A blank Trello board can cause you to stop in your tracks. In some ways it’s a fresh canvas, ready for your ideas. But on the other hand it feels like there’s just so much to organize. Where to start?
Here are the conventions that make for a truly successful board: one that’s easy to understand, that keeps your team on the same page, and that ensures tasks never fall through the cracks.
Get Started… In Style
You know the ins and outs of Trello. You’ve learned the keyboard shortcuts and looked at the inspirational boards. You’ve got your team on board (ha) and you’re ready to collaborate on your next awesome project using Trello.
Maybe you should see if you’ve gotten any new emails… no, stay focused. Add a cool background. Everyone feels more productive when looking at a cool background.
Start With Lists And Move Left To Right
Every card on a Trello board has to be in a list, so before making any cards, think about the workflow for your board. If a board is storing information, like our employee manual, use lists to organize your cards by topic.
Alternatively, you might be keeping track of a process, like a CRM pipeline—in that case, use lists to clearly show the different stages your cards might be in.
Without a clear workflow, it’s hard to know where a card should be. Does this article I’m writing go in “Ideas” or “Currently Researching?”
One way to make a workflow clear is to try and always move cards from left to right, even if you skip some lists along the way. Moving a card left should represent a step backwards—maybe you decided not to do this yet, or you need to do more research. That way, your board becomes a timeline, and you can easily see what’s happening when.
Make It Obvious How To Use The Board
Teamwork is only effective if everyone is on the same page. Whoever’s in charge of a project might see a board every day, but people on other teams might only check in occasionally. Imagine you’re seeing your board for the first time. How quickly can you figure out what’s going on?
After the title, the top left card is the first one you’re going to see. Use that card to explain what’s going on with the board to anyone who doesn’t use it regularly. You can find a good example of this on our company overview board.
Here’s another question to ask yourself: where on the board do I go if I have questions?
Make a clear place for incoming tasks, whether that’s questions from other teams or tasks that haven’t been assigned yet. An ‘incoming’ list gives your team a way to keep an eye on what’s on the horizon, makes it clear which cards haven’t been addressed yet, and also provides a place for your boss to ask questions, without having to leave Trello.
Of course, prevention is the best medicine, so use clear list titles to make a board so obvious that anyone can understand how it works at first glance.
Know Who’s Accountable For The Board
The best workflow in the world will still fail if no-one’s keeping an eye on it. Assign someone to be in charge of a board, or switch off the duty from week to week. This person can follow up on cards that haven’t moved in a while, and make sure new cards are in the right place.
You can also give this job to Trello—turn on card aging, and any card that hasn’t been edited or moved in the last week will start to fade. This way, you can give responsibility to your team as a whole—if anyone notices a new card, or a faded one, they should take ownership and follow up with that task.
Card aging in Trello: The tan “crinkly paper” cards indicate they have not been edited recently.
As your team gets started with a new Trello board, be sure that someone (or some group of people) is keeping an eye on the board as a whole.
Don’t Let Dead Tasks Sit Around
Don’t let your board become a graveyard for dead cards. Keep things fresh by clearing your ‘Done’ list every week or so. Some teams like to move the list to another board, so they can scroll through everything that was accomplished each week. Other teams archive the cards.
Every card on your board represents something you want to be aware of. Declutter your boards, so you can easily see what matters and what doesn’t. Whether archived or moved, those cards will still be searchable if you need to look something up again.
Adapt Your Board As Processes Change
There’s no need for a board to be perfect on the first try—in fact, it’s a good idea to come up with a basic framework, then tweak it based on what’s best for your team. If a workflow’s not sticking, figure out why. Perhaps there’s no place on the board for blocked tasks, or _maybe_ you need to kick your dirty habit of defaulting back to email.
In particular, don’t be afraid to zoom out or in on a task. Maybe that three-column board can become a card with a checklist. Or, if a card’s getting unwieldy, maybe it’s time for that card to become its own board.
Sometimes a checklist gets so big that it actually needs to become a board:
Your projects keep changing, so what’s wrong with your boards changing to match those priorities?
In the end, the great (and sometimes intimidating) part about Trello is that you can customize it to fit any workflow. You’re not completely on your own, though—the inspiration page is full of examples that have worked for others. Even if there’s not a board that fits your exact situation, you can get creative.
Does your search for the perfect wedding caterer look a lot like a job search? Perhaps foodie finds is organized similarly to your list of fun, local things you’d like to do. And taking a client’s orders for a design follows a pipeline similar to bicycle repair.
Figure out what works for your team. You’ll know you’ve nailed it when you can’t imagine going anywhere else but your board for information.