If you have more clients than team members, you’ve probably wanted to shoot yourself in the face at one time or another.
Maybe you’re feeling that way right now. Perhaps you’ve sought out TRELLO to help the paralytic overwhelm, only to find yourself even more paralyzed.
You stare blankly at your shiny new TRELLO board and feel that you have merely organized all the hopelessness and despair into one ultra clear and magnificently depressing place. Now you know to a single card how insurmountable it all is. Yippee…
Now that you’re sufficiently suicidal, here’s another more hopeful perspective: You’re not alone in this. It is the bane of every Project Manager’s existence. And because they all experience a common problem, there are many who have found solutions. Solutions that may indeed fit your precise pain. So cheer up! The answer is out there. In fact, it may well be within this very post.
We of VITALS Agency began using TRELLO fairly recently. It was implemented with much gusto and exactly zero planning. This was not an uncommon beginning from what we’ve heard from some of our colleagues and fellow creative shops, and we paid the price for this. What we dreamed would be our salvation quickly became an idea graveyard. Cards with ill-defined titles and cryptic descriptions poured into vague columns in an even vaguer workflow. Old cards would stagnate and rot as they were buried under layer after layer of shiny new ideas.
And then the inevitable came, the dreaded un-adoption.
Days and weeks would pass without as much as a peep into the team board. Things fell through the cracks. Client frustration grew. And the overwhelm resurfaced with a vengeance.
They say change comes when the pain is great enough. That’s precisely what happened.
So, that is our story of tribulation. The rest of this article will outline exactly how we do things now. If you relate to the problem as illustrated above, there is a decent chance this solution will work for you too. Good luck and godspeed on your mutual mission of project management!
Copy our “Agency Project Workflow” TRELLO board HERE
HOW TO USE TRELLO EFFECTIVELY
Card creation occurs in batches, once per week on Monday mornings and all card are immediately placed in the BACKLOG column.
The idea is that all team members are not only worker bees, but that all have a certain amount of autonomy as well. This means that everyone needs an organized and consistent process to move from “CEO mode” to “Worker-Bee mode” (think of this as “high level overviewing” mode to “working in the trenches with the blinders on” mode). Creating cards in this way, at one time on one day, keep the entire team focused on doing throughout the week rather than continuing to discover or plan things that need to be done.
- BACKLOG: All absolutely-to-be-completed cards live here. Think of this column as an ultimate to do list where all non-prioritized must-do’s live. Cards that might be put into action should not live here, those are HOLDING TANK / ICEBOX cards. We’ll talk on that in just a sec.
- TO DO / CURRENT SPRINT: This column is where the prioritization begins. Cards that live here have been discussed and agreed upon by all team members as tasks that must be done in the next sprint (feel free to define your own “sprint period”, but usually sprints are no more than a couple weeks). Cards that don’t have a starting point in sight should not live here yet, and should remain in the BACKLOG.
- DOING / DAILY STANDUPS: Only cards that are actively being worked on live here. See below in the “Card Moving” section for more specifics. Tasks that are halfway complete, though they are technically in process should not live here. “Daily Standup” cards for each individual team member could live here as well.
- QC / ON HOLD / BLOCKED: Some cards may never find themselves in this column. If a task requires a “Quality Control” check before client revealing, or if the task is “Blocked” (i.e. items are missing that are required to complete task), then it will live here until the review has occurred or the obstacle has been removed.
- DONE: Completed tasks cross the finish line and live here for all eternity. This list may be archived monthly depending on the rate with which it fills up. So, you may want to title along the lines of “Done January ‘16” instead of simply “Done”. This avoids a bottomless-scroll-search if you need to refresh yourself for any reason on a completed task. The chronology of this column is: recently completed tasks top, dropping all previous completed tasks lower and lower on the column with each newly completed task.
- RESOURCES: This column may have cards with external links inside their descriptions. For example, a “Client X Resources” card could contain links to Google Drive files, or a Dropbox folder for easy access. If your team opts to include internal company tasks, this column could contain internal resources like shipping addresses or even bank card numbers…that is, if you’re comfortable massively compromising your security for the sake of productivity…you certainly won’t be the first nor the last to strategically decide on this ;-).
- CALL NOTES: Each time there is a scheduled conference call, and agenda card ought to be created for the upcoming call with all items of discussion added by each team member. After the call, any important notes or “minutes” will be added to the card. If notes are taken in another program, insert a doc link in the card description or attach a file to the card. Tame process will apply to sceduled client conference calls. All card titles will have the title format “Call Notes (client or internal) xx/xx/xxxx (date)”
- HOLDING TANK / ICEBOX: Ideas that team members have agreed should be completed/worked on, but have no timeline or prioritization urgency associated with them will live here. Also, cards that have been in the BACKLOG for an extended period of time will be relegated to this column. The HOLDING TANK / ICEBOX will be archived once a month or once a quarter (TBD) to prevent a messy buildup of crazy ideas.
