I enjoy using Trello so much, I wrote a whole book on it!
Now available in the Kindle Store. An abbreviated version of this ebook is below.
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
— needs assessment
— stakeholder analysis
— log frames
— problem and objective trees
— 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.
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
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:
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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)
The best thing about trello: I can organize projects around an agile, iterative design mentality
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
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
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]
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
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/trello
BoardTrail: Track the time that your cards are in the ‘Doing’ list of your board. https://boardtrail.com
Paydirt: Time tracking that integrates with multiple webapps via a browser extension, including Trello: https://paydirtapp.com/time-tracking-in-trello
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:
Example #1: Managing a multi-user blog (courtesy of @oabello)
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
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
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
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
How Trello tracks it’s own development and feedback from users in a trello board:
Trello’s own tracking system uses two important features I haven’t mentioned before:
- Public feedback (the board is public and anyone can comment at https://trello.com/board/trello-development/4d5ea62fd76aa1136000000c )
- 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.