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How to manage a small team using Trello

This is part 2 of my productivity and time management framework. Read part 1 here.

We have a small, 4-person, part-time, distributed team at Chou Force. Because we never meet in the same physical location, it’s incredibly difficult to stay aligned about company objectives.

I have therefore created a simple, light-weight process that utilizes Trello to set company objectives, align team members, and only requires 1-hour of online meeting time per week.

This is how we do it.


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I know, at first glance, the Trello Board shown above looks incredibly confusing and intimidating. But once you set it up and get into the groove, it’s actually incredibly easy and simple to use.

Here is an overview of how the process works:

  1. Set quarterly objectives (we call them Epics)
  2. Add opportunities (ideas, tasks, etc…)
  3. Prioritize opportunities (we use ICE to prioritize)
  4. 30-minute planning meeting at the beginning of the week
  5. 30-minute retrospective meeting at the end of the week

Trello Columns

A big challenge I found with the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology is that you lose context (lose the “why”) for what you’re doing.

We solve this with the Epics Column. At the beginning of each quarter, we meet online to create our quarterly objectives (which we call Epics).

Rules for Epics

  1. Only 1 individual can be responsible for an Epic
  2. An individual can have at most 3 Epics in a quarter
  3. A successful outcome with an Epic must be measurable and meaningful. Wrong: Launch V1 of Octalysis Prime. Right: Launch V1 of Octalysis Prime Post-Island and have at least 50 members reach level 10 in one Core Drive
  4. Epics must be a stretch goal: it should be incredibly difficult to reach 100% success with an Epic. If you do very well, then you should hit 80% of your Epic.
  5. Assign a colored label for each Epic on Trello
  6. Chores: Chores are tasks that must be done, but that may not have a direct impact on a quarterly objective. For example: “Point the domain for chouforce.com to our Square Space account.” This is something that we need to do, but that may not immediately get us closer to accomplishing our quarterly objectives.

All opportunities are added as a Card to the Inbox Column. Any team member can add an opportunity and tag another team member that they feel should lead it.

Rules for the Inbox

  1. All opportunities in an inbox should be tagged with an Epic
  2. All opportunities in an inbox should be tagged with at least 1 member to lead it

All opportunities must be prioritized using the ICE methodology.

Here is a quick rundown of how to use ICE to prioritize:

  1. Impact: from a scale of 1–10 (10 being the most impactful), how big will the impact be? What is the maximum possible impact?
  2. Confidence: from a scale of 1–10 (10 being 100% confident), how confident are you that it will reach its full impact?
  3. Effort: from a scale of 1–10 (10 being it would take just a few quick minutes to do), how much effort will it take?
  4. Add up all of the scores and divide by three to get your total ICE score
  5. Add the score to the Card as Estimated Points (download the SCRUM for Trello Chrome extension)
  6. Place the Cards in the Prioritized Column in order of priority (a score of 10 is the highest priority).
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You can use the following description in a “Template” Card so that your team members know how to prioritize Cards.

**Important**: download the SCRUM Trello Chrome extension for this to work: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/scrum-for-trello/jdbcdblgjdpmfninkoogcfpnkjmndgje?hl=en

Use Estimated Points.

**Learn how to prioritize with ICE here**: http://www.junloayza.com/productivity/on-setting-priorities/

– Impact:
– Confidence:
– Effort:
– Total:

At the beginning of each week, your team will meet for your planning. Move Cards that you will do this week to the This week Column.

If Cards need to be discussed before you can move forward, then move them to the Under discussion Column.

When you’re actively working on a Card, move it to the Doing Column.

If progress on a Card is blocked, then do the following:

  1. Move the Card to the Blocked Column
  2. Create a new Checklist called “Blocked by”
  3. Add an item to the Checklist that details what needs to be done to unblock the Card. I usually create a new Card for the task of unblocking the blocked Card
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When you’re finished with a Card, move it to the Done Column. During your weekly retrospective, you will review your Done Cards and either archive them or move them to the Retrospective Column.

If a Card is important and measurable, then you should do a retrospective for the Card after X number of days.

To remind my team to write the retrospective, I use the Snooze Power Up in Trello.

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I usually give a Card 2–4 weeks to snooze and then schedule it to reappear in the Retrospective Column so that the responsible team member can write the retrospective.


Before our Planning Meeting on Mondays, the team is responsible for adding Cards to the This week Column.

  • 8:30am: Planning meeting starts
  • 8:30am — 8:40am: we review our Cards in the This week to the Blocked Columns in silence and add our comments to the Cards.
  • 8:40am — 9:00am: each team member addresses the comments on the Cards that belong to them.

Get to work!

Before our Retrospective Meeting, the team is responsible for moving their Cards to the Done Column and for writing their retrospectives on Cards.

  • 3:00pm: Retrospective meeting begins
  • 3:00pm — 3:10pm: we review our Cards in the Done and Retrospective Columns in silence and add our comments to the Cards.
  • 3:10pm — 3:30pm: each team member addresses the comments on the Cards that belong to them.

This process is the secret to our success to keeping a part-time, fully distributed startup team aligned and on course.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Written by

Just trying to be the best Papa to my little Juniper and the best husband to my soulmate — Kim.

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