- CLIENT IDEA DUMP: This column will house the crazier ideas that may not have been discussed or “passed” by all team members yet. Team members may create cards with large project ideas, inspiration, or reference material in this column as well depending if this board is strictly client oriented, or includes internal team tasks as well. When a conversation happens and ideas are approved these card are then move into the HOLDING TANK / ICEBOX.
- BACKLOG –> TO DO / CURRENT SPRINT: Each week during the Monday call all team-members will decide upon a certain amount of cards from the backlog that they believe they can accomplish during the upcoming “sprint” and will move these cards from the BACKLOG column to the TO DO / CURRENT SPRINT column.
- TO DO / CURRENT SPRINT –> DOING / DAILY STANDUPS: When a team-member begins work on the card’s task, the card is moved from the TO DO / CURRENT SPRINT column to the DOING / DAILY STANDUPS column. Only cards that are literally active shall live in this column. If a team-member must stop working on the task and is forced to shift to another, the active card shall be moved from the DOING / DAILY STANDUPS column back to the TO DO / CURRENT SPRINT column.
- DOING / DAILY STANDUPS –> DONE [month/quarter, year]: When a card’s task is completed, it shall be moved from the DOING / DAILY STANDUPS column to the DONE column. At the end of each month or quarter (TBD), the DONE column shall be archived and a new DONE column shall be created with the new month or quarter in the title.
- To & From the HOLDING TANK / ICEBOX: Tasks with no particular or pressing timeline live in the HOLDING TANK / ICEBOX. Vague tasks really shouldn’t be included in TRELLO at all, but sometimes it’s nice to have this column as a reminder of things that at some point should be addressed. As previously mentioned, certain cards that have been sitting in the BACKLOG column for some time shall be moved to the HOLDING TANK / ICEBOX column. During the batch card creation process it may be prudent to check the HOLDING TANK / ICEBOX for any tasks that could be completed in the upcoming week.
Team-Member Task Assignment and Monitoring:
Each team member has their own individual profile within TRELLO. Each can create cards and assign them to other members. For instance, one team member could create a task for another team member to call a certain client by creating the card first and then assigning it to that team member. Ideally, assignments should occur during the batch card creation process; once a week on Monday morning.
A team-member will receive notifications (red numbers appearing by the “bell” icon in the top right hand corner of the window) to suggest that they’ve been assigned to a card. If the card creator needs to be kept abreast of the progression of a card that they assigned to a fellow team member (moved, edited, completed, etc.), they may click the “eyeball” icon upon creation to “subscribe” and be notified of any status changes the card has experienced. Any team member may opt to “subscribe” to any card if they choose. Finally, an activity stream can be found by expanding the menu on the right side of the window. This shows a chronology of the entire board’s activity.
Boards & Labels:
Boards – Then & Now
We used to have multiple boards, one for each client and an internal team board. We initially assumed that jumping back and forth between boards wouldn’t be an issue, but in practice for us it simply wasn’t happening. Many times when a task wasn’t right in front of our noses (hiding inside another board) it was forgotten, or didn’t get appropriate attention.
Our process involves only two boards. One that encapsulate all active clients, and one for all internal company and team tasks. The only drawback with this new method is we can no longer share an individual board with a client and have them collaborate with us. In our experience, forcing a client to use TRELLO was never very fruitful. This is not a rule, and your situation may differ, but our clients tend to prefer project summaries and progress reports rather than to be inside the process itself.
Labels are colored subcategories within the boards. When a card is created, it is assigned a label to signify the client it represents. Each client receives their own color label. TRELLO only offers 11 separate color labels and you may find yourself needing more depending on the number of clients you have. However, you are able to make as many labels as you’d like by repeating certain colors with separate label titles. Bear in mind that you won’t see the label title until you open up a card, so it can get confusing if you find yourself reusing many of the same colors.
If you decide down the road that a label title needs to be changed, please note that it changes all the historical cards to the new label title. It’s important to be very intentional and plan as accurately as possible all the labels you’ll ever need at the beginning. In this way you can avoid crippling your system down the road.
Misc. Tips & Best Practices:
- Use short titles, additional notes can go within the card.
- Don’t go crazy on the card notes, if more space is needed link to or attach a separate document.
- Be specific, concise and use actionable terminology when titling cards (i.e. instead of “business cards” title the task “research biz card printers”, “comp up biz card designs”, “biz card design approved”, “biz cards ordered”).
- Focus on card completion, not card creation.
- Batch create cards once a week.
- Create cards for tasks you’ve already completed with any appropriate notes for reference and reflection purposes.
- Use Trello every day.
- Have Trello open all day.
- Consult Trello many times throughout the day, especially first thing in the morning and last thing before calling it a day.
- Don’t feel overwhelmed by Trello’s additional functionalities, the basics are simple and effective. Create tasks, organize them, do them.
