Using Trello for project management

I enjoy using Trello so much, I wrote a whole book on it!

trello-cover-kindle-thumb

Now available in the Kindle Store. An abbreviated version of this ebook is below.

Trello Development - Trello

I’ve been using a free organization tool called Trello to manage my projects for many years now. I think it is an amazing, easy to use tool that every non-profit organization should be using for project management. Here is a tutorial and some real examples of others using it.  Many Lean Startups are probably already using this. Are you?

Some aspects of project management

According to some other dudes that offer a certificate in “project management”, this is what it means to manage a project:

Project life cycle
— understand why projects fail and avoid it
Project design
— needs assessment
— stakeholder analysis
— log frames
— problem and objective trees
Implementation
— work plans
— network analysis
GANTT charts
RACI matrix
Monitoring and evaluation
S.M.A.R.T. indicators
End of project transition

Of these, trello is the best tool for project design, implementation, and monitoring. It also is useful for transition and archiving old projects.

Why?

no excel

Because excel, the current default project management software, was designed for tracking financial records. You probably already know why excel is a barrier to shared real-time project management. Trello is free and works anywhere in the world (even on low bandwidth connections).

The basic trello board layout for project management: Goals, Activities, Discussion, and Funding

basic_project_management_board.png

Here is my guess at what most project teams need to track on a day to day basis. Notice I said TEAMS and not MANAGERS. Trello is better for progect management because everyone on the team can contribute to tracking; you can trace where each contribution came from, and when; and the project leader is no longer overloaded with micro management tasks.

Trello’s advantages: See the big picture with lists:

media_1347239016764.png

In the first list, you have individual CARDS. One can describe the goals for the project. Another has a timeline for parts of the project. I’ve created a report CARD that has metrics the way I’d like to see them, but trello doesn’t do this for you yet. It does support a developer’s API that could allow this to become a reality in the future. The third card has plans for next round of funding.

Data drill down: You can expand this list and expand the details within each CARD.

trello card example

The current version of Trello is mostly a mashup of text, files, and images you upload yourself – but as this free tool grows, it can interact with other data sources and generate instant report tracking system, like this:

media_1347239362089.png

Example of seeing the project’s globalgiving fundraising history on the milesstones list. This can facilitate grant writing and measuring how much money is available to the project.

The next list – Activities – is where each team member can track what their top tasks are and what they need to accomplish each week. In the future, funders may simply ask for access to your trello board instead of making you write a separate activities report.

media_1347239772771.png

Any list and card lets you do a lot of stuff: assign people, set deadlines, categories cards by color, attach images, write a checklist of subtasks, write comments and discuss the card/task, and @name a member to shoot off an instant email from comments.

Individual notification, email integration, and user tracking within the project board

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Each member sees personalized highlighted information when they log in. They also receive emails whenever a person write name of the @person in comments, or modifies a task that they have been assigned to.

Every project should include a list for discussion or planning of future directions – items that are not immediately actionable but ideas / brainstorming can live in the same project board.

media_1347240285488.png

In this example, the workshop for principals became a bridge to lots of good handout materials for the girl effect, which can improve existing project tasks.

And no project is complete without a list of resources and future funding. This list should also include non-financial resource mobilization (volunteering, strategic partners, trainings)

media_1347240461999.png

The best thing about trello: I can organize projects around an agile, iterative design mentality

trello-agile-project-management-example

Shown above are six months of a project. Lists for each month are for “doing”, “done”, and “planned” work. Past months have lists for “done” and “not done.” Future months have a list for “planned” tasks. Trello gives you a visual feel for how much work is getting done, and which tasks are stalled. The next board is an earlier iteration of the board above.

Examples of some REAL project boards. #1 – the storytelling project agile board for August 2012

trello_storytelling_project_web_development_1.png

Notice how this project differs from the conventional project management needs. The tasks are mostly tech-related, and the main columns are “DONE”, “TO DO”, and two levels of planning, which in the AGILE method of project planning are called Sprints. So Sprint #1 are top priority tasks for the next month, and Sprint #2 would be completed the following month +/- 10% in the real case.

#1 continued one month later: Storytelling Agile Board for September 2012

storytelling_agile_board__2_trello_sep2012.png

New lists for the month have been added (TO DO, DONE, Sprint #2) and the DONE for the previous month is still visible because we are transitioning, reassigning our priorities for the team, and archiving tasks that we no longer consider immediately feasible. Also note that we added a CARD to the top of DONE (Aug 2012) with the total hours that the two main people logged on this project. One of us is 100% full time working on trello, the other is apparently only spending 50% of his time on this project — and it becomes very easy to see and count.

Tracking hours in trello: Simplest (free) method is to use text in titles, e.g. [2h]

tracking_hours_trello.png

If you can remember to log your hours by editing the CARD TITLE and adding something like [5h] or [1h] for each task to complete, you can add the hours up at the end of the month. This is really important for project management – as spending all of you time on the wrong (low priority) tasks is a common problem.

