Project management and how we use Trello at CPUsage

Like many companies, CPUsage started with just 2 guys pounding the keyboards in our home offices late at night. Staying in touch via instant messenger worked fine for a while, but as we added a third team member, then a fourth, then customers, we realized that we needed more organization around project management.

We’ve tried every project management or organizational tool in the book. Basecamp, OneNote, Zoho, Interstate, Google Docs, and many more. However, we had two big problems. First, we didn’t all actively use the tool of the day. Sometimes it was because the tool was heavy and confusing, other times it was because they didn’t have the features we needed. Commonly, someone on the team didn’t take the time to use it, making the entire exercise useless for the rest of us. So I kept looking for new tools and otherwise encouraging the team to start using something….anything!

That is when someone mentioned Trello to us, and it changed our world! It is the only tool that everyone on the CPUsage team uses and loves. And, it is free! Trello is described by its creator as a collaboration tool to organize anything. Simple description for a simple product.

Trello uses the concept of boards, lists, and cards. All new users start out with a single board that has 3 lists:  To-Do, Doing, Done. The idea is to create cards for specific tasks, starting them in the appropriate list and moving the cards through as a task has completed the process. Here is what the default board looks like after sign up:

List and board names can be changed. Many lists can be added to a board, and many more boards can be created. We started with just one board at CPUsage and kept things basic. However, the intuiative and simple design of Trello had us creating more boards and now, essentially running our company on the product. I hope they have a good data backup strategy!

Here are the boards we use at CPUsage and how we use them.

Sprints

This is our main board at CPUsage, it controls all of our engineering efforts. If you are not a software engineer, the term sprint comes from a product development concept called agile/scrum. The idea is to break large projects into small tasks that are completed during development cycles that typically run 1 or 2 weeks. Basically, engineers are “running” many short sprints, rather than one long marathon.

The lists in this board are (from left to right): Pending, In Development, Done, In Test, In Beta, In Prod. When it is decided that we should add a new feature, a card is created in the Pending list. EVERYTHING starts in Pending. Most new cards are created by our CTO and many happen during our weekly team meeting as we discuss the coming week. When an engineer starts working on a task, the card is moved into In Development. When the code is done, it goes into Done and then through our testing process which includes 2 different environments (test & beta) before it goes into production.

This board is powerful because anyone on the team can glance at it and know a few things: who is doing what, what needs to be done, and how far we have come over a period of time.

Customer Pipeline

This is an equally, if not more important board and as the CEO of a small company, I live here. This board allows us to know who on our team is talking to which potential customers, and where they are in the sales cycle. The lists are (again, from left to right): Targets, First Contact Made, Engineering Meeting, In Test, On Hold, Contract Sent, Closed Successfully, Closed Unsuccessfully.

When anyone on the team becomes aware of a company that could be a customer of CPUsage, a card is created in the Target list. It is given a label (for product type) and a sales person (all 2 of us) will begin the process. When a company comes to us or when we meet someone at a conference, their card is created in the First Contact Made list.

This board is powerful because, like our sprint board, any employee can glance at it and know what progress we are making with customers and revenue. This is true transparency!

Other Boards

I’ll summarize the other boards we use. One of my favorites is our Product Development Concepts board. This is where we can document product ideas before we forget them. It allows team members to collaborate on the high level concept and eventually put the idea through the lists on that board which include researching market size and technical hurdles.

Another great board is our Employee Pipeline. Even if you are not hiring for a specific position, you are always recruiting (or should be). This board allows us to identify people we’d like to talk to, either about a specific job or a future opportunity. When resumes come into our generic email address, we scan them and place anyone interesting into the far left list of this board. Next time we have an open house at our office, we know who to invite. If that goes well, we set up a formal interview, and the person’s card is moved from let to right through the process, ending with a job offer and start date.

These are just some of the many uses of Trello. Check it out and give it a try, I think you’ll like it. I could embed a demo video below, but I know that after you watch it you’ll want to signup for Trello immediately, so I’ll just send you to their homepage right now. By the way, did I mention that Trello is totally free of charge, and ad free to boot? I know, awesome.

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