Ender is a competition platform where kids team-up and compete to build projects for prizes. CEO and Co-Founder Gautam Bhargava's approach to driving learning outcomes from games focuses on identifying skills kids can't always fully explore in the classroom. The platform, currently available for kids over 10 years old, transformed Minecraft from just a game into a tool to help kids build creative thinking and collaboration skills.
As the leader of a fully-remote, distributed team, Gautam emphasizes memos over meetings whenever possible. Noting that "working asynchronously can lead to a lot of friction," streamlining the teams workflow's is one of his top priorities to ensure they can quickly make decisions together and execute on important projects.
When Ender moved entirely remote in 2020, Gautam realized it caused "a paradigm shift in terms of building culture and managing communication architecture." It quickly became clear the old ways of collaborating in an office didn't translate efficiently to remote work, especially across time zones.
Wanting to adopt a more async-first process, the Ender team began using Notion for writing and reviewing their product management docs: roadmaps, weekly team planning, and PRDs. Gautam soon realized the processes the team built around their Notion documentation presented two major challenges:
While Notion was satisfactory for Ender's basic note-taking needs, it fell short when the team needed to share important documents for feedback and decision making.
"When you're making an important decision and need feedback on a doc, it's arduous to facilitate that asynchronously with Notion."
Documents were sent between the team across various channels (email, Slack, and meetings), leading to context switching and wasted time. Gautam noted his biggest pain point was that he lacked a clear and consistent way to provide feedback to his team on in-progress documents in Notion.
In addition, Notion's lack of customized sharing permissions proved problematic when needing to collaborate on more sensitive documents; generating a share link gave anyone with that link access to the doc.
Once a document was sent out for review, the comments started rolling in. Since comments are the only way to provide feedback in Notion, Gautam noted that tracking input (especially across multiple revisions) became "a mess."
"Not all comments are created equal ... but there was no way to prioritize responding to important feedback, because it might have gotten drowned in a big inbox of other comments."
The team resorted to manual workarounds to track feedback, such as manually updating the status of a doc every time someone completed their review.
Despite those workarounds, it often wasn't clear what feedback was resolved and what was still outstanding, which led to things slipping through the cracks. The friction generated from gathering feedback async became so high, it often necessitated live meetings for the team -- defeating the purpose of implementing async-first processes.
"We got to a point where we had a ton of meetings, and we needed to streamline. When we dug deeper into the purpose of those meetings, a lot of it came down to the fact that we couldn't effectively make decisions without them."
Gautam started searching for a specialized documentation solution, with two primary goals:
1/ Create a communication architecture with a transparent, structured methodology for reviewing and approving docs.
"When you're in the office, you can tap someone on the shoulder. When you're remote, how do you know people read what you sent?"
2/ Facilitate more collaboration and make it easy for anyone in the company to contribute to decision-making.
"Having some kind of effective, efficient decision making process is much harder to do in a remote environment, especially across time zones. How can we facilitate that without meetings?"
Ender transitioned all of their product management docs, quarterly planning, marketing campaign strategies, hiring docs, and meeting agendas to Almanac. Every doc in Almanac is organized in Ender's workspace, and easily searchable (including the body content) to find critical information quickly.
The Ender team uses Almanac Reviews to request feedback on any document, without the need for separate emails, Slack messages, and Zoom meetings. Reviews give Gautam a clear and consistent way to collaborate with his team, using three task types:
Gautam uses the consolidated Reviews tab in Almanac for transparency on what he needs to review each day.
"Review workflows in Almanac make it so much faster to consume and review my team's work - no other tool we tried has this feature."
In a Review, each requester can see who opened the document, track changes across responders, and filter to comments made during the review period.
With Almanac, collaborators can provide explicit feedback (Approve, Send Back, or Overall Comment) -- eliminating the team's prior process of manually updating a doc's status every time someone completed their review.
Using Almanac's robust comment functionality helps the Ender team prioritize and implement important feedback before finalizing any doc.
Comments in Almanac are threaded, allowing doc owners and collaborators to have an efficient async discussion directly in the document, eliminating the need for a live meeting or distracting Slack conversation. Every comment remains accessible even after it's resolved, so the team can always reference those important discussions and historical context.
Almanac's rich Activity Feed shows how a doc became what it is today, with milestones such as feedback and approvals (instead of a long, cluttered list of chronological comments). Additionally, editors can compare the doc's current state to any previous point in time.
As a small team, moving quickly and staying nimble is critical to Ender's success. With Almanac, Gautam and the team are abide by the mantra of "memos over meetings" and spend more time on deep, focused work. Since moving to Almanac, Gautam noticed 3 major benefits:
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