Time Tracking with a plugin

There are more sophisticated 3rd party plugins for k

eeping track of the amount of time a user spends on the task represented by a given card or checklist item, and making that information useful to the user or their organization.

Burndown charts: https://burndownfortrello.com/ and https://trello.com/c/d7I1huVB

trello-burn-down-plugin

Harvest Chrome Extension: The fine folks at Harvest have built a Chrome Extension that let’s you track your time in Harvest directly from your Trello boards. http://www.getharvest.com/trelloTrello Easy Time Tracking Employee Timesheet Harvest

BoardTrail: Track the time that your cards are in the ‘Doing’ list of your board. https://boardtrail.com

Board_Trail-Trello Time Tracking

Paydirt: Time tracking that integrates with multiple webapps via a browser extension, including Trello: https://paydirtapp.com/time-tracking-in-trello

Trello Time Tracker Paydirt

Kanban plugin for Trello

I happen to use trello to manage myself using an agile framework. Each month I set new priorities and kill off old projects. An alternative framework is Kanban – which is more like managing the flow of pieces of projects like stockroom inventory. This chrome plugin changes the colors of lists as they pile up:

Chrome Kanban Trello Plugin

Example #1: Managing a multi-user blog (courtesy of @oabello)

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This is the back end content management board for the Results for Development Blog http://www.resultsfordevelopment.org/blog

R4D blog ideas brainstorm trello board continued

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This team prefers to have many short lists with very clear instructions to users for what content goes where. This is probably because the manager wants to encourage dozens of people to drop off ideas with a minimum of training. Trello gets used because it is easy.

Example #2: Trello used as a log-frame organizing tool

media_1347241822456.png

Kabissa invited me and some others to comment on their mission goals and logic model (AKA a log frame) via a google doc. I converted their points into cards in trello, which would allow us to track comments, move cards around, and insert content. The current version of trello does not yet reconstruct a word/google document from the board but that could be done. The activities list was my addition so that Kabissa could assign tasks to parts of the organization that relate directly to elements of their impact model. Also the “projects to launch” list was absent from google docs, but I wanted to encourage them to think specifically about goals and milestones and release dates within this framework. Trello is more flexible than google docs for this kind of discussion.

Example #3: Co-Writing a Book with Trello

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Someone asked me to collaborate on a book about impact and development. I organized the tasks into a trello board so that we could have a weekly check-in and talk about each task. So far, none of the tasks have been completed, so I can already tell this project is in jepoardy of being late or incomplete (6 months ahead of time).

more examples from https://trello.com/examples

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How Trello tracks it’s own development and feedback from users in a trello board:

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Trello’s own tracking system uses two important features I haven’t mentioned before:

  1. Public feedback (the board is public and anyone can comment at https://trello.com/board/trello-development/4d5ea62fd76aa1136000000c )
  2. PUBLIC VOTING. You want to know what the community thinks of your plans? post them for public comment. It costs you noting to get feedback integrated into your project now. I found this page by voting for one of the features I wanted them to add.

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28 Comments

  1. Posted September 10, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Hi Marc,

    2 things:

    – Trello seems like a an excellent PM tool
    – What made you create such an exhaustive review of this PM tool?

    The reason why I’m asking the second question is that I want to know if this post is biased.

  2. Dan
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    If you’d like a tool for managing your time and projects, you can use this web-application inspired by David Allen’s GTD:

    http://www.Gtdagenda.com

    You can use it to manage and prioritize your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.

  3. Posted September 10, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    To PM Hut —
    I work for a nonprofit and we constantly deal with low capacity organizations in third world countries who seem to be victimized by the “project management” experts. My post is motivated by the following:
    (1) Most frameworks are too complex for community projects. And there are too many performance tools and frameworks to choose from. Really, it boils down to for most organizations is (a) what are you doing, (b) how and when will you do it, (c) how will you get resources/funding, and (d) whose lives are you changing by doing it? These are the goals, activities, and future plans I’ve organized here.

    (2) any software that people are told to use it either pricey, difficult, or wasn’t designed for the task (like excel and word are NOT designed to be project management tools)

    (3) my personal interest is in seeing more people use trello because people like me can build free integration tools into trello that could instantly generate reports or import data with it. no other tool feels nice enough to me to bother building around it. Also, the FrogCreek guys built trello for free just to be awesome, and I want to follow suit.

    To Dan–
    You seem to be selling Gtadenga: Your product costs money after the most basic level. Trello is FREE. Even $35/year could put a child in school in Uganda instead of paying for software that might not be as good as free trello. A similar “NGO getting abused by salesmen” problem happens with organization websites. WordPress.com works free and has 99.99% uptime, compared to about 50% of org pages that expire when the owners don’t know they have to renew their domain names each year.

