10 ways to use Trello for Product Management

Kate Bennet
May 27, 2017 · 7 min read

I’ve used Trello (the free list tool recently acquired by Atlassian) for anything from roadmaps to recipes, and found it invaluable for Product Management. The likes of Pivotal Tracker, Jira, Asana and Phabricator have their place, but Trello is the tool that I most commonly return to for simplicity and flexibility.

I’ve outlined 10 ways that Trello can be used for Product Management below. If you have examples add a note in the comments- I’d love to hear about them!

1. High level roadmap

A high level Trello board can help communicate your roadmap internally and externally. Do include high level features (likely to translate to your Epics). Don’t include details and discussion on the cards.

Think carefully before creating a board like this: once it’s out there you’re committing to defending it and keeping it up to date. If your roadmap changes (which it will) you’ll need to communicate that through the board.

For internal communication, I’ve found that it works well to pair this board with a fortnightly Roadmap Review for relevant stakeholders (heads of departments, CEO, etc.). I give a little more detail to this group, extending the roadmap to a Project Overview with “Next sprint” and “Being worked on now” (handy example from Trello).

2. Agile development

I’ve experimented with Trello for agile development, using it with engineers, designers and QA to plan and track sprints.

I find that Trello is ok for small teams starting out on a project (particularly if you’re on a budget), but that it breaks down with any sort of scale: a card-based board with no automation is difficult to handle when you have 10's or 100's of bugs in your backlog! (That being said- companies such as Udemy have been able to make it work for them, so it is possible.)

For agile development, try the following setup:

  • Icebox - Unprioritised backlog of ideas.
  • Prioritised backlog - Feature changes and bugs that have been validated and designed, and are ready to build.
  • Next sprint (proposed)- Cards that, as a PM, you would like in the next sprint.
  • This sprint- Agreed with the Engineering team in Sprint Planning. Each card is assigned to a person.
  • In progress - Cards that are being worked on now.
  • Ready for QA - Ready for QA to test.
  • Done - Completed cards. Could be broken down into “Ready for release” and “Released.”

To avoid adding too many columns to the agile board, have separate boards for Product Planning and Design (which feed in to the agile board).

Your board doesn’t have to be as detailed as I’ve suggested: adapt it to your own needs and product process. This example is a different setup from Subnautica:

Image for post

If you use estimation points, try the Scrum for Trello Chrome extension. Pivotal Tracker or Jira are likely to be a better fit for this though.

3. Retrospectives

A simple Stop, Start, Continue Trello board works for team retrospectives.

Gather your whole team, spend 5 minutes in silence adding to the board, then group similar items, discuss the themes, and agree actions.

Advantages:

Good for remote teams
Reminder of what was agreed
Can refer back to the list each week

Disadvantages:

If a team isn’t yet comfortable giving feedback to each other you may need a tool that allows anonymity.

4. Brainstorming

Some people love mind maps. My brain works with lists, so I use Trello for jotting down ideas. This works well by yourself or with a team- particularly if the team is remote.

The example below is ideas for blog posts (source) but it would work equally well for product ideas, marketing campaigns, A/B tests, metrics, etc.

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5. Personal task tracking

I use Trello to keep on top of my personal tasks- both in and out of work. I find that it’s a useful memory jog, particularly when starting a new job or project.

If you often lose track of time, using cards as Morning, Afternoon and Evening dividers can help add more granularity. I’d also recommend reading this article on using a calendar instead of a to-do list.

Here’s an example of taking it a step further- using Trello to plan a wedding:

6. Project tracking

Trello boards are useful for projects that have a fixed deadline and need to stay on track, avoiding the overhead of a Gantt chart or Jira. I recently used Trello this way to project manage a design agency.

Each task must be assigned to a person and be given a due date. Each person is responsible for moving their cards when they’re complete, and for adding a comment if a card will miss its deadline.

For short term project management, I recommend:

  1. Use labels to highlight overarching, weekly goals and deadlines.
  2. Enter all tasks for the following week on Friday.
  3. Have a Kickoff meeting with the whole team on Monday. Go over each person’s tasks for the week. Add due dates (agreed with the individual).
  4. Each person gives a brief checkin update each morning (Slack works well for this), mentioning any tasks that will miss their date.
Image for post
Example project board. Each card is assigned to someone and has a due date.

7. Schedule visibility

Part of a PM’s job is co-ordination, and keeping on top of who’s doing what. This is much simpler if others have visibility into the overarching schedule and any recurring meetings. I usually print out the schedule and put it somewhere visible in the office, but it can also be helpful to have the timeline online.

This basic example is based on a weekly sprint for a mobile app:

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8. User interview notes

User interviews usually result in reams of notes which then need to be synthesised, sorted and summarised. I’ve previously written about doing this:

I’ve since found that it’s much simpler to use Trello for note taking.

List the interview questions in your first column, then use one column per user interview and one Trello card per feedback point.

Assign a label colour to each user so that you can see the spread of feedback when clustering pain points (see point ‘9’).

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Feedback grouped by user interview.

9. Pain point grouping

When you have all of your user feedback notes in one place (see ‘8’), it’s easy to group the feedback in to pain point themes.

Bring your whole team together- in person or remotely- and have them put all of the user feedback under theme headings. Anyone can create a heading, and anyone can move any card around until each card is assigned to a theme.

In the example below, a team of 3 sorted our user interview feedback in to 7 themes. These themes were a starting point for a website redesign.

Advantages of using Trello for pain point grouping:

Works remotely or in-person
Easy to share with others (to help justify product changes)
Simple to archive and return to in future product iterations

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User feedback clustered in to pain points.

10. Branding mood boards

Mood boards are a collection of images that evoke a feeling from the person viewing them. They help companies define their brand and are useful when developing the first version of a product or going through a rebranding.

Mood boards are usually physical boards but I’ve used Trello when time is short and in-person isn’t possible. Pinterest could also work.

How to use Trello for a branding exercise:

This example is based on a product/ design team going through a branding exercise with a company’s co-founders:

  1. Brainstorm adjectives that could apply to the brand. eg fun, calm.
  2. Assign a few words to each person. Find 1 image that represents each value and 1 image that doesn’t represent the value.
  3. Upload each image as a cover picture on a Trello card. Make sure the cards are randomly sorted.
  4. Co-founders vote by assigning Trello labels to each image based on how much it aligns with their values:
    Green = Aligns with values.
    Red = Doesn’t align with values.
    Add short comments where necessary. Timebox this activity- don’t overthink the voting.
  5. Synthesise the results by looking through the pattern of votes. Brainstorm typography, colour and style based on the results.
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An example mood board that my team and I created for a client.

For further reading, check out this article on Trello for Product Managers.

Note: I don’t work for or represent Trello- I’m just a big fan of simple products that help to remove confusion from product delivery.

Tradecraft

Stories about startups, technology, traction, and design…

Kate Bennet

Written by

Product consultant and chaos organizer. Currently at Lab Zero, formerly Product Management at Imgur, Mindjet and Spigit.

Tradecraft

Stories about startups, technology, traction, and design from Tradecraft members

Kate Bennet

Written by

Product consultant and chaos organizer. Currently at Lab Zero, formerly Product Management at Imgur, Mindjet and Spigit.

Tradecraft

Stories about startups, technology, traction, and design from Tradecraft members

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