I had to research some options for project management software recently and one of the tools I came across was a free online project manager called Trello. Trello was developed by a New York City company called Fog Creek Software. I’m somewhat familiar with the company from reading the often-entertaining blog of its founder, Joel Spolsky. I’ve long known that the company had a different way of doing things than many software shops, especially in my experience. Fog Creek sums it up on their website:
“What if the programmers were treated like rock stars? What if management’s number one responsibility was recruiting extremely talented software people, treating them well, and then getting the heck out of the way while they did great work? At Fog Creek Software, management, not coding, is the support function. Management’s first responsibility is to create an abstraction layer for developers: to create the infrastructure so that programmers really just have to program …”
Wow, what a concept! So simple and yet so many companies find so many ways to screw it up and make programmers’ lives miserable.
Obviously whatever Fog Creek is doing is working for them because from what I’ve seen in the couple weeks I’ve been using it, Trello is an awesome product. The site is built around the concept of an online project board with user-defined lists of task cards. The site uses HTML5 to create a very user-friendly interface where both the lists and cards can be easily moved around by the user with just the swipe of a mouse.
An example of the main user screen for Trello.com.
The above screenshot shows a sample of my own Trello project board with a few custom lists of items in various stages of development. Off to the right, you can see the side bar that displays management settings for the board. The board actually exists within an organization created by default when the user signs up. This organization could represent anything from a company to a softball league and users can create additional organizations with separate groups of boards and task lists so you could maintain one set of boards for your startup company and another for school or family projects. Each organization can also hold multiple Trello users as members and tasks can be assigned to these members who can be granted various levels of access.
Each Trello card offers a variety of options for card content, due dates and member assignments. (Click for larger view.)
On the sample card shown above, you can see that each card on a list can be a project in itself with the ability to store photos and checklists, add comments and set due dates. This level of functionality within each card and the ability to arrange an unlimited number of cards, lists and even project boards as the user sees fit results in a very powerful tool for managing anything from a home project to a corporate reorganization.
The entire Trello session operates in HTTPS secure mode to protect the transfer of data and the site pledges to respect user privacy so Trello should be reasonably safe although I avoid putting anything sensitive on the web so I’d keep confidential project details offline. Another feature of the site enables users to download their project data in JSON format which is an alternative text format for highly structured data. This backup file could be restored in the event of the loss of your boards or imported to another program that supports JSON.
All in all, I am extremely impressed by Trello, especially for a free service and I recommend it highly. The Trello Business Class is also available which offers extra security and administration features.