Using Trello for Project Management: An Easy, Step-by-Step Guide

Using Trello for Project Management: An Easy, Step-by-Step Guide

Do you find project management stressful? Do you struggle to keep your tasks, team members, and goals organized?

Staying on top of these things can be frustrating—but with the right tool, the entire process can become streamlined, efficient, and easier for everyone. The right tool will turn you into a project management master, able to get updates, reprioritize tasks, and communicate with your team on the fly.

There are a lot of project management tools out there. But Trello stands out from the crowd with its simplicity. It provides a straightforward system for organizing and monitoring projects at a glance. It’s so simple, in fact, that you might be tempted to pass it up in favor of something that requires a week-long training course.

But Trello’s simplicity is its greatest strength. Let’s take a look at how it can turn you into an organizational ace.

Contents

  1. What is Trello?
  2. What is Trello used for
  3. Sample Trello boards
  4. Using Trello instead of email
  5. Trello basics
  6. Common Trello project management mistakes
  7. An alternative to Trello

What is Trello?

Trello project management: the Hubstaff blog Trello board

Trello is, at its core, an online corkboard. You use it to organize “cards” into lists—those cards can be tasks, notes, projects, shared files, or anything else that helps your team work together. It’s based on a simple idea: for effective project management, you need full visibility over all relevant tasks and flexibility to rearrange them as your priorities change.

Trello provides:

  • Accountability
  • Sanity
  • Visualization
  • Organization
  • Cohesion

Equipped with a Trello board, you can create order in your work by organizing it into lists of cards. Then you can quickly adapt it to any new circumstances by rearranging them. Which is exactly why it’s so great for project management.

Trello solves the problem of:

  • Long email threads
  • Wasted meetings
  • Accountability
  • Clarifying projects
  • Forgetfulness
  • Transparency

Trello is a great tool to replace your team’s use of email and chat for task-based communication. You can learn all you need to get a job done from a task card, and all discussions about it can take place right there. By keeping all of the information you need in a single location, it’s easy to keep everything on track, quickly see what’s being done, and look back to previous conversations.

Looking for an alternative to Trello?

Skip ahead to explore a Kanban-style PM tool with sprints, checklists, and more.

What is Trello used for?

Trello project management is a phenomenal tool, whether you need to organize the work of a whole team or just want to boost your own productivity.

If you have to handle a team workflow, you can use it in any area of your business, from software development and UX testing to marketing and design. The tool is also location-agnostic: it doesn’t matter if your teammates are at the next desk or across the world. Trello will do the job.

You can employ Trello to follow your production workflow. Manage your development schedule. Keep an eye on a content marketing campaign. Organize upcoming projects. Track the hiring and onboarding process at your company.

Since Trello is well-suited for Agile methods, it’s a great place to keep your Scrum board. You can also apply the Kanban methodology and run a Kanban workflow with Trello.

Your dedicated board will show you what needs to be done, the status of all tasks, and where potential bottlenecks are. Trello has virtually limitless possibilities so you can shape it to whatever project you have.

The option of Trello recurring tasks makes it a tool capable of managing workflows across industries and sectors.

Trello time tracking with Hubstaff

Screenshots, activity levels, reports, and payments

Trello board ideas and examples

The same way that Kanban spread from car manufacturing to grocery stores to software development, you can apply Trello to your grocery store list, home improvement projects, and business tasks. Trello is even used by lawyers to prepare cases.

Trello project management uses really are endless. Below we will cover the following Trello sample boards in details:

Skip to The Basics of Trello, Common Trello mistakes or Trello alternatives.

Product roadmaps and annual planning

As a project or product manager, you certainly have a product roadmap, but the format and availability of the document may vary. With a product roadmap or annual planning Trello board, it’s easier to share your plans and improve transparency.

trello boards

A product roadmap Trello board improves relationships with stakeholders. Keep them informed with a visual guide to project/program progress, releases, and plans. The board can also be used to explain why certain requests can’t be accommodated in the requested time frame.

You can also share plans, updates, and progress with customers by making your Trello board public, encouraging transparency and improving customer service.

