KISS Project management with Trello

Update - I advise you to take a look on how the Trello team manage Trello.

When I initially read about Trello, I wasn’t over excited (much like my first thought upon hearing of Stack Overflow was “oh no, yet another Q&A site”). Trello, if you haven’t had the pleasure, is a simple List Management App. No more, no less.

Then, we happened to want a little bit more order in our task management back at <Unnamed Hot New Startup I Recently Joined>. After considering several tools (somehow, always, Excel rears its ugly head in such discussions), we agreed to give Trello a shot.

So far, we’re about three weeks into the process, and while I can’t yet speak for everyone, personally I’m liking the experience a lot.

Trello is a member of the “let’s keep everything simple” family of tools. It is certainly not fully featured (at least not as a project management app), but as a simple tool to manage 1-6 people, it’s really a no overhead, no bullshit tool that gets the job done (we’re currently only 3 people, so I can’t testify to how it scales yet). After a bit of tweaking, we arrived at the follow scheme of working with Trello:

  1. Keep a “current week/sprint” list
  2. Keep three lists for Small, Medium and Large features
  3. Maintain a “deployed, not yet reviewed” list, and another “done, not yet deployed list”

That’s it. This is how it looks like:

Our “sprints” are 1 week long, mostly because of the stage we’re at – we’re only three people at this point, and our priorities are very dynamic (remember, a sprint is just a unit of planning – it doesn’t correlate to how many deployments we do).

At least every week, we review the board together, and see what we’ve done in the last sprint. Any tasks that we haven’t completed, we move to the next sprint (or to the appropriate backlog if its priority has decreased). Completed tasks usually just get archived – well, rather the entire “Sprint X” list gets archived. Sometimes, when there are features that are especially relevant for review, we move the features to the “Code Ready” list, and when deploying, to the “Deployed, ready to review” list. When the features are reviewed, we then archive them individually.

We pick features for the next sprint by looking at the three buckets or backlogs. First we see if there are any “Large” features we want to accomplish or make progress on this week (usually there are). Those gets picked first. After that, we might fit in a few Medium or Small features. Small/Medium features are also useful to fill in gaps in planning – sometimes, I have an hour or less free, and I don’t want to start working on a Large or Medium feature … I know that just getting into the state of mind will often take half an hour, so I pick one of the Small features from the current sprint or from the backlog, drag it to the current sprint, and execute it quickly.

We also have little icons on the cards that show who they’re assigned to (not shown in this image). A feature can be just a headline, or can be very detailed with a description, checklist of sub-tasks, and other shiny items. Most features are simpler, but sometimes you just need to conduct some kind of conversation about the feature, and the best place to keep it is on the card itself.

What I like about our system is that it’s really ultra simple, gives us the ability focus to on what’s important right now, and to plan a bit for the future. It will not scale to long plans or huge teams, and it won’t give us any “smart conclusions”, like Evidence Based Scheduling in FogBugz. But it’s simple, it’s free, and it works (for now).

What are you using to manage your projects? (And please, “Excel” is not a good answer)

6 Comments

  1. doron rotem:

    I use pivotal tracker. also in an “Unnamed Hot New Startup I Recently Joined”.
    The main difference I think is that in pivotal you need to set a velocity for the team (and after a while pivotal will learn your real velocity).
    This way pivotal can help you figure when features will be done, and will not allow you to over-work your team.

  2. ripper234:

    @doron – thanks for sharing. I tried Pivotal a little bit, and rather liked it as well.

    It certainly contains more features about estimating and predicting features size / project velocity. There are a few quirks there that take some time getting used to, but it’s a great tool – I’m not saying Trello >> Pivotal.

    I do believe however that Trello is easier to use for people who aren’t familiar with Agile/Scrumm and Poker Planning methods. It took me a while to explain Pivotal to my team at Google, and I could see that the concepts weren’t sinking in with some of them. Pivotal really is more powerful … but if you don’t care about medium-long term planning, and are mainly concerned about what you’ll be doing in the next few weeks – Trello is simple and gets the job done.

  3. M. A. Hanin:

    Oh wow, Trello is sweet! And I simply augmented my Google account with it, didn’t even need to create a new username + password combo.

    For one collaborative project across continents, I’ve had the chance to use Basecamp (see basecamphq.com), which isn’t free. One of the collaborators got us a basecamp project under the courtesy of his employer. It is quite intuitive, yet leaves much room for customization, and does not force you into a specific pattern of work.

  4. sun:

    I am happy with Redmine. I like the integration with Mercurial but have not tested any Scrum plugin.

  5. ripper234:

    @sun – Redmine seems to be some variant on the “standard” issue tracker.
    While these have their place, what I really like about Trello is its slickness, which I haven’t seen in a lot of competing products.
    If so easy to create an “issue” (a card, really) in Trello, that you don’t think twice about it.

    The downside is that it still does’t have a lot of the features we’re used to from traditional issue trackers (e.g. even its search seems sub-optimal right now … but they’re working on it).

    Did you give Trello a shot? Trying playing with it for 10 minutes, you get the feeling of the product pretty fast.

  6. Jason Diller:

    Great post. Funny how excel always manages to pop into these conversations. Cheers!