Tips for using Trello effectively

I’ve been using Trello for a few years, both for personal projects and with teams. I love how simple it is to use, which makes it easy to use in the way that works for you. The downside of this is that some teams struggle with knowing where to start, this post is about showing you how the team I’m with at Defra currently uses it.

We are a geographically dispersed team with people based in London, Leeds, Manchester, Chesterfield and Bristol. We are not a software delivery team, but we use agile tools and techniques in our day to day work. To support this we use Trello every day to manage and keep track of the work that we are doing.

Lots of teams ask us how we have set it up, so I recently created some guidance based on what I have learnt. This outlines a way to set up Trello for teams that will get them started. It doesn’t duplicate the guidance that Trello publish at https://trello.com/guideit adds to it to make it more relevant. 

To help, I have set up a public template board at https://trello.com/b/n3jdPaUV/template-board feel free to copy the cards from it. 

Have a column with information on it about the board

Set up a “how to use this board” column on the left, put important information you may want to easily refer to on it. For example how to write a card, when you have meetings, your vision /priorities and a key to what show what the coloured labels mean.

Other column suggestions

Options: a list of things that you could do, but have not prioritised or committed to yet. Items in this list might be at a high level or epic stories.

Prioritised: a list of the next most important things in order of priority. These should be at a manageable level of detail (small enough to move in the next week). There should be a limit on the amount of cards in this list.

In progress: a list of things in progress, cards should have owners, an agreed acceptance criteria. There should be a limit on the amount of cards in this list. You should break this down into a more columns to reflect the workflow of your team.

Done: a list of things that are complete, try to put the most recently completed cards at the top of the list

Use Labels

Use labels for themes, you can use labels to easily see what theme cards are related to and to easily filter cards. Use red to show a card is blocked and cannot move forward.

Rules for moving cards / making criteria explicit

At the top of each column, add some agreed rules that explain the conditions of moving cards into the column. This is like the agile “definition of done” and sets up expectations of everyone using the board. There are some examples on the template board that you can start with.

Make sure that your cards are useful and easy to understand

Here are some guidance on writing cards, you can start with these and adapt them as you need to.

  • A clear title that other people can understand
  • A description that says what the benefit is
  • An owner
  • Acceptance criteria (in the form of a checklist)
  • A label that refers to the theme(s) it belongs to
  • Small enough to be moved forward (and preferably completed) in a week
  • Capture activity and updates as comments

Review the board regularly

Talk through the items in progress on your boards daily at stand up, go through everything in progress and make sure the prioritised cards are still relevant.

Comment on the card with updates

Keep the cards up to date with comments so that anyone looking at the board can easily see the current status.

Use Browser extensions

There are two must have chrome extensions that I recommend, these are:
WIP Limits (for Chrome) which really helps manage work in progress and Label titles for Chrome or for Safari and Firefox to easily see what the labels mean.

Iterate how you use the board to work for you

You can use the template board to get you started and make sure you review how it is working and change it if it isn’t working for your team.

You can also read more about how we use Slack from Matt Jukes’ blog

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