Project status and impediments tracking

If you lead a weekly project status update meeting, this project status and impediments tracking Trello board can be used to orchestrate the meeting.

trello boards

  • As new impediments are reported, they can be added to the new issues list.
  • Add details about issues in card descriptions, and assign individuals who are responsible for resolving the issues or providing follow-up reports.
  • Add due dates to cards to make sure issues are resolved before they create cascading impacts.
  • Keep track of blocked items that you need to follow-up on.
  • Review cards with the team during each meeting to discuss statuses, issues, and resolutions.

Then, when you create your weekly project status report, you can access resolved issues and outstanding impediments to easily create reports that highlight project status.

IT support queues

Larger companies that have teams dedicated to providing tech support can benefit from establishing an IT support Trello board.

trello boards

Incoming requests for help with password recovery, networking issues, wireless access, and computer malfunctions can be entered into Trello, assigned to or picked up by support team members, and passed along the workflow through resolution.

If the board is used for internal support, requesters can subscribe to cards to receive ongoing status updates.

This increases the productivity of support team members because they no longer have to send individual update emails, and it eliminates the cost of clunky systems that send auto-generated emails when tasks are moved, reassigned, and completed.

Production incident management

If you have a production incident support team, an incident management Trello board can help streamline and expedite issue resolution. Add incoming incidents as cards, and then indicate the urgency of the issue using either separate lists or colored labels.

trello boards

Similar to the benefits of the website maintenance board, the incident management board:

  • Allows team members to subscribe to their lists for notifications of incoming tasks
  • Ensures all prerequisite tasks are completed before cards arrive in lists down the line
  • Keeps track of all historical comments and changes

The board assists production support teams with organization, planning, reporting, and transparency.

Trello workflow examples for publishing, sales, and marketing teams

Publishing, marketing, and sales teams have notoriously complex workflows that require collaboration from multiple individuals and departments to complete tasks.

If you’re struggling to get work completed, these examples of how to use Trello for publishing, sales, and marketing tasks can help streamline task completion and improve cross-department collaboration.

Editorial calendar planning

Simplify the process of planning articles for the next few months — or even the entire year — with this editorial calendar planning Trello board. To create your own:

trello boards

  • Add a list where you and your coworkers/employees can add cards for content ideas.
  • Add a list for each month you want to plan for.
  • Use colored labels to designate the type of media that will be used for the content (blog post, video, podcast, etc.), or use labels to designate ideas that need more information.
  • Prioritize new ideas as they come in by dragging and dropping cards into an order of importance.

By planning your publishing calendar in Trello, you can easily reprioritize and re-plan when last-minute requests come in, you can be transparent with your plans by sharing the calendar with other departments and company leadership, and you can easily show leaders what will be bumped if your team is asked to accommodate a last-minute or rush request.

Content creation and publishing

Creating content for print or digital mediums requires collaboration between multiple departments, and possibly even freelancers. With a publishing Trello board, it’s easy to assign work to different teams and remote workers, ensuring that everyone has the information needed to do their work when it arrives.

trello boards

  • Think through all of the steps that content must go through before being published, and add a list for each step.
  • Have designated team members subscribe to their lists to get notifications when new cards are added.
  • Editors can assign remote and freelance staff to individual cards to notify them when new assignments are ready.
  • Due dates can be added to each card. Past-due dates are highlighted in red, so editors can easily identify when items are taking longer than anticipated, and follow up on outstanding assignments.

A publishing Trello board helps editors keep track of the status of work, reminds team members of tasks and deadlines, and makes it easier for freelancers to bill because they can submit invoices after items move to the published list.

Sales CRM pipeline

If leads are falling through the cracks or your sales team is struggling to keep track of lead status, this sales CRM Trello board can help restore organization and increase revenue.

trello boards

By moving sales CRM management to Trello, both sales and marketing can add cards for new leads. This improves collaboration between the two departments and ensures leads are contacted. It also improves relationships with prospects by making sure they’re contacted, but not contacted multiple times.

Because Trello retains a detailed history for each card, it’s easy for sales reps, marketing teams, and company leaders to revisit cards at any time to see what outreach occurred, as well as the status/outcome of communications.

