Trello is a collaborative task and project management tool that we use extensively at CivicActions. CivicActions has a free team Trello account that we use for both internal and client projects.
The tool is very easy to use, with a robust feature set whose intuitive UI means the features don't get in the way of getting work done. It is well documented at https://trello.com/guide, but you probably won't need to read much documentation.
- Review the getting started guide
- Take a video tour of Trello
- "Use Trello like a Pro" blog post
- Keyboard shortcuts are listed here Or just use the "?" shortcut to bring up that page any time
Trello has "boards" where work is tracked, using the metaphor of a whiteboard with columns taped with masking tape, and index card or sticky notes.
Work can be done by any member of the board whose been added by a board administrator.
On each board there are "lists" which contain "cards". The only requirement for a card is a title, which is often written as a user story, or bug report, or other actionable task. This title shows up on the "front" of the card. When you click on the card it shows the "back" of the card (the metaphor is an index card on a whiteboard). The back of the card contain subtasks (often organized on checklist items), attachments, due dates, colored labels (categories), and comments (conversation in which you can @mention other members of the board). Cards can also contain references to GitHub pull requests, images (which can appear on the "front" of the card), and can be assigned to one or more people (either directly from the card, or by dragging and dropping their face from the right sidebar). All this data is summed up with icons on the front of the card.
Generally, cards move from left to right on a Trello board, through a series of lists, with the "Done" list at the far right. On many projects, you'll see lists like "Backlog", "Blocked", "Doing", "Code Review", "Ready for Client Review", "Approved", etc. The names of these lists tend to change from project to project, and sometimes sprint to sprint, but the basic patterns are the same.
Using Trello for Agile projects
Our Trello boards containing active work are usually organized either as Kanban or Scrum.
For Scrum projects, we typically have one Product Backlog board, also known as the Project Board, containing User Stories and other cards that are not actively in development. Product Owners or other team members add cards to a Not Estimated list, which get estimated (in hours, or story points) during Sprint Planning meetings and moved to an Estimated list. Occasionally we'll have additional team vetting processes to ensure that cards are documented with well-written user stories, implementation details, and User Acceptance Tests, before they can be moved to a Sprint Board. Product Owners then work with the team to prioritize cards, and a subset of cards are moved to the next Sprint Board for active development.
Kanban project typically have one big backlog prioritized by Product Owners. Like the Scrum Product Backlog/Product Board, many projects will have separate lists for estimated and non-estimated cards.
Powerups and Extensions
Trello's business model is based on people paying for powerups, which are additional features. On most projects we rarely need more than one or two. Free accounts are limited to one powerup per board, so use it wisely. Luckily, browser extensions often provide the same functionality as powerups.
- GitHub Powerup: connect your board to a GitHub repo, and link out to Pull Requests. Small icons appear on the front of the card to show whether or not that card's icon has been merged.
- Voting Powerup: this is a great tool for taking straw polls on priorities. We often use the voting powerup on retrospectives to determine consensus on priorities.
- Calendar Powerup: if you assign due dates to cards, the calendar powerup adds a link to the header of your Trello board that displays all due dates in calendar format. It's mainly useful for very tight timelines, but not typically for Sprint-based work where most cards share the same deadline.
A full list of powerups is available at https://trello.com/power-ups
- Boards for Trello adds a browser button to access any boards quickly. Personally, i prefer using my browser autocomplete feature (Ctrl-L to access your address bar, then T then Tab will turn your address autocomplete into a Trello search tool, with the most accessed Trello links first per your browser history.
- Card Color Titles for Trello reminds you what the colored labels actually mean. This is particularly important if someone has added a lot of labels. Generally, it's good to keep the number of labels under 8. But the card color titles are still useful–especially because the label colors may mean something different on each board.
- Scrum for Trello Allows Fibonacci-style user story point (or hours) estimating, which helps you to tally all estimated story points on a list, or a board. To use, open a Trello card click the title of the card to edit it. There are buttons with Fibonacci numbers (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, ...etc.) to let you quickly add an estimate. You can also type in the estimate or the time-spent. To type an estimate, surround it in parentheses like this: (4) to type the amount of time-spent, put that in square brackets like this: . Those numbers can appear anywhere in the title, but a common convention is to put the estimate at the beginning of the card and the time-spent at the end, like this: "(8) Create Firefox Extension [4.5]". Decimal numbers are accepted for both values. Some projects require this extension for all team members.
- Trello Card Numbers adds card numbers to a variety of places when using Trello.
The Trello integration for Slack is a great add-on for providing clickable summaries of Trello cards within Slack conversations. Use it! It needs to be added/configured for each Slack channel, by typing
/trello link [URL of Trello board]. To use it, just copy/paste the URL of a card into a Slack channel. Type
/trello help in Slack to get some other ideas, or check out Trello's help page for Slack
- When you move a card to "Doing", assign yourself to it.
- Don't have 5 cards in "Doing" at once (this is more of a Scrum principle than Trello principle).
- Use Markdown in card descriptions (the first field on the back of the card).
- Make at least one other person on the board have the admin permissions.
- You can subscribe to a card (or even a whole board) without assigning yourself to that card. This will generate a lot of notifications, so use this wisely.
- Take screenshots of Trello Boards before and after Sprints (you'll probably have to zoom WAY out in your browser to see the whole thing).
- The Activity listing the right sidebar is great for getting the latest updates.
- We have a set of Templates for how to set up Trello boards (search for Template at https://trello.com/civicactions). Usually the green board background is reserved for the template boards.
- Make the background of the board a color that is consistent with the other boards for the same project.
Tips and tricks
- Learn the keyboard shortcuts! They are awesome, especially for adding labels, assigning cards, voting, archiving, navigating through cards, filtering cards, and saving text in any field. Shortcut "?" brings up list of keyboard shortcuts.
- You can star your most used boards, which puts them at the top of trello.com.