardthing for web designers and developers for two reasons.
First, on the plus side, Boardthing supports adding HTML directly to cards, which is a bonus feature these audiences can appreciate. The creators speak native web design, and web people will find this orientation useful.
Secondly, Boardthing does not include pre-configured templates or system support for leading a group through distinct list, group, and voting steps. This provides design-oriented leaders the freedom to manage the process on the fly, but may not be adequate structure for larger groups who need clearer direction.
It looks like sticky notes (cool!), but sticky notes with purpose. CardBoard is specifically designed to help product teams map out customer journeys.
They explain it all nicely in their demo video.
Added October 2015
Cardsmith is a new entrant in the visual management category. Cardsmith includes unique features that make it easy to organize cards in grids for planning, and to enrich each card with additional fields for capturing all kinds of planning details. Think of it like Excel + Sticky Notes.
Like most of the visual planning tools, Cardsmith doesn't fully support the KJ technique. They lack explicit support for grouping and voting. That said, you can certainly use this to support your meetings if you're already using it for ongoing planning. See their response below for details
Conceptboard provides a robust visual collaboration and management tool, ideally suited for marketing teams working with other departments and remote clients. If your team would benefit from using a tool like this as part of your core business process, you should also use it to run quick brainstorming sessions during meetings. If you only need support for meetings, though, see our recommendations above.
See Conceptboard's overview video.
Dropbox paper works very similarly to Quip and Google Docs when it comes to supporting our use case. This is a newer product and a good choice for teams that already use Dropbox.
Etherpad is an open-source collaborative document editor, and a good choice if you aren't already using Google Docs or Microsoft Word Live. Personally, I find it a bit faster and easier to use than either of the name-brand options, but you will need to either use this on a publicly hosted site (you can find several public instances here), or host it yourself.
Here's a screenshot of our test setup. TIP: you can copy & paste this setup into your own document when you visit the public Google Doc linked below.
Recommended (if you already use Google Docs)
Here's a sample Google Doc we set up for our test.
GroupMap directly supports every part of our test process with a simple, clean and easy-to-use interface. I recommend experimenting with the different templates before your first meeting, as each map-type works a bit differently.
Recommended with reservations.
IdeaBoardz supports all the steps in our test process, which you would expect for a tool designed specifically for agile retrospectives. It was a little clunky to use (the animations rendered slowly for us at times), and I can't honestly endorse the use of that font, but it's free, simple, and does the job.
Updated June 2017
This is our favorite of the simple sticky note applications, because it's really fun to use. Colorful stickies, stickers, and shapes. Surprise tip: hold shift when you click on something to re-size or spin it around. Spinning is fun!
Recent updates to IdeaFlip make it even better. New features include an in-meeting timer (super helpful for keeping those brainstorming sessions on track) and a way to lock the board, which reins in the chaos. Finally, the "Follow Me" feature lets the meeting leader control which part of the board participants are viewing. This solves the annoying challenge of trying to get people to follow the conversation; no more of the "No, Jim. In the bottom left corner. Scroll down. You have to use your mouse," back-and-forth.
Innovation Games / Conteneo Collaboration Cloud
We've participated in online innovation games in the past, and know that theoretically, you could configure one to support our test process. They've since become one with Conteneo, which has a very clear Enterprise focus.
We don't recommend this platform for simple in-meeting brainstorming, but you may find some of their decision game templates worth checking out. You can test many of them here: www.innovationgames.com/resources/instant-play-games
Updated June 2017
Recommended for Lean Organizations
iObeya helps organizations who already practice visual management take their visual boards online so they can be shared across locations.
A program manager at a local agile development shop pointed us to iObeya, and asked for our opinion on whether it would be a good tool for managing retrospectives. It could be, but this is not a tool for casual use. This is big, powerful software that you should use to enhance your meetings if you have it. In general, though, this isn't a first choice for businesses or teams who are still figuring out how they want to operate.
In the past year, iObeya added support for brainstorming and voting, making it now possible to fully support the KJ technique using this software. iObeya now enables collaborative creativity sessions. As the session leader, you can set the duration for the brainstorming and voting sessions, and actively participate throughout them. Because iObeya doesn't assume you'll do all your brainstorming and voting in real time, all participants are notified when a voting session is starting soon, and when it ends.
While we don't recommend iObeya as a first choice for groups looking to run a strategic planning or other one-time workshop, iObeya is one of our top recommendations for groups looking to run Dan Prock's Value Stream Mapping workshop with a remote team.
Also, check out this sweet demo video.
We put Lino in the “simple stick-note” category because it didn't have obvious support for grouping or voting, but that categorization is a bit misleading. Lino's virtual boards can include all kinds of rich media and layers, and we actually found it a touch overwhelming.
Listthings says it's “THE drop dead simple web app for taking sticky notes”. True that. The app is clean, free, and simple to use, and could be interesting to someone who wanted a sticky-note-looking replacement for Evernote. While you can invite people to a board, there was no simple invitation link option, and no support for the group or vote parts of our test process. Consider this for personal use, but look elsewhere for tools to use in your meetings.
MeetingSphere crushes our test process and many other similar decision making processes. We found the software feature-rich once we finally made it through the free-trial gauntlet. (Wow, that's a lot of questions!) But the look is dated, and the messaging oddly awash in computer-speak. Meeting leaders will want to run through the tutorials; participating is straight-forward. In fact, MeetingSphere reports that participation is so easy for most teams that a small group can produce 150+ ideas in 5 to 10 minutes in the software, which makes their intuitive support for grouping and prioritizing a must.
