This is a follow-up post to my earlier post in which I introduced different options for scaling your work over multiple Trello boards, and the challenges one will face when working with Trello in scale. You might want to read that post first:
Update: there is also a follow-up post which documents the changes done to the v2.0 of this Power-Up.
It sparked some discussion as you can see in the comments which indicates that we were not alone having a hard time figuring out how to use Trello in scale. It seemed like a problem worth of solving.
Let’s start with facts: Trello is is your best choice if all you need is a basic Kanban board functionality. It has unbeaten usability that feels intuitive even for the technically challenged. It just works.
We’re a small team with five core members plus occasional temporary members, and we’re using regularly only 5-6 boards so you might think that’s not much of a scale. But if you’ve used Trello heavily even with these numbers you might be familiar with some of the issues that we’ve struggled with when working with multiple boards:
How to link together cards between different boards that are thematically related?
How to see the progress of your work as your team completes tasks?
How to plan your work and create roadmaps?
How to create a record of the work you’ve completed so that you can easily refer back to it at a later stage?
In this post I will describe how you can overcome these challenges with the Epics Cards Power-Up that we developed as a solution. It’s a free add-on that allows you to group your cards into larger themes, also know as epics in agile vocabulary. However, you don’t need to follow any agile methodology in order to benefit from this add-on. It’s just a simple board utility that adds few simple controls to your Trello board to help you to track work across multiple boards.
Add the power of epics to your Trello workflow
Epics are a great way to track higher level work and to create a roadmap that is constantly updated as you work with your Trello boards. You don’t want to go back to your previous way of using Trello once you’ve got used to working with epics, I guarantee.
The basic idea is that instead of working with multiple isolated boards, you can combine multiple boards together, and get a high level view of the progress of your work across all of them. The picture below illustrates the concept:
Let’s start from the bottom. We have a set of Backlog boards that are used to keep all the ideas, reported bugs, ideas for blog posts, forthcoming features and so on. These are the tasks that we are not working right now, but ones that we are likely to work on in the future. I bet you have boards like this too.
Backlog boards feed tasks to the Development board, which is where all the work happens. We work on two weeks sprints, and in the beginning of each sprint, we fill the development board with the tasks that we plan to work on during that sprint.
When a task is assigned to a sprint, it is moved from the backlog board to the development board using Trello’s Move Card feature:
Once a card is completed, it is archived in the development board. So cards never return to the backlog boards (although you can do that if you want to but we don’t).
It’s all very straightforward so far. You have a bunch of boards where you store your ideas and one board where you move the highest priority task for work. Chances are you have something like this already in place. We do Scrum sprints but you don’t have to. This approach is not dependent on any specific methodology.
Where things get interesting is when you add a Roadmap board to the mix. It’s a board that is supposed to give you a birds eye view to all of your work. Sounds great, doesn’t it!
But first you’ll have to set up the Power-Up up on your boards
Setting up the Epic Cards Power-Up
You start by creating cards of your high level work items i.e. epics. They could be something like:
Define user stories
Setup development environment
Create marketing material
They’re rather like containers for tasks than tasks themselves. But they are still represented as cards in Trello. You’ll also need a list where epics are moved when they’re done.
In the beginning, your roadmap board would look like this:
I’ve named this board as Roadmap, and the list that contains work items as Epics and Epics done but you are free to use whatever names you like.
Now it’s time to active the Epics Cards Power-Up in your boards. First, enable the Power-Up from the Power-Ups directory. You’ll see that the “Epic Cards” link appears on the top of the Trello UI:
When clicking the link, you’ll be asked to specify the location of your epic lists:
You can also specify the list where cards are moved once they are completed. Since that list won’t exist in this board, you can just leave it empty for now. Click Next to save your settings.
Now you’re almost done with the setup. Before you can assign tasks to epics, you’ll have to activate the Power-Up on each of your backlog boards as well as on your development board. When activating the Power-Up on your development board, select the list where the cards are moved when they’re done:
Whenever a card is moved to that list, it is considered done and the progress bar in the epic card is updated accordingly.
That’s it for the setup. Next I will walk you through how to use this Power-Up in your daily work.
Working with epics in Trello
Once you have you boards set up, you can start assigning tasks to your epics. Let’s assume you need to launch an EC2 instance as part of your Setup development environment epic. You would create a card Launch EC2 instance, and assign it to the epic:
Once assigned, the card gets a status badge showing which epic it is assigned to and when, and its current status (open/done):
But perhaps the most important aspect of the status badge is that it is linked to the associated epic. When you click the link, you will be redirected to the epic card, allowing easy moving between epics and individual tasks.
Inside the epic card, you’ll see a list of tasks assigned to that epic:
Clicking a task name in the list opens the corresponding card. This way, you can link cards from multiple boards and easily move between them.
When a card is completed, it will be shown under the Done tab. The progress bar on top of the list shows the percentage of completed tasks in this epic. This provides you a real-time view to the progress of your team’s work.
The main benefit of using epics for structuring your cards is that it allows you to focus on the big picture. The cards can stay on any of your boards, and you can easily find them through the epic card - even long after they are completed and archived!
This approach does not depend on any specific methodology. Your cards can be scattered across multiple Trello boards and you may have one or more teams working on them. The work may consist of a single project or product, or it can be multiple projects or products.
And it’s free! Go ahead and add it to your board to try it out yourself.