Using Trello as a to-do list for individual tasks, planning, and reporting

Some amount of future planning can be conducted from memory, from your email inbox and folders, and with hand-written to-do lists, but these are inefficient means of planning your work at scale. Instead, consider the benefits to planning and reporting when using Trello as a to-do list.

Freelance assignments

If you have one client as a freelancer, then it’s probably unnecessary to add the overhead of maintaining an assignment to-do list. But if you have multiple clients, competing deadlines, and ongoing requests, then this freelance assignment Trello board can help you get organized and hit deadlines.

trello boards

  • Add deadlines to cards to easily keep track of when assignments are due. If you also subscribe to the card, Trello will automatically notify you when assignments are due soon or past due.
  • Easily access a list of completed assignments when it’s time to create invoices.
  • Keep an ongoing list of completed assignments and projects that can be used when searching for portfolio items/samples to send to prospective new clients.

Using Trello to manage your freelance work also helps with capacity planning. If a new request comes in, you can review outstanding assignments to determine if you can accept the new work and meet the requested deadline.

Daily tasks and long-term goal reporting

If you struggle to keep track of the things you have to do at work or are having trouble prioritizing assignments, an individual to-do Trello board can help you get organized, be more productive, and plan and keep track of your workload.

trello boards

Even if you have an excellent memory, are incredibly organized, and never forget tasks, a Trello to-do board can be beneficial because it allows you to revisit completed tasks.

If your boss requires weekly progress reports, you can review completed tasks for the week to include in your report. It also helps during quarterly, mid-year, and annual reviews because you can easily find accomplishments to include—which may increase your chances of getting a raise.

One final benefit of a personal to-do list is it can be used to force your boss to help you with prioritization. If your boss comes to you frequently with rush requests, you can share your existing to-do list and ask what should be pushed to a later date to accommodate last-minute tasks.

PRO TIP: Track time on tasks

Use Hubstaff to track time spent on each task within Trello. You’ll see where your team is spending time so you can better estimate how long tasks take, where project bottlenecks are, and how you can further improve your project management.

Trello board templates for recruiting, onboarding, and human resources

If you hire one person a few times a year, then building a Trello board for recruiting, interviewing, or onboarding is probably unnecessary.

But if you’re a recruiter or human resources specialist — or if you manage a very large team — these Trello boards can help with organization, planning, and sharing progress and updates.

Recruiting pipeline

With a recruiting pipeline Trello board, you can allow hiring managers to post requests, communicate progress with hiring managers, and keep track of recruiting statuses and assignments.

trello boards

  • Add a request lane where hiring managers can add requests for open positions.
  • Add an incomplete lane where requests that require more details before posting can be listed, reminding hiring managers to review their requests, and providing an easy way to follow up on outstanding requests.
  • Keep track of jobs that need to be posted, jobs that are posted and accepting applications, and recruiters/specialists in charge of filling positions with separate lanes and card assignments.

You can keep the initial recruiting pipeline in its own board, or you can also combine it with an interview planning board to keep track of open positions throughout the hiring process.

Interview pipeline

After an acceptable number of applications are received for open positions, cards can move into an interview pipeline Trello board to manage the process of narrowing the pool of candidates, scheduling interviews with hiring managers, and making offers.

trello boards

This helps ensure that candidates don’t fall through the cracks and that each candidate goes through all of the proper steps. It also reminds recruiters to follow up with hiring managers who are taking an unacceptable amount of time to make a decision.

New hire onboarding

Onboarding new employees is a time-consuming process—especially if you work for a large company where employees have tasks, training, and paperwork for both department and human resources needs. A new hire onboarding Trello board can help walk new employees through all of the required steps.

trello boards

Hiring managers can work with human resource specialists to determine a list of all onboarding requirements and tasks, as well as when those tasks need to be completed. Then, when new employees arrive, the hiring manager can create a copy of the onboarding Trello board, and assign the board to the new employee.

The employee can use the board as a to-do list for training and onboarding tasks, and the hiring manager can review the board incrementally to make sure the employee has completed all required and recommended tasks.

