I have been exposed to a wide variety of project management tools over the years, and in general, I find that they stink. The tools force people to make up information just to satisfy some arbitrary, cookie cutter process. I have, however, been using Trello on a project for the past several months, and I am very happy with it.

Trello is a stupid simple application. You make cards and put them in stacks. Cards can be assigned a color-coded label, have files attached to them, have checklists in them (that you can check and uncheck), and members can be added to them. Added members get updates on a regular basis via email, and the schedule is something you can pick. You can comment on cards, and the members of the card get the comment via update. Cards are moved between stacks with a simple drag/drop, and they can be archived or completely deleted. See Figure A for a screenshot.

Figure A

Click the image to enlarge.

I really like that Trello is very process agnostic. It has no process built in, so you design the stacks and workflow the way you want. Trello is like a piece of lined paper — as long as what you are doing benefits from having those lines on the paper, it is the right tool; if you need a grid or lines interfere, it is the wrong tool. With Trello, if you can invent a workflow that needs no more than three dimensions (the cards, the stacks of cards, and the left-to-right order of the cards), then it can work for you. The labels on cards can just be colors, or they can have names. Trello is basically a framework for you to build your process on.

In the project I have been using Trello on, we have the following stacks (from left-to-right):

  • Ideas – Things that we might want to do at some point.
  • Backlog – Things we want to do, but are not close to doing any time soon.
  • Bugs – Broken features that need fixing.
  • Next Spring – Changes/additions to do in the next iteration of development.
  • Dev – Cards that have been done and released to the Dev environment for the initial QA.
  • Passed – Cards that have passed testing in Dev.
  • Failed – Cards that have failed testing in Dev. When the bug is fixed, cards go back into Dev for re-testing.
  • Test – Once all of the cards in the Dev stack have been moved to “Passed,” the work is pushed to the Test environment and the cards are moved to the Test stack.
  • Passed, Failed – Same as in Dev.
  • Deployed (MM-DD-YYYY) – All cards that are deployed to Production get put in a Deployed stack with the date added to the name.

It is a cinch to see the project status at a glance. It’s easy to see when a feature was deployed or a bug was fixed. And best of all, the system is so easy to use, it actually gets used and updated constantly, as opposed to having a project manager hound everyone for dates.

Trello is not right for someone on a giant project or who needs ultra control over things, but for a project running in an Agile way or even a less strict way, it is definitely worth checking out.


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