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How we effectively use Trello for project management

Trello is an incredibly versatile tool for project management. It’s flexibility allows for it to be a simple tool for personal organization or a powerful engine for product development with large teams. In this article we share how we use Trello, along other interesting use cases from different startups.

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Basic Trello overview

Trello is a task management app that gives you a visual overview of what is being worked on and who is working on it. It used the Kanban system, which was developed in Toyota as a system to keep production levels high and maintain flexibility. It is best represented as a whiteboard filled with post-it notes. Each post-it represents different tasks involved in the project.

Here’s what doing the same thing in Trello would look like:

Trello is a system of boards, lists and cards. This creates a system that allows for individuals or teams to track a project and collaborate or contribute where they can be most useful or where it is most needed.

Board

A board is typically a project or product that is under development or consistently being worked on.

A board has specific members that can see it and control the creation and flow of cards between the lists. They can add themselves or others to cards, begin conversations on the cards, add attachments and create checklists.

List

A list is a way to divide a board into different categories. Typically a list represents a stage of progress (to do, in progress, finished).

For David Allen (Getting Things Done) fans, lists are a great for setting up different “buckets” to organize your tasks.

Card

A card is the most basic and flexible part of the system. It represents a specific element of a project (A new feature, a software bug, research for a post). Cards can be moved between lists as they progress through the project. Depending on what works best for you and your team, an individual task could be a card or it could be an item on a checklist within a card, or an image.

You can attach images and files, assign members, comment, add checklists, colored labels and deadlines to cards. Depending on the what’s best for you and the task at hand, you can keep your cards very simple, or highly detailed and elaborate.

Related: The best of WP Curve – productivity

How we use Trello

We use Trello for project management and to track most of our operations at WP Curve.

Here’s how we organize our Trello:

Boards  

We use boards for different categories of high level operations. Each of these boards have their own “personalities” and work in different ways.

Lists

Lists belong to a specific person, and / or represent different phases in a project or a time frame.

Having a single name attached to the list helps with accountability and points to who is ultimately responsible for the completion of the task.

It is important to separate the “doing” list from the “to do” because it provides a better visualization for the team instead of having an ever changing and vague list of “to do” where you can’t tell where the current efforts are focused.

Note you don’t have to use Trello this way. If you prefer, you can drag a person’s profile pic onto a card to signify who is working on which task.

Cards

Cards are our post-it notes, we generally use them to represent an individual task. However since they can also include comments and images and even checklists, you could have the task as an overall group and have individual tasks included inside the card.

Personally, I like cards to be as simple as possible. I make a descriptive and specific title that encompasses the whole task. The title is the most visible part of the card and should give a clear idea of what the card is about. Often if the title of a card is unclear, different team members will create two or three different versions of the same card or task and work on them separately. I have even managed to make this mistake without team members.

When I am collaborating on a card or leaving a comment that I would like someone to see I always use @mention. With hundreds of cards moving around the board, it is difficult to keep track of everything, and you can’t expect your team members to look inside every single card for updates if they are not assigned to them. Since you need to click into a card to see details, it is good to mention the person you want to take a look at the card, this will create a notification for them in their dashboard and an email notification.

Use cases for Trello

Like I mentioned above, our Trello boards serve different purposes and therefore behave differently. Below are some different ways you can use Trello for different projects and management styles.

Ongoing workflow

These boards involve projects that are ongoing in our operations.

Admin and Management

Our admin and management board is fairly straightforward. Each team member has three lists. We can assign cards to ourselves or to each other as well as converse about issues involved in any of those tasks.

Content marketing planning

Our content marketing board has three types of lists:

This is where we go for inspiration for content or write down an idea for later. We can use this list of content ideas or podcast guests get some ideas for content and look back over the past few months to see if we have done something similar on that topic already.

The system allows us to to keep track of our goal of 15 pieces of content each month. For podcast interviews that we do off site we log them when they are recorded, not published. Otherwise it would be too hard to track and follow up with.

I often have the problem of discussing tasks or good ideas for content in email and then losing track of the email as other things pile up in the inbox. To keep ideas or tasks from getting buried in your email you can create a card via email and seamlessly send it to your Trello board.

Each Trello board has an email address that you can find in the board settings, you can also choose which list the card will appear. When you send an email to that address you will create a card. You can specify in the settings which list you want the card to appear in when it is emailed. The subject of the email will be the title of the card and the body will be the description. Attachments will automatically be added to the card.

Editorial Calendar

Trello has recently added an editorial calendar feature that is popular tool for content management and planning with top news sites like Mashable, ReadWrite, and the Changlog. They use this calendar internally as well to plan out and create content for their blog. They use colored labels to represent idea topics and have 9 lists to track the status of the article and allowing different team members to contribute when they are needed. You can check out a detailed post on this process here.

