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How Agile Teams Can Automate Trello To Reduce Manual Overload

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<span id="hs_cos_wrapper_name" class="hs_cos_wrapper hs_cos_wrapper_meta_field hs_cos_wrapper_type_text" style="" data-hs-cos-general-type="meta_field" data-hs-cos-type="text" >How Agile Teams Can Automate Trello To Reduce Manual Overload</span>

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As a small, agile team, managing thousands of daily support inquiries, features requests, and feedback items has been a formidable challenge to solve. At the outset, it simply felt like we didn’t have enough hands to process them all.

At .io, we require custom, manual processes for each client that enables our Javascript code on their website. It quickly became clear that we had to find a way to vastly reduce the manual effort of routine before things became unmanageable.

Trello is simple and flexible, but to solve our specific needs, we needed a custom, automated workflow tool for our unique operating procedures. With some creativity and a few bots, Trello became that same tool, giving our team the ability to simply focus on delivering the best product to our clients.

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Time Is Money...

...And we want to save as much of it as we can. So, we set out to automate these tasks using Trello.

Once a client enables our code, we create a Trello card, assign team members, add labels and dates, and build out custom to-do and action items. Previously all of these little tasks were done manually by someone on our team. With the help of our engineering gurus, we built a simple bot that eliminates all of the manual adding and assigning that we did on each Trello card.

The bot is constantly monitoring the JS tracking data arriving from new sources, and integrates it with the Trello API. Whenever a new client deploys our JS script to their website, the bot creates a new task card and adds it to the appropriate team’s board with all the required attributes: Tags/Labels, Task Members (default assignee + developer), Date, and Priority.

Agile team project task management in Trello

The result: our project team members receive their tasks automatically, without any manual intervention, and the client integration process starts. Mission accomplished!

We were pretty happy with the outcome and very eager to see what else could be done to streamline our process.  

Tackling Task Prioritization

Imagine starting your day with a hundred of these cards on the board, and every one of them needs to be reviewed, prioritized, checked for errors, re-routed to another team, etc.. Oh, and a few of them are marked ‘Urgent’, but you’re running late to your next meeting. Should have automated that! And so we did.    

When a new card appears on our Trello board, it wakes the next bot, and attempts to additionally process incoming tasks and calculate their ‘importance’ index and set priority. Next, the bot applies any qualifying rules for the task based on its attributes and index, checks for duplicates, re-sorts corresponding cards, and refreshes all boards with the latest updates.

For example: a card labeled ‘Red’ will be rated higher in priority than a ‘Yellow’ one, and if the request originated from a high-volume customer, the bot will adjust severity and notify a designated account manager. If an existing card on the board happens to become past due, it will start flashing so to attract attention. This workflow is brought to you by Trello’s API and Custom Fields Power-Up.

Trello API

If, for some reason, a bot is stuck or unable to proceed, it summons for help by adding any available support person to the Trello card. There’s no shame in asking for assistance, even if you’re a robot.

Taking Tasks To The Finish Line

Once a task item is completed, and a card is moved to ‘Need to test,’ our team leaders get involved. They run the task through a checklist, validate that the customer acceptance criteria is met, and that we didn’t break anything in the process. If all tests come back ‘green’, the card is moved to ‘Done’, and, you guessed it! We wake another bot.

Our deployment bot extracts all required attributes from the card, finds the customer’s unique configuration in our system, and activates the assigned deployment sequence. This pushes all associated code revisions to customer’s production realm and notifies them of completion. Finally, the Trello card is automatically archived, and it drops off the board.

Yeah! It’s pretty sweet.

Tapping Into Team Performance

Trello Zapier Power-Up Automation

Being that we’re in the analytics industry, everything relies on the numbers. So we needed the ability to measure our team’s performance on:

  • Number of projects planned vs. completed.
  • Time spent on a task, per task type.
  • Time spent on a task, per resource.

We knew that having these numbers would be huge for us, as it would give us the power to predict project bottlenecks before they occurred.

Given that Trello’s core product is not an analytics platform, we solved this problem using Zapier in combination with Google Spreadsheets.

Zapier is a great tool for linking your everyday web apps, so they can share data, and you don’t need a development team to setup and maintain it.

When a new Trello card appears on a board, we use Zapier to copy its contents and create an entry for it in a Google spreadsheet. Later on, when a card moves to ‘Done’, we update the existing spreadsheet entry with a timestamp and full revision history.

Excel formulas are then used to analyze the data, populate graphs, and update our real-time dashboards, which are displayed on TV monitors throughout our office. Pure data nerd bliss!

P.S. We Love Graphs

Agile task tracking Trello

Number of tasks started vs. completed, per day. Blue minus red shows the number of tasks we could not complete in a day.

Chart Trello tasks per day, by type

Number of tasks per day, per type. Too much red should raise alarms.

Organize Trello tasks

Tying It All Up

It’s indeed possible for a simple Kanban board, originally designed for manufacturing assembly lines, to be transformed and used to effectively manage B2B projects.

With Trello, we’re able to get things done, and it has become a staple of our team. Undoubtedly, there were times when we wanted to quit, drop Trello, and go for one of the commercially available workflow management tools so we could drown in the sea of available features. With just a few tools and a drop of creativity, however, we were able to fill in the gaps on our own and make the process entirely our own.

.io + Trello = Love

Next: The Butler Power-Up For Trello: Automation At Your Service

Good or bad, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Find us on Twitter (@trello)!

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