Trello: step up your software by being organized #1 — Lists

Keeping tracks of what you are working on, what you achieved in the past and what you need to do is always very hard. This is even harder (and more important) when in the world of software development: as requirements change and as different people chime in on different areas of the product you might be working on, keeping track of decisions and progress might be hard.

Enter Trello, the platform originally from the folks at Fog Creek and that has recently been acquired by Atlassian: it is, without any doubts, one of the best tools that any software developer might start using and, today, I'm starting a short series of articles dedicated to showing you how me and my colleagues set up our Trello board to make sure we are always working towards the goal of improving the product we are shipping.

One of the strengths of Trello is that it allows you almost complete personalization: you can create how many lists you know and you can personalize labels so that each one of them has a very specific meaning. In this first article, I will focus on how we chose to set up our lists, an article on labels and one on how to write powerful tickets will follow soon so stay tuned in for those!

This series is by no means a definitive guide and our set up is definitively not the best ever, but it's what suits us the most: feel free to chime in and suggest improvements if you think we missed something!


Our main development board is divided into five main lists: Backlog, Next, Doing and Live. Each one of them contains cards which represent different features at different levels of development.

Let's analyze each list and what we use it for.


This list is where we keep all the cards that refer to new feature ideas, bugs that are found out or other problems that might require the development team to chime in. Using the card name and labels, we try to be always as precise as possible, in order to make it clear what the card is referring to; the description field and the comment section, then, allow for more specific details and discussion to be performed.
The list backlog is the only one where everyone in the company, even people outside of the software team, is allowed to create cards. We have relatively strict card-creation policies which I have outlined in this (add link) blog posts, feel free to read it to make sure you always create the most kickass Trello Card you can!


Next is, effectively, our ToDo List: once a ticket has been discussed and the actual implementation (as well as the goals we want it to achieve) have been outlined, the card is moved from Backlog to Next so that as soon as one developer is free, he is able to just pick up the top card and start working on it right away. Thanks to Trello's rich markdown syntax for description fields as well as the ability to upload various attachments to a card, all the details regarding the card are always easily found and accessible by the developer working on it and by the rest of the team.
As a policy, we decided that cards in Next can only come from the Backlog. This can be ignored only in the case of bugs that break some core functionality which must be fixed as soon as possible.


The goal of this list is to make clear what is being worked on at the moment: as soon as someone starts working on a task that is in Next this is moved to Doing. This allows everyone to know what is going to be implemented soon and it also ensures that no two developers start working on the same task and waste time.


The last list we use is the Live list. Once a feature has passed testing and it gets put in production, its card gets moved to this list: this allows us to keep a record of what it is being deployed and is, effectively, a diary of the evolution of our product. It is always easy to go through the list and see when any feature has been deployed and find information relative to why and how said feature has been implemented in the system.

A final note is that regarding the fact that we you probably need a QA/Testing list as well. We are in the process of sorting out our testing process so we do not have one yet. I will make sure to post an update once we sort out a system but, in the meantime, feel free to discuss how you handle testing!

This wraps up the first article in this series, in the next one we will cover how to use Labels. Make sure you stay tuned not to miss that and start being organized today never missing a delivery date!

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