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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Trello business app offers control

Like Pinterest fused into a project management tool

The Trello chief, Michael Pryor.  Noam Galai/Getty
The Trello chief, Michael Pryor. Noam Galai/Getty

In its simplest form, the business app Trello is just a list of lists - a very visual list, like a wall of sticky notes.

Trello uses a system of boards; on each board that you set up for a certain theme, you can create multiple lists and then "cards" that can be moved about from list to list.

Cards contain a name and a more detailed description plus endless comment fields for team members. You can drag and drop attachments and images, which you can then turn into a cover image for the board. You can add anyone to your team and set due dates or add coloured, customisable labels to a card.

The card concept comes from the Kanban visual workflow method, pioneered as a scheduling system by Toyota in the 1940s. Meaning "billboard" in Japanese, Toyota set up Kanban to improve its own manufacturing efficiency after studying how supermarkets managed inventory levels versus consumption.

So think of Trello as Pinterest fused into a project management tool; the Trello chief executive Michael Pryor calls it “your GPS; it’s where you are and where you’re going”. It works well for those who need visual aids for planning - the kind of person who would surround their desk with Post-it notes and whiteboards.

Trello provides examples of its other uses - for wedding and holiday planning, recipes, job searches and editorial calendars. Case studies show it being used in business for training planning, sales pipelines, IT "scrum management", bug-tracking, and company roadmaps and templates are provided on the welcome board. IT scrum management is a methadology for managing software delivery that comes under the broader umbrella of agile project management

Trello, first called Trellis, was launched in 2011 by Fog Creek Software. Acquired by the enterprise software company Atlassian this year for US$425 million, it boasts more than a million daily users. Atlassian’s co-founder, Mike Cannon-Brookes, says he previously got to know the tool by using it to plan renovations at home.

For collaboration, Trello is excellent: you can invite as many people to your board as you need, for free, and drag and drop people on to cards to divvy up tasks, or drag cards to a different list.

Through card comments, team members can update everyone on the status of any task, any issues or links, in over 20 languages (although sadly not Arabic). You can filter and sort by label, member or due date.

But as I use it to plan articles, one of the most frustrating things for me is dragging items up and down a list with the due dates not changing. This is when you remember that Trello is not a traditional project management tool. For Gantt charts and reporting tools, you would need to add power-ups, and there is no way to tick items off as done - you can only archive them or create a separate "Done" list.

The calendar view is neat, though - it is a great visual way to see a month’s worth of tasks at once or what a team has on their plates. I use coloured labels to denote items to go into newsletters, on to social media and requiring further external interviews or input.

There are three price plans: free; business for $9.99 per user per month; and enterprise, for $20.83 per user per month. At a basic level, you are limited to attachments of 10MB or less and one "power-up" per board. Power-ups provide integration with other software such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Salesforce, Slack and Github.

Even adding the calendar is considered a power-up so, as a basic user treating Trello as an editorial calendar, I have used up my free power-up instantly; with a subscription, there are unlimited power-ups.

Trello offers apps for iPhone, Android and tablets. While they function identically to the website, the beauty of Trello is in its scrolling landscape board of lists – which makes the app, ultimately, an inferior product when it comes to usability; more of a companion than a standalone option.

Competitors include LiquidPlanner ($9.99 to $69 per user per month), which uses traditional projects, tasks, and milestones, and team collaboration tool Asana

Cominware Project ($9.99 per user per month), which offers a free version and a $9.99 per month option for unlimited members.

But while Trello’s simple visual wall is not for all planners, you know a tool is good when competitors are paying to display themselves as alternatives in Google searches.