  4. Michael Tobin
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 4:25 am | Permalink

    Hi Marc,
    I need help.
    Can Trello tell if my teammates are working or fooling me? I am running a project with the helps of remote team mates from different countries. We communicate through internet and sometimes I am not sure about their productivity.

  5. Posted September 25, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Trello has little colored dots beside the user images on cards which change from GRAY (not logged in) to YELLOW (online but not viewing the page) to GREEN (logged in and looking at trello at this moment). This is far less less than a “workplace monitoring system” but at least you can tell if someone is online, which in my case means that they are probably working. I had a problem with my Kenyan developer and I simply wanted to know that he was on the Internet – so trello helps. Also, in pushing him to log his work, I can tell the last time a user has logged in with trello.

  6. billmasella
    Posted December 12, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    You know I tried Trello and I must admit it was quite awhile back and I just couldn’t seem to get it to do what I wanted. I’m thinking now with your details perhaps I should go back and give it another peek. Thanks for the post.

  7. Posted February 26, 2013 at 1:53 am | Permalink

    I’m really enjoying the theme/design of your web site. Do you ever run into any internet browser compatibility issues? A small number of my blog audience have complained about my blog not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Opera. Do you have any tips to help fix this problem?

  8. tlang
    Posted March 3, 2013 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Great post Marc! But wait, how the heck are you embedding those nice live charts in Trello cards? What is the up-arrow icon? Is this a hidden Trello feature, or might you have an extension or some code to share by any chance? Are those charts coming from a Google doc or something? I’ve been DYING to do that sort of thing (live reporting) in Trello.

    – Tim

  9. Posted March 4, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Tlang – those images are mockups of what I’d like to embed into trello using the API and the python wrapper:

    https://github.com/sarumont/py-trello

    But the idea for making semi-real-time reporting tools within trello cards is this data flow:

    (1) generate an image of the data (outside of trello, HTML5 canvas to PNG)
    (2) insert that image into a sync’ed card each day
    (3) make the new image the “cover”
    (4) optional: delete previous cover image.
    (5) repeat daily or hourly.

    I haven’t don’t this yet, but I’d like to when I have time away from work.

  10. gavin
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    You mentioned Gantt charts above. Has anyone been able to use Gantt charts with Trello?

  11. Posted May 2, 2013 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Gantt charts in trello – Not that I know of, Gavin.

    But Trello announced this week you can pay for gmail integration. This makes trello comparable to salesforce.com if you are not tracking people but instead ideas and conversations.

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  13. Posted July 10, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

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  15. Posted July 25, 2013 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    This is my fist time to visit the web of Trello,I have read through briefly but I need to internalize and analyze it,it seems to be a very good tool if one become conversant in using it but need training which is more elaborative

    LET US REMAIN IN TOUCH

  16. Posted September 13, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Hi, I hope you get a chance to review reportsfortrello.com. I created it for all users of trello to track time by only using Trello. It is out of the way time tracking.

  17. Henry
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    To me proofhub.com seems to be far the best project management software I have used. Trello also seems to be nice tool I will try this too.

  18. Posted February 14, 2014 at 2:22 am | Permalink

    Please I am the Program Director of PMK Save the Future Generation Uganda.
    Please how can I post our organization to this site too?

  19. Posted February 14, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Peter – go to http://www.trello.com and sign up for free, then read the tutorials.

  20. Aidrick Brown
    Posted May 4, 2014 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    You have done a good review of Trello. But there are other tools too that can enable better project management. I would like to mention proofhub project management tool here which facilitates organized execution of projects in a simple manner. It has got time tracking, calendar, notes, mobile and other useful features for enhanced organization and collaboration over projects. http://www.proofhub.com/

  21. karen zimmerman
    Posted June 30, 2014 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Trello has one big fail – the inability to search by checklist due date. All projects have milestones and due dates for those milestones. They have no plans to add this feature. Does anyone know of a plugin that allows this?

  22. Posted June 30, 2014 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    I disagree. While I too would use that feature, their tool is versatile enough to also serve as Trello’s own feature request page. Why don’t you complain DIRECTLY to the developers at https://trello.com/board/trello-development/4d5ea62fd76aa1136000000c ? I’d like to see that kind of direct feedback loop in other products. And how much did you pay for this “failed” software?

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  27. Posted September 4, 2014 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    Hi
    Thank you for this article. Like us here in the office, we also do some project management tools
    that can really help us. And this article somehow an eye opener to anyone who reads it.
    Thank you and keep it up!

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    http://www.triggerapp.com

  28. Posted September 10, 2014 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Good post. I’m experiencing a few of these issues as well..

6 Trackbacks

  1. [...] I’ve been using a free web tool called trello to manage my projects for 6 months now. I think it is an amazing, easy to use tool that every non-profit organization should be using for project…  [...]

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