I knew that cloud-based tools like Google Sheets and Slack were useful, but I never realized how useful they were until we utilized them for this conference. It took us a few times to find our groove and really figure out how to collaborate best as a group, but once we found the right tools and guidelines, we really were rockin’ and rollin’ as a self-organizing team.

Kanban to the Rescue

Initially, we tracked meeting notes in Google docs. It worked well for the first few brainstorming meetings, but it didn’t work that well when it came to tracking work. Ryan McNair quickly noticed this problem and hooked us up with a Kanban board on Trello. We had the typical columns on our board (Backlog, WIP, Review, and Completed) in addition to 2 others: Sponsors and Speakers. We created a column for Sponsors and Speakers because there’s are a lot of things to track and communication that happens between Sponsors and Speakers. To help track communication, we used the Checklist feature in Trello.

Here’s a screenshot of the checklist used for Sponsors:


I also used Google Sheets to track additional information about each sponsor, like contact information, sponsorship level, and current payment status. The combination of Trello and Google Sheets definitely helped keep me sane and organized.

Approvals, and of course, Slack

As we got further into the process, tasks and responsibilities started piling up. We wanted to gather input from the rest of the organizers when decisions needed to be made, however, we didn’t always have a lot of time to get feedback from the entire group. Being a group of volunteers, our day jobs generally took priority over conference priorities, which increased our feedback loop.

To decrease our feedback loop, we agreed to make a decision after having at least 2 +1s from the group. This completely changed how we worked as a team and I think it actually made it easier to propose suggestions. This could just be me, but I felt like we had more ownership over tasks knowing that we only needed approval from 2 other organizers as opposed to the entire group. Depending on the decision and communication medium, approvals could either happen through email, Trello, or Slack.

Slack, for the few that don’t know, is a cloud-based team collaboration tool. It works in your browser, on Android and iOS, and it has a desktop app. Messages, files, and pinned conversations are stored persistently and are accessible from any platform. It really changes the way teams collaborate and really enabled us to host a successful conference. Not only did we use it for planning and organizing things before the conference, we also used it during the conference to keep things running smoothly. It mitigates the need to painfully use email for group conversations and questions.