Using Trello to manage project development

By Dan Tarrant

Using Trello to manage project development

A bit of history

Although Strange have been around for over 17 years, we’ve always been a agile and nimble team to manage. As the agency grew from its infancy, processes evolved and numerous task management systems were trialled; from JIRA to bespoke systems.

For the past few years we’ve been using JIRA to manage task level activities, However, we were never really using every feature of JIRA – we just didn’t need to. Plus, JIRA was becoming more and more complex in order to manage different workflows for different project Kanban Boards, managing different permission groups for every client facing Kanban Board, etc, etc.

Long story short, it was time to go back to basics and reassess our options.

Trello, the Kanban Board for everyone

As you can guess from the title, we decided to use Trello. Our main usage of JIRA was to visualise work through the Strange studio using its Kanban Board feature. Trello is essentially a collaborative Kanban board designed for normal people to track anything. As they state on their website:

“Trello is the easy, free, flexible, and visual way to manage your projects and organize anything.”

We were drawn to Trello because of its pure simplicity and flexibility. It can be adopted however you choose and to suit whatever workflow you desire. And what’s more, it takes seconds to setup your desired board - something we always thought JIRA made overly complicated.


Our process

There are 3 core parts to managing projects at Strange:

  1. Initial project planning - a Trello board is used to plan typical tasks that are required to deliver a project. Trello cards are then transferred, as and when required, to the WIP Board where they are then scheduled into the studio.
  2. Backlog management - a Trello board is used to collate client requests and agency ideas. Trello cards are then prioritised and transferred to the WIP Board as required.
  3. WIP project management - a Trello board is used to visualise and track a project through the Strange development studio.

In this article I will focus on the third part - WIP project management - and will leave the other 2 parts for future articles.

Once we’ve completed our planning and have prioritised items on both the other Trello boards, we start to organise the WIP project board. The WIP project board contains a standard set of project management lists, which include Next Up, In Progress, Blocked, Failed Testing, Ready for Testing, Testing, Ready for Release, and Release Notes. We start by copying the cards on our Backlog Board that we have just promoted to Next Up into the same list on the WIP Board, and perform a similar exercise with the Planning Board.

At this point, we now have a complete set of tasks collated on a single, focused, board ready to be worked. These cards then get tracked as they move between lists: who is assigned to them, any comments and feedback, any checklists to manage granular sub-tasks, priority of tasks, etc.

Developers and designers work on tasks in In Progress. As work gets completed, they move from In Progress into Ready for Testing. At this point, a tester will move individual tasks into the Testing list as they work through testing. If tasks fail testing, then these cards get moved to the Failed Testing list and get reassigned back to the appropriate developer. If internal testing is successful, then these cards get promoted to the Ready for Release list where they will be released to a staging environment for external client testing.

If at any point a developer or designer is unable to work on a task, for example, they are being blocked by an external party, then these cards are moved to the Blocked column and escalated to the appropriate project manager.

Once all appropriate cards have been released, they are transferred from the Ready for Release list to the Release Notes list whereby this column is renamed with the next appropriate release number and the entire list is archived. This then forms a record of the cards completed in that release.


Organising with labels

To enhance our process further, we have adopted card label colours to differentiate card priorities and card disciplines. Yellow, Orange and Red labels represent Low, Medium and High priority tasks, respectively. Whilst Violet, Blue, Cyan, Light Green and Pink represent the range of disciplines that a card belongs to; ranging from Requirements Analysis to Back-End Development.

In conclusion

Overall, the transition to Trello has been relatively pain free – in fact, it’s been fun adapting it to meet our needs, far quicker than we ever could with JIRA.