Example Trello boards for meeting, event, and conference planning

Whether you’re planning your next team meeting, a department town hall, or a major industry conference, Trello can help you get organized, coordinate tasks, avoid oversights, and make sure your event runs smoothly.

trello boards

  • Plan agendas, organize guest speakers and remind yourself of topics to cover in upcoming team meetings with a team meeting Trello board.
  • Plan announcements, presentations, kudos, and activities for your next department meeting with a town hall Trello board.
  • Organize and track tasks related to venue planning, finding speakers, creating schedules, acquiring sponsors, managing registrations, and marketing events with a conference planning Trello board.

Similar boards can be used to plan for any type of event or gathering, such as office parties, team building events, and one-on-ones with employees.

Trello is a great email replacement

E-mail is chaotic. It might be a necessity for doing business and a quick form of communication, but it’s not a good way to organize and plan.

Even one-on-one email chains can get confusing. To remember an agreement that was made or an idea that was passed along you have to read a month’s worth of back and forth (including all the pleasantries that e-mails often start with).

Long email threads containing multiple people are even worse! It’s really hard to follow along with who is talking about what. You also have to remember to read every reply and not just the last few.

Heaven forbid anyone forgets to reply all!

If you want to get a project accomplished, email is just not a good way of doing things.

When used correctly, Trello acts as a replacement for those long, dreaded email threads. You can even tag specific people for increased clarity.

One of the great things about Trello is that conversations are all included within a card, so everything stays in the same place. Right where it should be. If anyone has clarifying questions about a task or thoughts to share, you don’t have to spend time looking for it or remembering. It’s all just there.

The basic elements of Trello

Before we delve into the details of Trello project management, let’s take a quick look at the basic units you’ll be working with to begin your Trello tutorial.

Teams: Your workspaces

When you open a Trello account, you get to create the first unit of your work: a Team. You can have many Team spaces.

Creating a new team in Trello

Each one can be used by a whole company, a separate team within it, a non-work related group such as your family or friends, or just yourself. A Team unit can even represent a single complex project that has numerous sub-units.

Boards: The virtual whiteboard

Creating a new board in Trello

Within the Teams you create or join, the Board is the main working unit. It looks and feels like a whiteboard where you manage your work with sticky notes. Write new ones, move them around, and archive old ones.

Boards can be used in myriad ways. They can be dedicated to the whole workflow of a particular team or separate activities within it. Alternatively, they can focus on a single project or event.

You can add members to any board. Add everyone on your team, or just the people who need access. Boards can be private or public, and you can identify them with a star to bookmark them as important. (This can be quite useful when your Team has a lot of boards.)

Lists: Categorizing your activities

Trello project management: organize your lists

The next thing in the Trello workflow is Lists. They’re the classifiers of your activities within a Board.

There are numerous ways to go about using Lists. If you stick to the classic Kanban approach of Trello, your lists would hold your to-dos, in-progress tasks, and things you’ve finished.

Each list can represent any way of grouping tasks that makes sense for your work. This can be their subject area, priority level, responsible person, or other classifying criteria.

Cards: Where work gets done

Trello cards

The smallest unit of work in Trello is the card. Cards allow you to include descriptions, attachments, subtasks or checklists, due dates and times, assignees, and labels. A card typically represents a single task in your workflow.

Add a due date in Trello

You can upload images and files from your device, or from Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, or OneDrive. And with a simple click-and-drag, cards can be moved from one list to another.

Attach a file in Trello

If your team is big and there are hand-offs between team members, be sure to check out the checklist function of Trello. This lets you indicate what stage of completion the project is at and your colleague can quickly be switched on as to what to do next.

The best thing about cards is that they allow people to talk about the task at hand. You can mention team members in a comment by typing “@” and their username. Then all pertinent communication stays with the task, and anybody can pick up the work from there.

PRO TIP: You can add tasks straight from your email to a Trello board. Just go to a board and click on Email-to-board settings on the right side menu. Make a note of the email address. When you send an email to that address, the subject line will become the card title, the body will be the card description, and any attachments will be attached to the card. For more tips on this process, check out the Trello tutorial.

email to Trello settings

Notifications

Wonder how you stay up-to-date without email? Trello has it covered. Notifications inform you about news from the boards and tasks you’re a member of, so you’ll never miss an important development or question.

You can tweak your notification settings in your account settings, which are accessed by clicking on your name and picture.

