Formulating a Trello process

I’ve been using Trello for a couple of years to track manage personal projects/tasks. I’ve done this in an ad hoc way. I’ve even occasionally attempted using it (badly) for small groups. I now need to get a bit more professional about it. The following is an attempt to formulate an initial plan for testing out the use of Trello for a work project. If only so we can escape the desolate, unproductive waste that is Sharepoint and email attachments….more on this at the end.

What are others doing

This post gives an overview of a range of different ways that different groups have made use of Trello. It also gives a reasonable overview of the major components of Trello, including some mention of automation using Zapier.

Trello offers this collection of inspirations (including links to sample Trello boards and explanations of structure) for how Trello is used for purposes ranging from agile approaches, production workflows, six sigma, Kanban workflow, conference planning.

This offers explicit advice on how to progress from an empty board to something that can be used.

Kanban?

Kanban as an inspiration seems the simplest. This explanation of Kanban mentions that it’s “a lot more laid back” than other methods and outlines the following tasks

  • Define the workflow stages.
  • Set up how tasks move between stages.

and pillars of Kanban

  1. Each task has a card that includes all information about the task.
  2. There is a cap on how many tasks can be worked on.
  3. There is a continuous flow through the backlog in order of importance so that something is always being worked upon.
  4. There is a focus on analysing the flow to enable constant improvement

This for more background and detail on Kanban and a list of 8 Kanban board apps.

A local plan

This is an initial test directly involving myself and one other person. The aim is to gain more insight into using Trello in this context and in a more disciplined way. We’re working on the development of a proposal document. In the future I wonder whether this task might be worth of it’s own board, but for now it will. KISS.

So a plan might be

  • Set up a team for the group

    Not mention in the above.

  • Set up a board on Trello.
  • Configure the board
    Based on suggestions from here

    • Add a background image (but only if business class)
    • Add five lists
      • Three of the lists To do, Doing, and Done hold cards for specific tasks that someone has worked upon.
      • Current deliverable

        Holds information about the specific deliverable that the tasks in to do, doing and one are helping produce. This is held in a deliverable card, indicated by a red label.

      • About

        About provides background/guidance on how the board works. It also has a card that summarises the purpose of the board. In some cases, the key outcome. Perhaps one specified by a supervisor/client.

        It also contains a number of subsequence deliverable cards. The idea is that we know the next deliverable for the project and we have a place to put some thinking/detail. Eventually the next deliverable card will move to the Current deliverable list.

    • Invite the other person.
    • Start filling in the to-do list.
    • Pick a simple card/task to use as an example/demo of some practices.

    This plan is for a broader project with multiple stages. I’m thinking that each of the roles/people in the team might also have a board related to specific other tasks. Such a board wouldn’t necessarily have a current deliverable. Longer term we might also have templated boards that are set up to guide completion of recurring tasks.

    Early reflections

    It’s a day later and this set up is being used by the other member of the team. Early signs are that it’s being seen as a big step forward. Why?

    IMHO, it’s in part because the information technologies currently available are generic and have models focused on supporting more technical tasks. e.g. sharepoint. Sharepoint “helps” you save and perhaps share files. Maybe a little bit more than that, but because it is such a generic tool it doesn’t offer a lot of specific scaffolding.

    Trello is designed with a model based on boards, lists and cards. Not files, folders and generic technical objects. Boards, lists and cards and the functionality provided by trello align directly with the major tasks in a Kanban like process. The technology is actively supporting that process of organising projects in a way that is collaborative and transparent to the team. It offers functionality that helps perform these tasks.

    One of the problem with Sharepoint (and service based on a computer filesystem) is that information is organised into folders and files. The organisation of folders into files tends to be a fairly individually unique activity. I’m certain the absolutely logical and obvious way I organise folders and files is not something you would find logical or obvious. Hence finding a file would would require that you grapple with and understand the mental model I employed when organising the files and folders.

    While we may now still save the documents we use as part of this process, we can now link to them from Trello. Hence access to these documents is now (in addition to other means) available via the projects and tasks associated with the information. Hopefully a mental model that we all share and thus makes it easier to find information.

    Time will tell how well this works in reality and how/if the above plan scales.

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