Every superhero has its faithful sidekick. Batman has Robin, Archie has Jugghead, Deadpool has Bob. And Ethode has Trello.
Trello is our superhero sidekick tool for planning new projects, writing down feature requirements, and managing tasks.
We use it to share files and collaborate on documents together.
We use it to take notes during client meetings, then organize those notes into feature requirements for developers, designers, and marketers.
We use it to track development tasks as they are planned, coded, tested, and ready for our clients to approve.
It has all the features we need and increases our team productivity. And we like Trello’s husky mascot, Taco, too!
There are popular project management tools with more modern user interfaces, like Asana, or those that have custom-built features for software development teams, like Jira. Trello, however, is super-easy to learn, and as a result provides us and our clients with a UI perfect for sharing project information with a diverse range of different stakeholders - from client executive team members to developers and designers alike. Trello also has additional features under-the-hood, called Power-Ups, which we rely on as a software development company to provide our product owners, developers, and designers with even more features. But we’ll reserve more information about our favorite Power-Ups for another post!
Here are 10 Trello tips we use regularly with our everyday project management tool.
1. Apply the Basics of Creating Lists & Cards
In order to use Trello like a pro, one first needs to master the basics. For us, the basics include:
Setting up a “project board”
Inviting team members and clients to join project boards
Attaching files to cards
Making cards pretty by adding cover images to them
To get started using Trello, you set up a project board. We usually have 1 project board for each client project. Sometimes, we’ll set-up 2 project boards for each project: one for the client to track the high-level progress of a project, and one for our internal team to manage all of the details.
To begin using a project board, simply create a list by scrolling to the rightmost position on the board, clicking on “Add a list…”, and typing the name of the list.
Trello organizes your notes, checklists, links, and file attachments in what they call cards. A card is added to a specific list. Users can comment on cards, and you can move those cards between lists.
Your board can have 1 list, or as many as you need. Our typical project boards for software development projects consist of 7 lists:
Project Information - details about the project, client, and systems
Backlog - cards that are being planned
Next Up - cards that are ready for developers to start coding
In Progress - cards are moved here when developers are working on them
Blocked - if a card contains a task that requires more information before proceeding, we’ll move it to this list until the issue is resolved
Acceptance Testing - once development of a card’s tasks is complete, we move it to this list so that our Product Owner and client can review the finished outcome
Done - finally, once a card is finished and approved, it’s moved to this list, where it can always be referenced in the future
Creating a card is even more obvious: within any list, just click on the option for “Add a card…”, enter the card’s title, and type <Enter>. That’s ridiculously easy. For more sophisticated ways to add new cards, check the next tip.
You can easily add text to the Description field of the card. But Trello becomes more powerful when you create checklists (or bulleted lists) of tasks - which you can do easily by clicking the Checklists button on the right-hand side of any card. You’ll be asked to give your checklist a name, then click the “Add an item” link under your checklist title to add items to your list. This feature is often used to create lists of tasks, then “check” each item on the list when each task is completed.
To add attachments to your cards, click the Attachment button on the right-hand side of any card. You can paste links for any website, Trello card, or document saved on cloud storage websites Google Drive, Dropbox, or Box. Or, you can attach a file saved locally on your computer directly to the card. You can even name the files you are uploading to the card, which can have a different name than the names of the actual files. To save time, you can attach files to cards by dragging and dropping them from your computer or mobile device on top of the Trello card you have open.
The coolest basic feature is to attach an image to a card, and making that image a thumbnail of the card by clicking on the “Add Cover” link below the attached image.
Once you have created a project board, don’t forget to invite people to it. Enter the email addresses for those people you’d like to invite. For each email address you enter, you will either see their Trello member name if they have previously created a Trello account, or you will be asked to enter the name of the recipient in order to send them a welcome message.
2. Use the first list to store information about the client and the project
When we create a new project board, all the new lists and cards you create to store information can become pretty overwhelming. Sometimes, team members you invite to the board aren’t as familiar with the project, don’t know the other team members, aren’t clear about the goals of the project’s objectives, or don’t know how to make sense of all of the cards.
What new people will notice is the first column on the board. So we use it effectively to solve this problem. We call the list “Project Information”, and add cards to store strategic information about the client and project, contact details for team members participating in the project, links to tools and software team members need and whatever we think will help a board’s novice to dive deeper into the project.
3. Create multiple cards in 1-click
If you already have a list of tasks to do in a text editor or spreadsheet, you can quickly create multiple Trello cards out of it.
This works out well for team members who jot down notes in Evernote or Apple Notes, or are sent a to do list in an email.
To do this like an expert, make sure the titles are separated by a line break. Cells in separate table rows or in bullet points also work. Then, in Trello, click “Add a card”, and copy all lines of text to the title field. Trello will ask you whether to create a single card or multiple cards. Just choose multiple cards and you’re done! Trello will instantly create as many cards as there are titles, saving you time on repetitive action.