Trello is designed to make the completion of tasks quicker and easier, not harder and slower. It is meant to keep you from shooting yourself in the face, not clearly and organizedly present all the reasons to do so. Without the batch creation process and a disciplined “CEO mode to worker-bee shift”, Trello merely becomes a time consumer with an ever growing list of incomplete tasks. We are on a mission to crack the code of discipline and cultivate team accountability. That means your decision, whether moving forward with Trello or another system, requires a willing and hearty commitment from all members of your team. We recommend a blood-signature or a good old fashioned spit-handshake.
In all seriousness, we really did find our solution and salvation in the process we’ve just outlined. Managing your creative project workflow is indeed a life and death errand. It is our humble hope that our suffering will help you avoid the pitfalls we’ve plunged into and barely climbed out of. Please let us know in the comments how this treats you. We’re always excited to hear that our pain has made someone else’s life easier.
Oh, and don’t forget our little freebie board template to get you started. No money, no email address, no thanks required! Click the link below to get our board!
Copy our “Agency Project Workflow” TRELLO board HERE
Join the discussion 14 Comments
Great post. I was developing something similar and this added clarity. Good to see it in practice!
@namurray:disqus Positively ecstatic this added clarity to your cause. Would love to know more about what you’re working on too. Never too bold to claim we know everyhing!
Nice post. Check out “Trelabels.” Great Chrome extension that displays the filter name on the front of the card. Awesome for sorting. And even better when you combine Trello’s filter option.
@shaneoquinn:disqus Thanks for the rec!
We built a Google Chrome Plugin for Trello that allows us to see the labels from the board view. Very helpful. I see you mentioned in the post that is one issue with the colored labels. You can check it out here: https://attractandclose.com/trello. We currently have 1 board per client. It is work for us right now but I can see how having just one board could be helpful as well.
@disqus_vUMMaY3ODt:disqus Danny, we’ll definitely check your plugin out! Your and @shaneoquinn:disqus’s suggestion will have to fight it out in a gladiatorial productivity showdown. Stay tuned 😉
So… who was victorious and who was vanquished in front of hordes of screaming grecians?!
@disqus_Il0u71zYFa:disqus No survivors….only…blood and sand 😉 Both plugins worked well, but we found added text unnecessary at this stage. Being that we are very strategic in single color use we didn’t need text labels that differentiated labels when both were hypothetically “yellow”. However, theoretically when and if we need to reuse label colors on a single board we may raise the dead to fight again!
Wow! This was a great write-up. Thanks for the info. Our agency is about to expand and we know we needed a better PM solution. (currently using Asana…) A few clients turned us on to Trello but we could l it was going to be a bit daunting to break open and start using. I can see us going down the same exact path. Hoping this article/info will save us super valuable time moving forward with Trello. **jumping high-five!**
@disqus_Il0u71zYFa:disqus You’re ever so welcome. Please let us know how your application ends up working! Also (and you may have done this already), but you can visit this link: http://bit.ly/2jZuMLy , click the “Show Menu” dropdown, and copy this board with the click of 3 buttons! Wishing you organization, systematization, and success 😉
WOW, thanks for sharing this info, and for sharing your board! I’m researching PM solutions for our agency today and stumbled across this. What timing! I see an issue with the limitation to 11 labels. How are others dealing with this?
Appreciate the appreciation @bobabbate:disqus! Great question too. Some of the early comments on this post offered some valuable suggestion for this precise pain. Check out both the tools suggested by @shaneoquinn:disqus and @disqus_vUMMaY3ODt:disqus. They are “visible label” plugins that assist in the differentiation of clients with the same color label should you have a business model that allows for many active clients at the same time.
What we do, however, is this:
The majority of our clientele is on retainer. And we are VERY selective with who we do business with, so we don’t typically run up against the 11 label limit. These retainer clients get assigned color labels as they have months and months of ongoing projects. One-off project clients (or clients that we aren’t sure will stick around long) get initially assigned the GREY label. We may have anywhere between 2-5 one-off clients assigned GREY labels at a given time. Being that these projects turn-around in a single month, these projects all having the same color label hasn’t created much of an issue. If these clients convert to retainer, it’s a very simple process to change their GREY to a PINK, having the change automatically and retroactively PINK all previous cards with that share the same client label/name.
This is very specific to our model. I hope there’s something in there that helps!
Hi Aiden, thanks for an amazing post! I’m want to try out your method, but how can you manage to add tasks only on Monday? What do you do when a client calls on Wednesday and needs something done urgently? (and another one on calls Tuesday, Thursday etc…) We’re a digital marketing agency and many times we need to respond instantly to our clients needs (as i bet you do to). So how do you manage to do this?
@erezyaffe:disqus Short answer: you add the new task on Weds 😉
As with any process, it’s designed to master the things that have power over. Obviously there will always be things outside of your control. The idea is for the things WITHIN control to be super organized, and streamlined, so that when things OUTSIDE of your control occur (as they do), you can shift gears easily, triage the emergent situation, and fall back in flow once completed!
However, to fall back into a flow, you must first have built a flow. So many of us fail to wrestle into submission the things we can control and end up fighting battles on two fronts: unforeseen emergencies AND a disorganized internal task flow.
Let’s chop off the head of one beast at least!