More than a To Do List - How we integrated Trello into our workflow

What needs to be done, when and who needs to do it?

Let’s face it, few managers can successfully navigate the working week without some form of to-do list.

Everyone needs lists

A simple ‘memorised’ to do list may suffice for those with a very light workload, but if you’re like me, a light workload is no more than a distant dream and so, some form of tangible task management solution is crucial to an efficient and quality workflow. For me, post-it notes littering the workspace of each employee is a big no-no. That might work for some, and that’s great, but, after all, we are in the tech business.

At Hallnet, we invested a significant amount of time and encountered a lot of trial and error when sourcing a task management system that worked for us - and worked well.

True, we’re a custom software development company so creating our own system from scratch was certainly an option; very high on the list in fact, however we are also pragmatic and if there’s an off-the-shelf solution that ticks each and every box and doesn’t require an office remortgage to fund the license fees then we’ll happily take a look. It just isn’t often the case.

Enter solution

Luckily, we did eventually stumble across an existing web-based application that could easily:

  • enable managers and teams to create, prioritise, delegate and action tasks with varying due dates

  • efficiently facilitate project workflow, planning, estimation, delivery and quality management

  • allow teams and external stakeholders to collaborate and provide feedback on ideas

  • enable remote, on-the-move access by way of intuitive smartphone and tablet apps

In terms of giving us confidence, the application was already claimed to be in use by 5 million users (yes, early adopters we were evidently not in this case) and, in terms of licensing issues - well there were none. It was free and, at the time of writing this article at least, it still is.

What was the name of this task management panacea I hear you ask?

Well, it’s called Trello and, after having used the system for around a year now, I encourage you to delve in and take a look. You might just be surprised by the flexibility and opportunities it can provide through its intentionally simple ‘board > list > task’ approach.

I should point out that we’ve no affiliation with Trello by the way. We just think it’s a really useful tool for pretty much any manager or team so we thought we’d tell you about it. Maybe it will prove useful for you too.

So, back to our experience…

No cost implications, application approved by top management, the team on board and a relatively simple transition process...

Prayers answered, problems solved...well nearly

Trello was certainly the answer for us in terms of organising tasks, projects and collaboration but, to be truly efficient, what we really needed was to incorporate the data from Trello into other related areas of our workflow such as time tracking, automated billing and customer reporting.

So thats exactly what we did. Of course, being a custom software development agency came in pretty handy.

Integrating with Trello

First off we developed a simple bespoke web application that allowed us to create a hierarchy of customers, projects and project versions.

Next, we created an extension for the Chrome web browser that would, with the assistance of Trello’s API, allow us to associate a Trello board with a project version in our application.

The Chrome extension was then expanded to support task-level actions which would all import into our application without us ever having to leave Trello.

For example:

  • We created a timer feature. Starting and stopping the timer would import the amount of time spent on that task along with the date and time of the entry

  • We created a billing type selector to give the user the option to give any task a fixed price

  • We created a time entry feature, enabling the user to add an arbitrary amount of spent time to any task - really useful for after-the-event time logging (such as meetings) where the timer wouldn’t be applicable

As all of this key data was imported into our application and gave us a wealth of additional information to be put to good use.

In our case we opted for improved billing and customer reporting.

In a nutshell we added a section to our application that collated the task, time entry and billing type data for each customer, project and project version, resulting in a nice accurate report of time spent and on which tasks, fixed price tasks and ultimately, the total value in monetary terms.

We also added a nifty date range selector to allow us to view this information for any period of time.

Job Done

All in all, with a bit of custom development thrown in, we were able to create an end-to-end workflow that worked pretty well indeed and, most importantly, was as simple as possible for the team to use day to day.

We’re never satisfied though so we continue to refine and improve the system as we go, adding innovative new features along the way.

Trello certainly isn’t for everyone. But, Trello or no Trello, our experience here is a really nice example of how custom development can pull together disparate processes to create a single, efficient workflow.

At Hallnet, that’s what we do every day and, interestingly, it’s not always as complicated as it may seem.

Written by Chris Simms, Operations Manager.

If you’d be interested in discovering how our custom development expertise could help improve your efficiency and maximise use of your resources then please feel free to contact us.