4. Markdown for text formatting
At first sight, it may seem like you can only add plain text to Trello cards. Trello cards support markdown text, meaning that you can emphasize and format your text in a wide variety of ways:
Use double asterisks at the beginning and end of the text you want to emphasize to make the text **bold**
Underscores make text _italic_
Use double tilde to ~~cross out~~ or strikethrough text
Use prime symbols - otherwise known as hash marks - (which appear on the same keyboard key as the tilde key in the top-left corner) to display text in a red font.
Use a combination of square and round brackets to create a [link](http://www.trello.com) - like that!
Use these small tricks to make your cards and comments come to life, and help readers find the most important information. Learn more about formatting your text at https://help.trello.com/article/821-using-markdown-in-trello
5. Assign Labels & Members to cards to help prioritize team members’ tasks
When you manage your tasks in Trello, you usually need to know in which order to complete them, especially when you have numerous cards in your lists. Sometimes, putting cards “in order” top to bottom within a particular list from isn’t sufficient, especially for us where most of our projects have many participants.
To help prioritize cards, you can also assign specific priorities to them using the Labels feature. (PS Trello doesn’t have the “Priority” attribute for cards by default - more about this in our future Trello Power-Ups blog post - but you can use the default Labels feature for this purpose.)
Simply create labels like “Urgent”, “High”, “Medium”, “Low” with different colours to make them more distinguishable and assign them to corresponding cards. Thus you will always have a better overview of your tasks.
Of course, you can also assign a card to one or more teammates who are members of the board by clicking the Members button in the top-right corner of any card, then searching for and selecting the user names of the people you want to assign the card to.
6. Copying cards
We usually create Trello cards to store our meeting agendas. Sometimes we don’t finish discussing all agenda items during a meeting, and continue the agenda during our next meeting. Instead of creating a new agenda card that has many of the same items on it as the agenda card we just finished, we’ll duplicate that card to help get us started.
To copy cards, on the right-side of a card under the Actions click on the Copy button. Give the new card a new name, and decide if you want to keep the checklists, members, attachments, and/or comments from the card you are copying. Finally, select which board, list, and position on the list you want the card copied on.
7. Automatically count the number of cards in each list
Do you catch yourself looking at a long Trello list wondering how many cards there are in it? By default, there is no indication of how many cards there are in any given list. Do you want to count them one-by-one like when you were 4? We guess not. There is a more sophisticated solution to this, although it may not seem so obvious.
Click the “Show Menu” link on the right side of the board, choose “Filter cards”, and type an asterisk “*” in the Search field. Trello displays the number of cards in each list next to each lists’ title.
8. Custom queries for filtering cards
Having dozens or hundreds of cards on your board can be overwhelming, especially when you need to find a certain card with specific information on it.
It’s moments like that which call for using the full power of Trello’s search feature. Trello has a powerful search feature that allows you to use custom queries to refine your search.
Here are some hints on how to make search work for you:
Type the @ sign before the name of a team member to find cards assigned specifically to that member. Even here, Trello helps you by displaying suggested members so you can choose one without needing to type in the full name. To search for cards assigned to you, enter @me in the search field.
Find cards that were “created”, “edited”, or are “due” in specific time periods. After keying in one of those 3 operators, followed by a colon, type “day”, “week” or “month” to search for cards that were created, edited or have their due date within the last 24 hours, 7 days or the last month. You can make the search more refined by putting the number of days instead of “day”, “week”, “month”.
And that’s not all. For even more search operators, visit Trello’s webpage.
9. Move all cards from one list to another list
Bulk edits are a pretty common feature in many tools. Trello is not an exception. Bulk editing saves you time and increases productivity.
If you have prepared all tasks in a “Planning” list and want the team to start working on them by moving them to a “Ready” list, you don’t have to manually move each card one-by-one. At the top of the list you want to move the cards from, click on the three-dots menu icon, then click “Move All Cards in List” and select the list you want to move the cards to.
10. Archive & unarchive cards
I type 90 words per minute. And I don’t know for the life of me what combination of keys I press on my keyboard to create this phenomenon, but sometimes when I’m adding text to a card, the card gets archived. Archived cards are not permanently deleted and get be restored, but the card no longer appears on the board. So, if you’re like me, you’ve learned how to unarchive a card because you accidentally archived it.
For everyone else without this problem, the archive ability is also handy! It’s most often used either when you find 2 cards with the same task and need to remove 1, or when your project board has had a long life and has quite a few cards. Trello boards are tested to contain 5,000 cards, but performance tends to decline once you reach the 1,000 card mark. If you want to declutter your board, think about archiving cards that are dupes or are no longer needed.
To archive a card, open one, and on the right-hand side look at the bottom of the list of buttons under “Actions” to find the “Archive” button.
To unarchive a card, in the right-corner of your board click “Show Menu”, then click More and Archived Items. Find the card that has previously been archived, and click “Send to Board”.
So that’s Trello. After getting started by creating boards, lists, cards, and checklists, make sure to master the basics of:
Assigning labels and members to cards
Searching for information
Filtering, moving, and archiving cards
In our next post, we'll share our favorite Trello Power-Ups, which are 3rd party extensions you can add to Trello to get even more out of the project management software.