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#377 – The Year of Robots

Friday Ship #377 | December 15th, 2023

White robot arm closeup

This week, we reflected on how AI has changed the Parabol app.

Of course, it’s not just us – the rise of AI interest is well documented. Some folks find it terrifying, some exciting. The result will surely be both.

As we slide into the end of the year, it’s remarkable to think how, just 12 months ago, our app had no AI features, and now, robots are around every corner:

  • [Shipped] AI Summary: Our first feature came out of a Hackweek project, and later made it into one of our squads backlog. It started with adding summaries in those areas that already had a lot of content. We asked ourselves, “what is a better way to quickly understand what is going on?” Those places naturally came out to be the Meeting Summary, that is send out to everyone, and Discussion Topics. Both of those places have an AI generated summary now, and help our users to get a grasp of what is going on.
Meeting summary with AI
  • [Testing] AI Discussion Prompt: We didn’t stop with just summarizing. AI can also be helpful when it comes to facilitation. We’ve been running agile meetings for a long time, and developed good facilitation skills. But that might not be true for everyone starting out with Parabol, so we thought that it would be helpful to assist the facilitator. Adding a discussion prompt into our retro topics, is our first venture into that. We also share a question that could be asked in the discussion around the current reflections. Currently something we are still testing, but have been enjoying the additional help.
Parabol discussion thread with AI-generated discussion prompts
Parabol icebreakers, edited with AI
  • [Testing] Suggest Groups: An essential part of our retro workflow is grouping reflections into similar topics that can then be discussed. I would say there are two factions here: the ones that really enjoy this, and have fun creating groups with fun names, and those that would prefer that this would happen automatically. For the latter groups we’ve been experimenting with a “suggest groups” feature. It can be quite tricky to nail 100% all the time, that’s why for this we are using GPT-4 as there can be a lot of context to work through and connect in the right way. Right now we are looking to get more feedback on it, and see if this is something that could make it to everyone.

All of this leads us in Product to think about what’s next? What else can the robots help us with? We think there is plenty. There are small areas we can hook into, and there is bigger projects we would love to explore more.

  • [Future?] Templates, written by AI: Having a great meeting often depends on the template chosen by the facilitator – that decides what questions you’re asking the team. Every kind of structured conversation has some type of template. We’ve created a big backlog for our users to go through, and keep on adding to it. Users can also modify those and create their own customized templates. But for that you need to know what you are going for and have to have some experience. We’re already exploring using AI to recommend templates, but how cool would it be though if you could ask Parabol to prepare you a template with the following prompt: “Parabol I would like to retro our last customer call and see what things we are missing, and what we could do better”. And our AI would deliver a customized template, just for you. Cool, right? I think so too!
  • [Future?] Additional language support, written by AI: Similar to the ai-written templates, how awesome would it be if AI could translate existing templates on request? “Parabol AI ist es möglich eine Retro mit dem Template Glad, Sad, Mad auf deutsch zu starten?” And without a waiting period, you have your german Retro with the Glad, Sad, Mad template starting.
  • [Future?] Standup updates, written by AI: Maybe you’ve seen our recently added new feature in Standups – called Your Work. We are helping you remember what you did and what you have to do. Most of our work lives in various places, and our You Work drawer is supposed to help you see all of it in one place. With that knowledge we’ve brainstormed around an easier way to write standups. Doing some online research, you quickly stumble upon topics like “Why everyone hates standups”, etc. We asked ourselves why is that? Well some of it might be because it is tedious to write and remember. We could make that easier. Our Your Work drawer has all the information already, Github issues you closed, PR’s you opened, Parabol Tasks you completed. Taking this information we could easily prepare a Standup update with the basic information already filled it. Quick and easy.
You Work drawer in Parabol standups

It started out with a fun experiment during a Hack Week. But, honestly, I have to say that some of those features are starting become really essential to how we are using and wanting to shape Parabol for the future. Slowly but surely we are diving deeper into how we can make our users and their teams even smarter using Parabol. Teams and Organizations are collecting a lot of thoughts and knowledge in Parabol. It would be a shame if we didn’t help them use it all to their advantage.

Of course not everything will be replaced by robots, where would be the fun in that 😅 In my eyes it will likely look like a great mix of things, some automations, some smart AI features, and our Parabol magic to make meeting and collaboration the best it can be, virtual or not.


Parabol Metrics for week ending Dec 15, 2023

Top-of-funnel metrics ticked up this week, while weekly meetings took a slight dip. We expect to continue to see some ebb and flow through the winter holiday season, until folks return to work in the new year.

This week we…

published a post on useful charts for agile teams. Visual representations can help teams understand how they’re doing beyond the day-to-day.

…prepared for a code freeze. With much of the team out starting next week and us officially closed, this was our last chance to release something in 2023.

Next week we’ll

…break for the winter holidays! We’ll be back in 2024.

Marcus Wermuth

Marcus Wermuth

Marcus is leading our Product Team as the Head of Product Development. He is very passionate about virtual leadership, and has been writing and speaking about it online. Most recently he worked at Remote, and before that for almost 7 years at Buffer as engineer and engineering manager. He is very passionate about coffee, food, music and lately running. Marcus lives and works from Munich, Germany.

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