App of the week: Track project work with Trello

Are projects getting out of control? Perhaps details are slipping through the cracks? Overwhelmed by too many deadlines to remember and your calendar program just isn’t doing it for you?

Trello might just be the tool that you have been waiting for!

First of all: Trello is free to use.

Secondly, it doesn’t matter what platform you’re using: it’s available via the web. But there are apps for various devices, including iPad and iPhone, and I believe Android as well.

If you’re more of a visual person, like I am, and the idea of having a virtual bulletin board to slap up virtual index cards on to shuffle around in various lists, add dates, add labels, assign to various people, leave notes, add checklists and more appeals to you, then keep reading. If not and you’re just looking for a good distraction, here’s the World’s Largest Pacman game online.

For those of you still reading, let me show you the world of Trello through its iPad app. I recommend stopping by trello.com, setting up an account and following along, and maybe even grabbing its free app for whatever device you’re using (where applicable, of course).

So, let’s say you have an account and you’re ready to go. Where do you start? Click on the “boards” link or button beneath your profile picture (assuming you’ve uploaded one by now — if not, there will be a spot where said image can go). You should see a list under “My boards” or, rather, where your list of boards will go. Click on “New board” and fill in the blanks. Leave “Organization” blank, unless you want to set up boards for your workplace, student club or group of friends and allow all its members access to it. Just throw a title on it and hit the friendly-looking, green “Create” button. Create one for your Engineering project. Create one for your scrapbooking. Create one for that 21st birthday party for your friend, Bob.

You should see a couple of boards on a page that looks something like this:

A listing of boards on Trello.

Trello – boards view

Think of each of these boards as a bulletin board or whiteboard for planning whatever it is you need to plan. If you click on one of them, you’ll see your board with three lists already created: “To do”, “Doing” and “Done”. These can be renamed, deleted, moved around, added to (you can have more than three; just hit the “Add a list…” link to the far right of the last list). These will hold your “cards”. Think of these as index cards that can be pinned to your bulletin board.

Add a card by clicking the “Add a card…” link in a list. Type a title for the card (you can edit later), then hit enter. Congratulations, you’ve just made your first card! If you click on that card, it will open up so you can add details, such as a description, any activity (such as comments), due dates, checklists, labels, etc. Play around with it. The web version shows all details of the card in one long scroll-able window. The iPad app pops up a card that looks like this:

A screenshot of Trello on the iPad, showing activity on a card.

Trello, card activity view

The default view is the Activity view. This shows what changes have occurred to the card since it was created. In the example above, you can see that I’ve uploaded several images and made a comment. In the upper portion of the card, you can see the title, description, who has been assigned to it (so far, just me), the due date and other important information. There are two other views: Checklists and Attachments. Attachments looks something like this:

A screenshot of Trello on an iPad showing the attachments on a card

Trello, card attachments view

Whether you’re using the device app or the web app, you can set uploaded images as the “cover image”, so that you have a visual reminder of what each card is about. It’s not necessary, though, and you can remove a cover image that is set if you change your mind (while keeping it attached to the card).

Checklists are awesome in Trello because you can keep a ‘to-do’ list and tick things off as they are completed, and Trello keeps a count on these and tells you how far along you are to completing said checklist. Have a look at the iPad’s Checklist view:

A screenshot of Trello on an iPad showing the checklist view on a card

Trello, card checklist view

So as you can see, the upper portion of the card stays the same, but the bottom half shows you the relevant data/information that’s filled out. You can also have more than one checklist on a card. So for my Halloween example, I could have a movie checklist, game checklist and perhaps another checklist keeping track of all the decorations we need (versus what’s been bought).

Set a due-date on a card and you’ll get email notifications if you’re assigned to the card. If you’re not assigned, but you’re on that board, you’ll see notifications under the “Notifications” button.

I’ve mentioned assigning a few times but haven’t explained the coolest part about Trello: your boards do not need to be just for you. Trello is great for collaboration on projects. Invite your classmates to your Trello board, then assign them to various tasks. Give them due-dates. Comment on their cards, asking for progress reports. Give progress reports yourself. Join and leave cards as you need to help and as your work is done on a particular task. It’s so handy to be able to look at a board and see exactly what has been done, what is in progress, who is doing what, when things are due and how far along you are on said project.

Some suggestions:

  •  for group projects, set up a list for each group member, then create cards under each member’s list so they know what they are working on and have somewhere to report
  • set up card labels ahead of time — these allow you to add labels such as a red label, which could be named ‘Top priority’ or ‘IMPORTANT’; set them up at the beginning of a project and make use of them well
  • make use of checklists when possible to help gauge how far along each task is
  • keep people reporting in it by tagging them to draw their attention to your comment: use @username (like: @kellypenfold) when leaving comments in the activity area of a card
  • have a ‘done’ list where everyone moves finished cards to, but only archive the card once you’re 100% sure all activity on that card is complete and the project organizer signs off on it
  • make use of it for your own stuff too!

The bottom line is that Trello is an extremely powerful, useful tool that anyone can use for the right price (free is good!). Help yourself by being organized and on top of those deadlines and finer details. Share files with each other by attaching them to cards on Trello. Keep people accountable for their progress by assigning work. It’s that easy!

~ Kelly, Library Media Specialist

Do you have a favourite app for Mac, PC, iPhone/iPad, Android or any other device? Tell us about it in the comments!

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