How to use Trello to effectively run your startup

What is it?

Trello is a collaboration platform for managing tasks. What sets Trello apart is its dedication to a kanban focused system for helping people get work done.

What is kanban?

Kanban is a Japanese (Fun fact: Kanban means billboard in Japanese) productivity system created by Toyota in their vehicle manufacturing process. At its core, it’s a visual way of tracking how work is progressing in a given system or project. You can see tasks move from left to right as they are completed, so it’s good for getting a quick glance at what’s currently being worked on and what is being blocked.

It’s most commonly used in software development, but people in all kinds of various industries have implemented Kanban to successfully streamline their business processes.

How to setup your boards

With Trello, all you have to do to implement Kanban is choose which boards you’d like to use. When you first create your account and your first board, you’ll want to set up the default lists of “To do”, “Doing”, and “Done”. I recommend going with these when you first start, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and confused with the huge amount of possible customizations.

I also recommend adding a “Backlog” list right at the front. The backlog serves as a container for all the tasks you need to get done, regardless of priority or order. If you were using Trello to manage your weekly tasks, then before you start each week, you’d look at your backlog items and choose which ones you’ll work on for that week and move them over to your “To do” list.

Make sure not to overestimate how much you can get done in a given week or day. We all fall into the planning fallacy at one point or another, but it’ll be helpful to have it at the front of your mind.

Now, once you know which tasks you’ll work on for the week, you have to choose which tasks to work on today. These go in the “Doing” list. One very effective tip is to only choose 2 to 3 of the most important. This is a method taught by David Allen in his GTD framework as well (https://hamberg.no/gtd/).

Again, I suggest you set a “Work in Progress” (or WIP) limit on how many cards you’ll allow in this list at any given time. There are some great Trello power-ups to help you stick with this, which we’ll be covering in just a moment.

So, I’m sure you can guess what happens when you start completing tasks in record time. Right? They get pushed over to the “Done” list. Simple, I know. Make sure to take a glance every so often to remind yourself of the progress you’re making. You can choose to archive the cards in this list at the end of every day or week.

To clarify, since we’ve only covered how to use Trello’s kanban boards as your task management system this is called a “push” system. If you’re doing this as part of a team, it will be a little different since a “pull” system would be much more effective. The difference is that in a “pull” system you have a dedicated person managing the backlog and arranging them based on priority and deadlines. Other team members help choose which tasks will be in the current “To Do” scope and they’ll be the ones pulling them from one list to the other as they separately start tackling them.

How to collaborate with your team

So how do you collaborate with your team using Trello? It’s actually pretty simple, you have 2 options. You can invite them to your entire Trello team, but keep in mind you’ll most likely need to buy the Trello pro plan for around $10 per month. Now, your team will have access to all the boards in your Team.

Another option is to invite your team members to each individual board. You can probably get by using this method, but you’ll want to upgrade to access some of the more useful features. The great thing about Trello is you can assign members to individual cards, so they can own their work and each can know whose responsible for what.

Best powerups to add

I’ll give you a few of my favorite powerups, but feel free to search Trello’s marketplace to find more. There are a ton! For starters, the calendar powerup is pretty much a given if you have time-bound tasks. It will let you switch from kanban view to a calendar-based view at any time to see where you’re at for the month.

Calendar Trello Powerup

If you’re a startup, AgileGuy is another power-up that will help your team implement Scrum (which will require slight modification to your board but still works perfectly) and stay agile. It allows you to set point estimations on individual cards and will even show you a burn-down chart to track progress. Here’s a link to learn more about the agile framework in case you’ve never heard of it: https://www.agilealliance.org/agile101/.

AgileGuy Trello Powerup

How to use Trello to run sprints

Following that line of thought, let me show you can use Trello to run a sprint. You’re going to want to rename the first two of your boards to “Backlog” and “Current Sprint”. Using AgileGuy, all you have to do is click the “New Sprint” button and it will open a dialog box asking you to input how many story points you want to work on, and the timeframe for the sprint. You can choose to run 1 week to 4-week sprints.

Next, all you have to do is sit down with your team and score each card in your backlog giving them a score from 1 to 5, with 5 being the most complicated or time-consuming.

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