Managing guest writers

We have a workflow to track and communicate with our guest writers. When working with a diverse team of guest writers, it helps to have an overview of what each writer is working on and where they are in the process. Instead of being focused on time frame like our content planning board it is optimized to make communicating with out guest writers easy and centralized.

We have all of these boards available for you to download free as a part of our Trello quick start kit.

Task Automation

We use Zapier to create automatic reminders for recurring tasks.

We have a library of processes in Google Drive that give granular instructions on completing the required task. Each card that we create in Zapier is automatically linked to a Google Doc that has precise instructions on how to carry that task out.

We use this to create recurring tasks for our admin team:

Using zaps to automate card creation keeps us on track for these processes and frees up time and energy to focus on higher level tasks and projects.

Related article: Our exact hands off process for hiring developers offshore

Big Projects

Dan used Trello to collect and categorize his ideas for The 7 Day Startup. He would add ideas that he wanted to include into the book as cards then create lists for themes or chapters in the book.

As the lists continued to grow he used it as an outline for creating his book. Since he already had a lot of the content written as blog posts before, this Trello board helped him map it out and get through the actual writing of the book quickly.

Once all the ideas were categorized, Dan pulled them into a list of chapters to write in a new board. In that board he had lists for each step of the process (i.e. write rough draft, self-review, peer review, send to editor). This made it a more motivating way of working on the book so he could see each chapter progress as he completed the book.

Product Development

Trello and User Voice use Trello to track bugs and new feature development.

Trello

Trello likes to keep things simple and only maintain one internal board, so there is only one place to keep track of things.

User Voice

User Voice has a series of boards that all feed into a single board labeled current development.

Cards are created on four boards:

Image source: User Voice – How we use Trello & Google Docs to make UserVoice better every day

They only add cards to their priority “next up” list once a week. This has the added benefit of creating a sense of progress throughout the week for their team. This also prevents creating what they refer to as a “shifting sand dune” of tasks appearing at any time can make it difficult to stay organized because you need to constantly re-prioritize the tasks.

They meet on Fridays to present and discuss new cards created in these boards. If you create a card, you are expected to attend the meetings and make a case for why the card needs attention. Cards are then chosen to be moved to the singly priority list “Next up” on the current development board.

The cards are also estimate the difficulty of the cards moving into the “next up” list at this meeting. They add stars to the title *(easy)  **(medium) ***(hard). This is rated by past experience and a company, not on an individual basis which allows for some consistency for the rating system.

User Voice has a fantastic post that goes into much more detail on this process.

Public Trello Boards

The team at Trello use a public board to interact with customers, give a high level view of what they are working on, and allow for voting and commenting on new features.

Similar to our content marketing board, they list the new features and updates that go live each month and keep a history of each month.

Trello pro tips

There are a few simple hotkeys that can make Trello even easier and faster for you and your team.

Open the boards menu – “b” – This will give you quick access to your Trello boards menu. Once the menu is open, keep typing the first few letters of the board you are looking for and press enter before you know it you’re jumping between boards like a ninja on RedBull.

Filter cards – “f” –  Pressing f will and typing the first few letters of a card title work like a search engine for the card. You can also type the name of the person the card is assigned to filter only cards assigned to that person.

Navigate between cards – “j / k” – You can move up and down through cards faster with these hotkeys then clicking in and out of cards.

Full hotkey menu – “?” – This will display all of the available hotkeys.

Checklists – The team at Tint have outlawed the use of checklists in their cards, Tint has a much more collaborative approach than most of what we do at WP Curve and have multiple people working on projects and tasks. Checklists were hindering collaboration which was a priority for Tint. Checklists are not visible unless you open up the individual card, and it is not effective to assume your team members will be opening up each of your cards to see progress.

Conclusion

Trello’s simplistic design and open-ended interface may leave a new user unsure where to start. Hopefully some of these use cases will help you find a way to harness this great tool to help you manage your next project. It’s not necessary to use every feature in Trello for it to be an effective tool. Find what works for your and your team. Once you get a good method work to establish processes and consistency to get the best results.

If you would like some sample Trello boards to use for your own business, our Trello quick start kit is perfect for getting started and is free to download.

Grab the free Trello quick start kit

We'll email you three boards that we use everyday in our business. The boards include everything you need to get started with Trello.

You'll get:

  • Team management board
  • Editorial calendar template
  • Guest writer management board

How do you use Trello? What are your favorite features? Let us know in the comments below.

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