4 ways to scale your Trello workflow to multiple boards
Feb 20, 2017
Update 08/04/2019: There’s a follow-up post on this topic: Epic Cards: free Power-Up for tracking work across multiple Trello boards
Figuring out the best way to manage your projects with Trello requires some creativity. There are no projects, features, or epics in Trello. Instead, you have cards, lists, and boards. But usually that's just enough to create a workflow to match your needs.
With a single board, you organise your cards into lists. That's straightforward. But what to do when you have more lists than can conveniently fit on a single Trello board? You split them into multiple boards of course. One of the great features of Trello is that it's really easy to create a new board whenever you need one. However, it can also be a double-edged sword as you may have trouble keeping track of all your boards. Which of your boards are currently active? Which of them contain cards that are relevant for you right now?
Choosing the right structure depends on a couple of factors. Do you have a single team or multiple teams? Are you working on one or multiple projects at once? In this post, I'll share a few different ways to structure your work over multiple boards.
One planning board, one development board
In the simplest case you have one board where you work, and another board where you plan your work.
New ideas and feature requests are added first to the planning board. Once a card is ready for work, it is moved to the development board. This way you can keep your development board focused on tasks that are currently being worked on and avoid cluttering it with low priority items. If you work on multiple projects at once, you can use labels to associate cards with a specific project, and use Trello's filtering feature to show only cards belonging to a specific project.
Multiple planning boards, one development board
If you have a lot of work to plan, your planning board may become unmanageable with too many cards and lists on it. Rather than adding yet another list, you might as well split your planning to multiple boards.
In this setup, you split your planning to separate boards by projects, themes, epics, or whatever you want to call them. The idea is that related cards sit on the same board, and unrelated cards sit on separate boards. Cards are moved from planning boards to a single development board when they are ready for work.
So how do you know when one board is not enough to hold all your cards? Usability-wise, a good Trello board is one that doesn't require a lot of horizontal or vertical scrolling. You should be able to see most of the cards without scrolling. As a rule of thumb, if you have more than ten lists on a single board, consider splitting it.
One planning board, multiple development boards
What if it's the development board that is getting too crowded? That might happen if you are working on multiple projects at once, or have multiple teams working on multiple projects. Then it's time to split your development work to multiple boards.
In this setup, your planning board is likely to have only high level tasks on it. Tasks are sliced to multiple cards on the development boards when they are ready for work. Therefore, each card in the planning board corresponds to one whole development board. Your planning board provides a high level view on all the work that needs to be done while the development boards contain the low level tasks that need to be completed to get the work done. In terms of agile development, your planning board contains epics, features, or stories, and each development board consists of individual tasks related to that that higher level concept.
This is a good setup if you're working on multiple projects at once, or if you have multiple teams working on separate features. Whenever all the cards are completed on a development board, you mark the corresponding card as done in your planning board.
Multiple planning boards, multiple development boards, one portfolio board
If you're lucky enough to have lots of people working on lots of projects or features, none of the previous models may provide enough structure and isolation. A single board cannot hold all your planning or development work. That's when you need to introduce multiple planning boards and multiple development boards.
In this setup you plan your work on multiple boards, which feed tasks to multiple development boards. While this setup provides the most structure, it can be difficult to stay on track with what's going on in all your projects. That's when you can create a separate portfolio board to track your projects on a higher level. Each card on this board correspond to a project. Each project has their own planning board which feed cards to development boards. This setup is suitable if you have multiple teams working on multiple projects.
Organising work with Trello can be confusing as there are no strict rules on how you should use lists and boards. Each team and organisation needs to figure it out themselves. The best way for your team to use Trello may not be the best way for someone else. So you need a bit of creativity in setting up your own workflow with Trello. When you run out of space on a single Trello board, you can always introduce more boards as we've shown in this post.
But you're not limited to these four examples. Take them as an inspiration and come up with your mixture. If you do, I'd like to hear about it in the comments. What type of setup works best for you?