Trello Review: Card-Based Project Management

Written by Tyler King

trelloWelcome to our comprehensive Trello review! In this article, we'll tell you everything you need to know to decide if Trello is the right project management tool for you. First, here's a quick summary of our findings:

Trello Cheat Sheet
Category: Project Management (View all project management reviews)
Name: Trello
Website: trello.com
Grade: B+
Price: Free (there is a $25/month option, but most small businesses will be fine with the free version)
Description: A simple, grid-based project management tool which allows you to move "cards" around a board to organize your thoughts.
Strengths: The card-based design makes it easy to visually understand your project, and the collaboration tools make it easy to share ideas with co-workers.
Weaknesses: Many important features are missing, and the card-based approach doesn't work in every situation.
Bottom line: Trello works well for high-level project management, but it isn't a complete solution, so you'll need something else to manage your day-to-day tasks.
Note: If you're trying to find the right project management software, you should check out our complete list of project management software reviews.

Now that we've gone over the basics, let's dive into some more detail:

What is Trello?

Trello is a web-based software tool that uses a Kanban approach to help you organize your projects. In this context, Kanban (pronounced "kahn-bahn") is a system that has information on different "cards" and then organizes them on a "board". You can imagine it like a bulletin board with columns of index cards tacked to it. Each column represents a different stage in a process and each card represents an individual item that you're working on. As you make progress on a card, you move it across the board. This lets you see the status of everything you're working on with just a quick glimpse at the board.

Trello board view

In this screenshot, you can see Trello at work. This Trello board is being used by a contracting company to track the projects in their pipeline. As you can see, there are three different stages for projects (Potential Projects, Gathering Specs, and In Progress) and each stage has cards underneath representing the different projects that are in that stage. You can simply click and drag a card from one column to the next as the project progresses.

details.jpgIn addition to helping you keep track of the status of each card, Trello also lets you dive into specifics. Just click on a card to pull up the details. This next screenshot (click on it to view full-sized) shows you the types of details you can store on a card. You can enter a description of the card, attach files, and make checklists of items that you need to complete.

Because Trello allows you to make as many boards as you want, and you have complete control over the columns on each board, you can use Trello to track pretty much anything. For example, you can track the high-level status of multiple different projects as we've done in these example screenshots, or you can create a board for one specific project and track the low-level tasks that need to be completed for that project. It's completely up to you to define what a "card" represents (a task, a project, etc.).

What we like about Trello 

Strengths:
  • Easy to set up and learn.
  • Real-time collaboration makes it easy to share with your team.
  • See the entire project at a glance.
  • Fun user experience makes project management less of a chore.

Trello is a really simple way to stay organized. The board/card system makes it really easy to understand what's going on, and learning the software is very straightforward. Adding and managing cards is also very easy, so keeping your information up to date isn't as much of a hassle as it is with some other systems.

While the main board view isn't very detailed, you can use the card detail view to keep track of more advanced details. So while it's hard to see everything at a glance, it's easy to see the important stuff, and then you can drill down to get the details.

Another area that Trello really excels is collaboration. Everyone on your team can open the same board at once, and changes that one person makes are automatically pushed to everyone else's screen. This makes Trello an ideal tool for managing information with people in different locations.

Overall, Trello is easy, intuitive, and fast. As far as the user experience goes, there aren't any project management tools quite as nice as Trello.

What we don't like about Trello

Weaknesses:
  • Bad for low-level detail
  • No full tasks list or calendar to help users keep track of their priorities
  • Kanban view can be limiting with lots of data.

We said that Trello wins on user experience, but your project management software is meant to be a tool, not a toy. In order to make the product as simple as possible, the Trello team seems to have skipped over some functionality that many small businesses require. Specifically, Trello is great for tracking high-level information about projects, but it's kind of lousy at tracking low-level details and individual tasks. If you use Trello, you'll probably also need to use something else so that each member of the team can track what they're actually working on. As far as we can tell, there's no good way to view everything you're supposed to be working on in one place, there's no calendar view so you can see milestones, and there's not a good way to filter information by user instead of by board. Basically, any information you put in Trello will need to be duplicated into a more detailed system so that your team can actually manage their day-to-day work. This makes Trello great for certain tasks, but it won't work as a complete solution for most teams.

Additionally, the Kanban approach can be very limiting. It's good for showing a small number of cards on one screen, but if you have tons of different cards, or more than 5-10 columns, it becomes really difficult to manage all of the information. For example, we were tracking "feature ideas" for our software product and when the list got to about 20-30 ideas, it became really hard to keep them all straight. This just reinforces the idea that Trello is basically a specialty product that is great for some things, but can't be considered a "complete" project management solution.

So, should you use Trello?

If you want to separate your high-level planning from your nitty-gritty details, then yes, Trello is a great product. Just keep in mind that it absolutely should not be your only project management tool. You'll need something else that lets each user see a list of tasks assigned to them, allows for more detailed project breakdowns and reminds users of what they should be working on. Ideally there would be one piece of software that could handle everything at once so that you wouldn't need to use two different tools, but we don't know of anything that really does that. (Note: We're hoping to build something like that into Less Annoying CRM at some point, but we haven't gotten there yet.)

Because we (Less Annoying Software) use Trello internally, we thought you might be interested in hearing how we use it. We all work remotely (everyone works from different locations) and once per week we have a company-wide conference call to keep everyone up to date on the company. We have a Trello board to keep track of the agenda for each meeting. There's a column for our data scientist to put any interesting insights he's learned. Then there's a "completed" column where everyone puts notable accomplishments from the past week so that everyone knows what everyone else is accomplishing. Then each member of our team has a column listing what they're currently working on, and finally there is an "ideas to discuss" column where anyone can put items that they'd like to talk about at the end of the meeting.

This approach works great for us, but it only covers the weekly meeting. Each employee is still responsible for maintaining their own task list outside of Trello so that they can manage the details of each of their tasks. If you want to learn about some other project management options for tracking the low-level info, check out our other project management software reviews.

Posted on Jul 2, 2013
Filed under Tech Analysis
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