High School FIRST Robotics Team Increases Accountability and Collaboration Using GQueues
Robo Raiders, founded in 2009, is a FIRST Robotics team based in Mascoutah, Illinois. They are one of over 3,000 high school teams from 25 countries that participate in FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which was founded in 1989 to inspire youth to become leaders in the fields of science and technology. The growth of FIRST has been made possible by mentors, parents, teachers, community leaders, and citizens who have volunteered their time, resources and talent throughout the years. The Robo Raiders team is comprised of 13 home-schooled high school students and several adult mentors who support their success. They work together throughout the year to plan, design, build, and drive robots that solve problems presented to them during competitions. Through these experiences students learn real-world team-building strategies, and have opportunities to educate and mentor other robotics teams.
Increasing Transparency and Accountability
According to team members Ava Merrifield and Reyna Davis, the Robo Raiders have a lot of fun learning and solving problems. Each year they dedicate hundreds of hours to planning, designing, building, programming, testing, and driving a robot that they think will do well on the robot mission field. Their team has won several awards since they started competing in 2009. Merrifield and Davis credit much of this success to their organizational set-up, along with hard work and thoughtful planning. They both explained that their team is structured like a business, with subteams that are separated between technical and non-technical responsibilities including fabrication, programming, marketing, finance, and project management.
In 2016, Jason Rahm, one of the adult mentors for the Robo Raiders team, noticed that some members of the team were having trouble keeping track of their assigned tasks and responsibilities. In spite of their best efforts to stay organized during their twice weekly meetings, the team primarily communicated via email throughout the week. Though this system was simple enough, Rahm explained that tasks were getting missed and it was difficult to track the status of action items and the individuals responsible for their completion. Rahm and his fellow mentors decided it was time to find a more structured system for managing tasks and increasing accountability. They needed an online tool that students could access from anywhere and help them stay on track even if they missed a meeting.
When the team began searching for a tool that met their criteria, GQueues immediately caught their attention. Rahm explained, "I've worked at many different companies with different task management tools; some more successful than others. The combined simplicity and power of GQueues made it very appealing." He shared that it was an affordable option that allowed mentors and students to understand the team's workload and have visual reminders of what needed to be done to support their continued success.
Simple, Streamlined Integrations
Since the introduction of GQueues to the Robo Raiders team in 2016, all members have embraced the tool for collaboration. Everyone uses it to stay on top of their robotics work, and several members use it to manage their personal tasks as well. Merrifield, who has a very busy schedule outside of Robo Raiders, explained that she also has personal queues where she tracks her school work and other extra curricular responsibilities. "GQueues allows me to balance my robotics tasks with other life tasks, so I know that I won't miss anything," she noted. Rahm shared how he also uses personal queues to monitor his son's school work, who is a student on the team, and home-schooled by Rahm. "I'm his teacher and principal for high school, so I manage his tasks in GQueues for my own visibility and to track the work that he owes me."
When the Robo Raiders first set up their GQueues accounts, they created and shared ten queues - one for every subteam. Rahm explained that it worked well, but in 2017, they decided to streamline their system so mentors had less to track. "Now we put everything into three primary queues: project management, business, and technical. All tasks are then organized by tags." He provided the example of a public relations task, where the Robo Raiders are meeting with another team that they're mentoring. They tag that task with "public relations" and "outreach," so subteams can easily identify the crossover. "It's good to be able to see that one task is shared by more than one subteam, so you know who is responsible for it." In addition to tags, Smart Queues help Rahm organize the team's upcoming events. He likes being able to look at tasks with a particular tag, and then filter them by due date. "I add Smart Queues for events and competitions, so I can make sure all related tasks are being completed in plenty of time," he explained.
The Robo Raiders team uses Google's free consumer products (Gmail, Calendar, Drive) to minimize team expenses, and appreciates that GQueues works with these services in addition to its seamless G Suite integration. "The simplicity of signing in with a Gmail account is a really useful part of GQueues. Our students are already managing enough; not having to remember another password is certainly an integration that our team appreciates," Rahm shared. The GQueues for Gmail extension is also very important to them. The ability to create tasks out of emails and receive notifications helps the team track and prioritize communications, while the Google Calendar integration with reminders helps them stay on target with due dates. Many tasks must be completed by the start of their next meeting, so team members set reminders for a few hours beforehand to finish up any remaining work. The project manager then starts each meeting by reviewing completed and unfinished tasks. Merrifield explained that the Comments feature is also helpful for communicating about tasks in real-time. "Sometimes people are vague when they assign a task, so we can add comments to get clarification. It's a lot easier to have comments with the task itself in GQueues instead of having to track someone down on Slack."
More Success, Less Stress
The Robo Raiders team has noticed a considerable improvement in their ability to organize and stay on top of tasks since adopting GQueues, which has translated into more success during competition season. Among their 2016-2017 accolades were the Inspire Award (the highest award given by FIRST Tech Challenge) at North Super Regionals in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and advancing to the World Championships in St. Louis, Missouri.
Merrifield explained that the visibility provided by GQueues makes it easy for team members to collaborate and communicate about their progress, and even ask for help if they run out of time to finish their assigned work. "Someone can add a comment to a task like 'I can't get this done in time. Can you help?' Then you can go into GQueues, see exactly what needs to be done and help out." This visibility also makes it easy for subteam leads to distribute the team's workload evenly, so one person isn't drowning in assignments, while others have extra time on their hands.
Since they began using GQueues, Rahm shared that he doesn't need to nag students as much, which reduces his stress a lot. He no longer has to worry about things getting lost in the shuffle, like he did with their former email system. For Merrifield, GQueues has helped her manage her time and stay organized. She remarked, "By having everything right there in front of me, I'm able to see all of my tasks and their due dates, so I know what I need to work on and prioritize first."
Rahm explained that the whole team has benefitted from the accountability that GQueues offers. Though the Robo Raiders are a group of high-achieving students, he's observed that they are more likely to follow through with their tasks now that the whole team has an eye on their progress. Merrifield noted, "If you haven't gotten a task done, everyone knows about it. That gives you some extra motivation, because you want to help the team and it's not fun when you're the only one who hasn't completed a task." Davis and Merrifield agreed that they would recommend GQueues to fellow robotics teams, or any organization that is looking for a collaborative way to manage their tasks. Rahm affirmed the same, "GQueues is a big win, especially for companies that want a tight integration with Google products."