Across The Board

Updates, inspiration, and musings from the folks behind Trello.

What To Do When Your Company Has Growing Pains

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Sometimes the hardest thing about being a CEO is relaying the most important company objectives, and then ensuring the rest of the team is prioritizing them. As businesses go through growth spurts they become adolescents, and with that they incur the growing pains of puberty. Suddenly they fit awkwardly into the systems put in place when they were a small team, and executives have a harder time knowing what’s going on. Plus, they get acne.

Just kidding; luckily there’s no acne. But there are communication breakdowns and difficulties that arise as companies grow. For Michael Pryor, CEO of Trello, this problem only became more apparent as his company quickly grew to 50+ employees in less than 1 year. His solution, not surprisingly, is a Trello board.

The Company Overview board, as it has been dubbed, is essential for providing clearer company objectives, status reports, and team communication. Here’s how:

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The View From Above

The Company Overview board is designed to have general perspectives on the left, and gradually explores more drilled down initiatives as you move horizontally. With a quick sweep through the board, it is easy to find a breakdown of each team under the leftmost list, titled “Teams.” This is where team leads or managers provide weekly updates on the overall activity.

MHP

 

”It’s all about the altitude and perspective that an overview brings. That’s the key component; it’s helping everyone to see the whole island, not just 49th Street,”

-Michael Pryor, CEO of Trello

The subsequent lists represent the company’s broad objectives, and cards for each project are separated into those goals. For example, a card titled “Experiment with tiered pricing” might be under a list called “Increase Revenue.”

”It’s all about the altitude and perspective that an overview brings. That’s the key component; it’s helping everyone to see the whole island, not just 49th Street,” explains Michael Pryor, CEO of Trello.

Get Timelines And History

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Each week, a designated project lead updates the individual cards with a status report in the comments or description sections. A quick scroll through the card gives a timeline of the progress for the initiative. Assigning a point person to update the card provides accountability and inhibits a diffusion of responsibility.

314700A good way to see if something is blocked on a particular initiative is by enabling the card aging powerup. This feature begins to dim the color of cards that haven’t been updated in a week, and gradually dims them further as weeks go on without updates. This is an easy, visual way to see what is on hold. Managers can either read in the comments why a project has been put to the side, or see who to reach out to personally to dig in further.

Spare The Minutiae

The primary audience for this board is a CEO, who needs to be provided top level updates. This isn’t a place to highlight the ennui of each week, or to reiterate tasks that are expected to happen. For example, instead of the Support team lead writing, “The Support team answered X number of tickets this week,” a more valuable metric to the CEO might be, “There was an uptick in support tickets this week, particularly questions surrounding Y feature.”

“I don’t need a huge level of granularity,” Michael explains, “It’s more about telling me what was interesting or important about this week.” This step may take coaching. Team leads likely want to show all the work they are doing, rather than top level updates. But Michael asserts that isn’t necessary, “You don’t need to prove to me that you’re busy. I know you’re busy.” Touche.

Give Context

As companies get bigger, it becomes more difficult to disseminate information to relevant teams. Being steadfast about updating and reading a company overview board is often the best way for employees to stay informed on all the activity of disparate teams.

For example, when a member of technical staff provides a lengthy update on the code changes they made to their project, it is advantageous to also give context for non technical team members.

Let’s say, for instance, that a developer’s code fixes make the app faster on mobile – they should state that, plainly. A faster mobile app will help the Sales team make better pitches, but the Sales team might never know that’s in the works in the absence of clear, fluid communication on the Company Overview board.

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Check out our Company Overview sample board! Copy this workflow, or just use it to get inspired.

 

In short, the ability to communicate horizontally to an entire company, as well as vertically to management, requires iterative processes and clear communication. Understanding and viewing top level initiatives on a centralized Company Overview Trello board is the next step in company wide transparency.

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