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Agile/Scrum, Project Management

How I use Trello to support client projects

I have had several clients over the past year where they have asked me to manage their projects or programmes for them. Sometimes, if the client is relatively “immature” in their approach to project management the last thing they want or need is lots of project templates and Gantt charts. I have been using Trello as a simple tool to help me (and them).

I’ve mentioned Trello before and, indeed, I use it to share my Project Management resources via this blog. Trello is such a flexible tool that it’s easy to configure it in a way that will work for many different types of project.

Trello_weeklyTrello has its origins in agile project management and comprises three core components: boards, columns and cards. I create a new Board for each programme or project. Columns and cards then capture what needs to be done and when it needs to be done, by whom. While a “conventional” agile scrum board would have columns for “To Do”, “In Progress” and “Done”, I find that columns for months or weeks works better for me. That’s probably because most of the projects I have supported run for several weeks or months compared with a typical 1 or 2 week agile sprint.

So, my column headings might be “week commencing” for shorter projects or “month” for longer ones and for programmes. In the case of weekly columns, I use cards to capture activities: the work that needs to be started or finished in that week. Each card is colour-coded with a status such as “On track”, “Concerns”, “Problems” or “Done”. I have sometimes colour-coded blue for “not yet started”, but have found it’s more efficient just to leave off any colour-coding. Any uncoloured card is therefore “not yet started”; everything else is underway. Trello also enables me to put specific due dates on each activity, if needed, and lower levels of detail for tasks can be added by using a checklist on any card.

If an activity spans several weeks I create a card for the first week which says “start doing xyz” and show the Due Date on that card. In the week when the activity is due to end, I create a “complete xyz” card and repeat the Due Date. Everybody then knows exactly what is due to be started and completed each week.

Monthly_TrelloFor projects where I use the monthly column headings, I tend to use cards to define the milestones and deliverables due in each month. I use the same colour-codes for monthly status as for my weekly boards. The reason I don’t put detailed activity descriptions on the monthly cards is that there is more time available in the project for me to have one-to-one discussions with the people who will be doing the work.

Sometimes, I have shared the Trello board with my clients, but more often I just want them to focus on doing what’s required and not be distracted by having to log into a system they’ve not seen before (and certainly won’t want to update themselves).

To help with reporting progress I have been using a Chrome extension called Export for Trello which enables me to export the Trello board to an Excel file. I can then filter the file to send weekly To Do lists to the project team members and to get their status updates. This may sound like a long way round to achieve what could be done directly in Trello, but many clients actually prefer not to have to learn a new system.

Another Chrome extension I am using is Projects for Trello which enables me to label each card with the activity owner’s initials. Putting their initials in {parentheses} shows up as a label on the card and I can then filter the Excel spreadsheet reports by person. Again, this is a workaround which could be addressed by using the full power of Trello where the client team members would also be users and could then be allocated to cards within the system.

I get weekly status updates from team members every Friday and collate a summary for everyone to see what’s been achieved and to highlight any concerns and corrective actions. On each Monday morning I issue a list of “this week’s activities” with named owners, so everyone knows what is expected of them in the coming week.

As project manager I get all the benefits of visual management of the project when I work in Trello, while the client gets clear, simple communication on what needs to be done next and how things are progressing.

Trello’s flexibility means there is no one “right way” to use it and it can be configured to meet a wide range of needs (not just project management).

Read more of my Project Management articles here.

 

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