Trello Integrations

time_tracking_for_trello_2

You can use Trello’s power-ups to connect applications like Slack, Github, and Intercom straight to your cards. The list of power-ups is long, which guarantees that Trello will easily integrate into your workflow.

You can connect Hubstaff to keep track of the time your team spends working on specific cards.

It’s a big time-saver when it comes to billing and invoicing for projects you’re managing in Trello. Here are step-by-step instructions to set up Trello’s time tracking integration with Hubstaff.

Trello time tracking

How to copy a Trello board template

Trello project management tool comes with some preset templates that are freely and publicly available to be copied. Jump back to the list of templates.

If you’re interested in modifying one of these Trello board examples for your work, department, or processes, copying the boards is simple.

  1. Create a Trello account (if you don’t already have one).
  2. Navigate to the board you’re interested in.
  3. From the right menu, click More, and then click Copy Board.
  4. Give your new board a name, add team members, set the visibility, deselect Keep Cards, and click the Create button.

trello boards

The page will refresh to open your new board, and you’ll be ready to get started!

Common Trello mistakes

I’ve worked with teams that have signed up for project management tools, started using them with zeal, only to forget they existed a few months down the road. I’ve also worked on teams that have found the learning curves with project management tools challenging.

Not to point fingers, but if you are experiencing one of these reactions, it’s more likely human error than the fault of the software. If you’re not gaining value from using Trello, it might be because you are falling victim to one of these common pitfalls.

Categorizing by Priority

Many people choose to divide their Trello boards up by priority. I mean, that’s what Kanban boards are all about. It varies by organization, but we actually recommend throwing the “Kanban” out of Trello.

Organizing projects by the order of importance is not a bad thing, but we find it is not the best use of Trello. By only categorizing priority, you lose a lot of the visualization components that make Trello outstanding.

Generally, you will have 3 or 4 priorities levels whereas your organization might have over 10 different functional areas. It’s not a realistic understanding of what is happening in the different areas of your organization. Creating more streamlined workflows will result in more effective project management. We recommend organizing first by function and second by priority, using the Trello tagging functions.

Overwhelming cards

It’s common to lose track or get overly excited when you start thinking about a project. When this happens, you can end up squeezing way too many things into one card.

This is a recipe for disaster.

Having everything in one place makes things easier and more accountable. If you stick 100 things and 12 people in one Trello card, inevitably things will wind up getting disoriented and you will lose track of what the goal is.

Storage unit syndrome

Trello is not a storage unit, it is a project management solution. Do not use Trello to record all the things you want to get done or to make daily to-do lists for yourself. If you treat Trello the same way you do a pen and paper or post-it note, it will give you the same value.

Many an intelligent individual has fallen victim to the storage unit syndrome. Don’t be one of them. If you want to maximize your value with Trello, make sure that you are using it to see real-time workflows, unite efforts, connect team members and of course get things done.

Another kanban project management tool to consider

Modern businesses have a lot of projects going on at once. You have market research. Product development. Content marketing. Social media. Customer support. Growth planning. All of these projects need ongoing management. And having the right tool makes everything a lot easier.

While Trello is an incredibly powerful and simple project management tool, there are also other options on the market that might better suit your team and work.

Hubstaff Tasks is one such tool. It’s an Agile PM platform designed for teams looking to get more done with less hands-on management.

hubstaff tasks agile PM tool website

Powerful features such as focused sprints, automated processes, and visual workflows make it a robust Kanban project management tool.

Similar to Trello, Hubstaff Tasks features projects, boards, and tasks that can have assignees, comments, checklists, attachments, and more.

At any time, you can see where a project is in your workflow and who is working on it.

Hubstaff Tasks in combination with Hubstaff time tracking enables business owners and managers to instantly see project scope overview and take full control of projects costs.

Another reason why it’s a good option for those seeking a Trello alternative? It’s free to use for teams of up to five, and only $5/user per month after that.

Be sure to give Hubstaff Tasks a go and get instant access.

Do you use Trello for project management? What do you like or dislike about it? Share your thoughts and your best tips in the comments below!

This post was originally published February 9, 2015, and updated May 2019. 

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