This Is Your Life On Trello

Trello is the most indispensable tool that I use on a daily basis as Product Manager. My life and our product team runs off of Trello.

After years of experiments and tested strategies, I’ve found that maintaining 4 boards is the key to balancing my, and my team’s, sanity.

Those 4 boards are:

  1. Personal working board
  2. Our team Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) board
  3. Design team board
  4. Personal life board
The feeling when I know my life is organized in Trello.

Personal board

This is the board I use to keep my work priorities in line. If something isn’t anywhere on this board, it doesn’t exist to me. I keep 5 columns in that board, which are loosely based on the Kanban system.

  1. Backlog — Things that I’ll want to circle back on if I ever have down time (rarely, if never). These are tasks me and my team could live without ever being completed. They’re simply interesting to explore.
  2. Quick wins — This list is full of things that land on my desk and are often labeled as “urgent” and I know will become blockers for my team at some point if I don’t tackle them. I put them in this list to make sure they’re not forgotten, while not letting them distract me from my main priorities. I often tackle these in the afternoon after I get some of my major priorities out of the way.
  3. To do— Stuff that will be most beneficial for me to tackle in the short-term. This list is packed with big wins.
  4. Doing — Based on the book The One Thing, there’s a card at the top of this column that says “What’s the one thing I can do right now to make everything else easier or unnecessary?” There will never be more than 3 things in this list, and usually it maxes out at one. The only good reason there will be multiple things in this list would be if I’m blocked from completing them and waiting on somebody else.
  5. Done — It feels great to move a card to this list. The act of moving a card into this column is my reward from the habit loop (more on that here).
This card is a reminder that anything in this column in Trello should be a big win.

Jobs to Be Done (JTBD) board

This board is full of “what’s next” for the design and engineering team. It’s what some would consider to be our roadmap, however it never has work that’s more than ~2–4 weeks out. We use the Jobs To Be Done framework for the cards that live in this board. All of the cards in this board are arranged in order of importance…most important cards at the top, least important at the bottom. Keeping this structure gives the team the peace of mind that they’re always working on the next most important thing. This board has 6 columns, also loosely based on the kanban system. Different roles “own” different columns, which gives everyone a clear focus on where they should direct their attention.

  1. Next (PM owned)- All of near-term priority Jobs to Be Done
  2. In Design (Design owned) — There will only ever be as many cards in this column as there are designers. When a designer is done with a card, they move it to the next column, Ready, and take the topmost card from Next and moves it to In Design.
  3. Ready (PM owned) — When something is completed by the designers and has been tested and we’re confident with the results, they move the card to Current. From there, I make sure it’s prioritize from top to bottom.
  4. Current (Engineering owned) — When an engineer is done with their current JTBD, they grab what’s next in Ready and move it into Current.
  5. Inventory (Engineering owned) — When an engineer is done with a JTBD in current, ideally it gets fast-tracked over to Shipped. If there’s something else blocking it from being shipped, it’ll stay in the Inventory list until it’s shipped.
  6. Shipped (Engineering owned) — This one’s self explanatory…if it’s been shipped, engineering moves the cards here!
Ship it!

Design board

This is the board where the designers work to keep their own priorities in line and give them transparency into what each other is working on. Here they balance: UX/UI updates, current work they’re doing in the JTBD board, and any work sales & marketing needs. This board has only a few active columns:

  1. Bugs & Polish [PM owned] — After product is shipped and there are UX gaps or UI issues, I’ll create a new card in this column. It’ll usually have an annotated screenshot, as well as an anecdote of what the user is experiencing, from their perspective. If there’s no Github issue for it yet, I’ll label the card with that so they know to create the Github issue once they address card.
  2. Coming Next [Design owned]- The short-term list of what needs to be done in sales and marketing, in addition to things that the designers wish to explore or revisit.
  3. In Design [Design owned]— When a designer puts something in the “In Design” column in the JTBD board, they’ll replicate that here. In addition, if they’re working on any bugs & polish or sales & marketing work, they’ll move the card from Coming Next or Bugs & Polish into this column.
  4. Completed

Personal life board

This board balances my life outside of work priorities…it’s managed in a very similar way to my personal working board. Columns are: Backlog, To Do, Doing, Done, Leisure (for stuff like a book list, gift ideas, trip ideas, etc).

If you found this useful, I’d be pumped if you recommended it and shared other ways you use Trello in the comments.