With updates and perhaps a team-oriented subscription option, we'd add MeetingSphere to our recommended list.
Microsoft Word Live
The quintessence of simple sticky-noteness. Perhaps too simple. Although the feature list here claims otherwise, we could find no way to collaborate, scroll the view on smaller screens, or even correct typos on the to-do list we made. :(
Sorry, no screenshot for this one. When I clicked to read the help, all my changes went away, and I'm not doing that again.
Recommended for designers
Mural.ly was our favorite of the big concept design tools. When we tested our brainstorming process, we found you could select multiple sticky-notes at once and move them together - very useful in the grouping step, and not something most of the other tools supported. They also have built-in support for dot-voting.
Those of us with experience using tools like PhotoShop found the interface very intuitive. Our non-designer colleagues had a bit more trouble getting oriented, but still found this to be easier to use than some of the other products in this category.
NoteApp saved all our changes (see Note.ly)! There's no support here for anything but adding stickies to a board, so if you wanted to use this in a meeting, you would need to copy & paste to group items, and find a way to mark your votes. Team sharing, more than one board, and advanced options are only available with a paid subscription.
You can see a screenshot here, or follow this link to play with a live version of this test board.
Padlet is packed with clever touches. You can share each pad with your team, and the “Jetpack” upgrade looks like it adds all kinds of bling. That said, there's no process support here that would help you run through brainstorming and decision making in a meeting.
Here's a public link to our test board, which you can see in the screenshot below.
Updated June 2017
Recommended for the Enterprise
Powernoodle provides decision support architecture to enterprise companies. In a recent demo, we confirmed that you can indeed use Powernoodle to easily run the KJ technique described above. Powernoodle walks groups step-by-step through a tailored decision making or stakeholder engagement process. The interface for participants is drop-dead simple, and facilitators get detailed reports in multiple formats.
Powernoodle is more mature and more powerful than our top recommendations, supporting a richer variety of decision making techniques. This platform is enterprise grade and enterprise priced, working beautifully both before and during meetings so teams can keep meeting time focused on discussion.
Organizations operating at a higher level of decision making maturity, or in high stakes environments like finance and health care, should consider adopting a tool like Powernoodle to improve the quality of decisions across the enterprise.
Quip provides elegant, mobile-friendly co-editing and collaboration. Of the co-editors on our list, Quip has the prettiest UI, the most understandable folder structure, and the slickest integration of task lists, spreadsheets and rich media. That said, it seems this was the only co-editor that didn't have obvious accessibility support.
To use Quip for brainstorming and decision making in a meeting, follow the steps we outlined for Google Docs.
Realtime Board has the features you need for ongoing planning and visual management, and many useful integration that help you incorporate information from your other business systems into your boards. If you already use Realtime Board for planning, you can also use it for brainstorming during meetings, but there is no explicit support for the decision making process (grouping, ranking, voting, etc.)
We found the infinite canvas concept to be challenging in a meeting - and hard to capture in a screenshot! It was a bit too easy for people to accidentally find themselves looking at different parts of the canvas during the discussion.
Updated April 2016
Retrium is intended specifically for supporting retrospectives; meetings which happen to rely on the process described in our test. The product is pretty new, and it lacks both a grouping feature and the configurability we'd need if we were going to use it to plan our company retreat. No fault there - they don't claim to support anything beyond a growing set of pre-defined retrospective techniques.
If you need a tool specifically for retrospectives only, keep an eye on Retrium. It's a promising start.
Stormboard supports all the steps in our process. You can use it to add notes, combine them into groups (or “index cards”), and cast votes for your favorites. They even had an event planning template we could use as a starting place!
Our free Stormboard account didn't allow us to test the reports or some of the settings, and we found some features a touch disorienting, but in general it all looked promising. This tool straddles the line between products like ConceptBoard and Realtime Board, and the more process-oriented products like Lino.it and GroupMap. While not one of our top recommendations, Stormboard should work nicely in meetings for any team willing to spend time getting used to the interface.
Updated June 2017
Stormz provides everything you need to prepare, ideate, share, vote, evaluate, wrap-up, and report on a decision making session. There's a limited free version useful for learning the system and the pre-built templates covering many common decision-making processes. The templates come with great instructions, and they're easy to tweak to match the specifics of your meeting.
Stormz offers more import, export and integration options than most others, and a way to deploy the system on a local network, which is great for those times when you can't ensure a reliable or secure Internet connection.
Stormz met all our evaluation criteria but one; they don't have any meaningful accessibility support. That said, only a few of the products on this list do. If that's not a big issue for your group, I recommend trying out both Stormz and Groupmap to see which you prefer.
This screenshot from their website shows just one step in the decision making process.
ThinkTank supports the decision making process on a grand scale. If your organization operates at this level, you might consider whether this software could enhance your meetings. We were unable to test ThinkTank ourselves, but you can find a video demo here: https://vimeo.com/92583930, and we'll leave you with this.
An invitation: Help improve these recommendations.
Do you work at one of the companies listed here? Let us know if we missed something in our test that people should know. We'll happily add (and clearly label - as you can see above) any short information you send our way that will help people better understand your product's value.
Know of another tool that should be on the list? We'd love to hear about it. You can contribute in the comments below, and we promise we'll update this post as we learn more!
And with that, I'm off to wade through all the "Welcome to your new account" email sitting in my inbox from this test. Happy sticky-noting, everyone!
Working With a Distributed Team?
Do you worry that, as the meeting leader, you're not honoring both virtual and face-to-face meeting participants? This short online course may be just for you.