If you’ve never used Trello before, you’re missing out. I’ve been using it to organize not only my work, but my life in general. Today, I convinced my boss to switch the entire team from Basecamp to Trello - Not only to save our company $3,000 a year but also to make us a more efficient, happier team.

Switching Project Management software is far from a painless experience. It takes time to retrain the team, for the team to adjust their workflow, and to transfer current projects over. If you’re using the PMS to store files, or client info, you’ve got a whole other problem. Despite these hurdles, I believe it will be a smooth transition.

Let’s start off with our current needs. We’re a heavily systematized company, our core product doesn’t range much and for the most part one client isn’t that different from the next. We help client’s film YouTube videos or other content, and then target that content towards their database. We have Account Managers , their assistants, video editors, and copywriters. We designers fill in the gaps, creating the social media, graphics, and hosting blogs/landing pages as needed. There’s also a sales staff, but they’re their entire own thing.

Everything has a standards check, and we have 360 clients bidding for our time. It can get pretty overwhelming, and as soon as the company started to scale up, I knew we’d have to abandon email as quickly as possible. That’s where Basecamp came in. It’s extremely popular, and although it did not end up suiting our needs, it is a mature and capable platform. Things are sorted into Projects, those projects have checklists, discussions, files, and a calendar. Basecamp really shines when it comes to Client participation. You can choose what they see, and if they get notified. The Client can also upload content to the project, and take part in the discussions surrounding the projects goals and scope. The sad thing was that we really struggled to get any of our clients to use it, and even if they did they quickly fell back to email. Any employee also had anywhere from 50 - 150 projects at a time. They all generated email notifications, and our inbox never did settle down. It’s been a mess.

About a year ago, a friend suggested Trello to manage small personal project. I had been using gmail tasks, wundlerlist, then google keep, and nothing was working for me. They were easy to ignore, and they seem to pile up with not end in sight. I was instantly hooked. The ability to drag an item from one area into another made total sense to me. I could visualize where I was, and how far I had to go. Sections of the website build had their own checklists and I could label them to clarify what chunk needed design, markup, styling, and javascript functionality. I could move them accross stages, from conception to implementation, to review, to complete.

I started using it to track clients through the on-boarding progress, and Basecamp became this extra thing I had to do for other people. Except they were struggling to utilize it as well. Adoption had been slow, instead of speed up our processes it created an extra chore. So I quit using it all together.

Being inspired by the Scrum method, I organized my department into two Trello boards. One for day to day needs, and one for client on-boarding. They basically work the same. Each board has lists, the lists have cards- projects, tasks etc. In Scrum you have a backlog, a current set of tasks, tasks that’s you’re currently working on, a review stage, and a completion. Projects are broken into smaller sections and those get completed by individuals before being re-implemented into the project whole. It’s easy to see why this strategy is so popular with software developers. A program has features, and individuals or teams can focus on one section, and enough features becomes a whole program. It’s great, it makes perfect sense. This form of Agile development also have what are called “scrum masters” or project managers to over see the big picture.

Well we don’t have a big picture to focus on, we don’t ship a single unifying product. We ship smaller products, and we do them in mass bulk. So I changed it slightly to suit our needs. We have a queue to work from. Tasks get broken down into priority - backlog, normal, and immediate. I might divvy up tasks in the queue, but for the most part we work from top to bottom, moving them from task status, to review. Once a client has reviewed it, the account administrators can move it to the completed status or back into the queue. From there I’ll archive the items, and this helps me track our progress and work load.

This process single handedly tripled our efficiency. I never get emails anymore, and tasks never get lost, buried under new ones. We’re no longer filling out endless checklists. We’re happier, more productive, and I can even work remotely from time to time without worrying about a landslide of problems when I get back into the office. I’m primarily a designer, and being able to visualize problems and break them down is crucial to how I problem solve.

For about two months, we trudged along with two different pieces of software - My coworkers immediately took to using trello, and when someone had a graphics or code problem they’d put it in my department queue. Everyone else continued with Basecamp. They seemed content, although in meetings it was pretty obvious that we weren’t working to our full potential. We paid for a full year, we weren’t going to just through it away. But that year is almost over, and I wanted us to all get on the same page, so I started researching Project management software again. There were a lot of newcomers, but in the end I just wanted one that did what Trello already did. Plus it’s free, for the basic account, which is plenty for the majority of our employees. Transferring solely to Trello would not only save us money on software subscription costs, but cut down on our labor costs as well.

I sat down with people from each of the departments and asked them about their workflow. Where were we having bottlenecks? Where were they getting frustrated? I then designed a similar scrum inspired Trello board. Account admins get a video from the client, they put the card in trello. The video editor fully edits the video, and moves the card along to the copywriter section so they know what articles need written. Those move on to the assistants, who plug everything into an email, and social media posts. The client approves, the task gets moved to completed. We sometimes send out up to 800 of these projects a month, using checklists to move through these has got to be killing us.

It was pretty easy to convince the COO to approve of the transition and starting next month we’ll begin a full transfer. Yeah, Happy ending!

Next time you’re starting on a project, just try this out:

  • Break the project into individual parts.
  • Determine the priority each item.
  • Organize all the dependencies that you’ll need to complete the task.
  • Create a Trello board, and for each step to completion make a list. Create the cards, with a title, description, checklist, Files needed, and if needed - a due date. Assign personnel if you’re on a team.
  • Get to it. Remember that the review stage is very important. It keeps us from glossing over any potential issues.
  • Once it looks good, move that task to complete. Oh that sweet sweet joy.

It sounds simple, because it is. That’s the beauty of Trello, it’s elegant simplicity. Being able to visualize the bigger picture is quintessential to being efficient. You have to see the forest to know what condition it’s in, not the proverbial tree. Plus hey Trello is free. If you refer it to someone, they’ll give you a paid month.

No subscription required.