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May 31

Run multiple projects in Trello. Bird’s eye view and timeline included

Trello Project Portfolio Management

Trello PPM – how to get a panorama of your projects – Trello boards? Jump to a sustainable solution

One Trello community member describes a dream ‘dashboard’ for managing multiple projects in Trello: Ideally, it would just be a collapsible tree where the boards can be dragged around as needed, and would be especially useful if you could create board links to put within that tree (so the same board can exist in multiple branches). We would add a timeline and task dependencies to that wish list. Before we discover that ‘Trello portfolio management’ is finally a reality (and how), let’s first make a quick round‑up of earlier solutions.

Why is plain Trello not that great for managing multiple projects?

Trello’s staple—the Kanban ‘To do – In progress – Done’ board—was developed for small entities such as an advertising agency, a wedding consultant or a 3-person sales team, that run a single project at a time. Once you’ve grown up to the ‘Several teams run multiple projects at a time’ model you might have realized that ‘Left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing’ is actually true. Not only teams have no tool to align their efforts, but the project manager sees no big picture (panorama, progress) of the entire portfolio of projects. How could he possibly report to the management?

There are options, though. Google ‘Trello multiple projects’ key phrase and you’ll discover a couple of workable solutions. Let’s browse through them (and criticize them) briefly, before we pass on to the true Trello portfolio management solution.

Early ideas on how to manage multiple projects in Trello

(1) Trello officially recommended Unito Power-Up

How does Unito work? With the Power-Up installed, a centralized board receives updates from the project boards on which teams work. And vice versa: the ‘master’ board can dispatch errands to the teams, too. Say, the Project manager delegates a ‘Get ready for a trade fair’ card to the marketing team. The task is now visible both on the manager’s and the team’s board and the two cards keep in sync. Once the Marketing department has checked the task ‘Done’, the project manager will have this fact reflected in his master board. So far, so good.

Trello’s golden rule reads: keep boards to the size of your monitor screen. According to this rule, a board becomes inoperable, once you need to scroll too much, either horizontally or vertically. Have you already realized what’s the issue with Unito’s approach? Remember we’re talking about ‘portfolios of projects’ here and we’ve seen clients having 50k tasks per portfolio.

(2) This one is popular throughout blogs: maintain several ‘To Do’ boards plus a single ‘In progress’ board

In this approach, teams begin with throwing ideas and ‘to do’ tasks into their respective project Trello boards. You could have as well named these boards ‘Feature X backlog’, ‘Product Y backlog’, ‘Event Z backlog’, etc. Once a task finally advances from a team’s backlog to the ‘In progress’ status, it gets moved to the centralized ‘development/In progress’ board. Not only the teams can align—everyone knows what’s on each other’s table. The PMO, or project manager, can observe the progress of such a portfolio pretty efficiently, and is able to report to the CEO. The ‘development’ board could cover, for instance, a 3-week agile iteration, or the month of June.

What’s the issue with this approach? Few parties of 50 or more can skip planning months in advance, the feature absent from this approach. Milestones or deadlines scheduled for September would, in an agile-at-scale environment, be positioned in the pipeline/on the timeline in May or June. Obviously, the further into the future the more often you’ll want to schedule high-level tasks, such as epics, features, or stories instead of tiny, ‘regular tasks’. This is where another solution tries to enter the game: Epic Cards for Trello.

(3) Epic Cards for Trello

This free Power-Up adds the fourth layer of hierarchy on top of Trello’s native three-level ‘Board – Card – Item List’ stack. Once you’ve installed the Epic Cards, you can throw, say, 12 tasks into a single Epic container. You can also track the progress bar of the whole epic. Epics Cards truly bring Trello closer to the professional tree-like Work Breakdown Structure software, old hands would typically use. But unfortunately, even when using Epic Cards, you restrict yourself to the extremely agile Trello environment. Could it possibly be a bad thing?

Multiple projects vs. being fully agile

One thing you’ll notice is that the further you scale up in Trello, the more difficult it gets to be 100% agile. What we typically see in large organizations, that we visit for BigPicture training sessions, is that: (a) they work waterfall- rather than agile-style on top management levels (hybrid project management), (b) they use Jira rather than Trello in the first place. Since BigPicture is available for both Trello and Jira, we are part of both worlds. Back to the point: how to effectively manage multiple projects in Trello? Google ‘trello ppm’, or ‘Trello Project Portfolio Management’ for the answer. Here it is…

How to do true Project Portfolio Management in Trello?

Trello multiple projects on single Gantt chart

Several Trello projects (boards) were aggregated in this single BigPicture Gantt chart.

Get some decent Gantt chart Power-Up – one that can represent several project boards on a single timeline. So yes, slice your portfolio into multiple Trello boards, one project per board.

Now add BigPicture Power-Up to your Trello. It’s O.K. to add BigPicture to just one of your Trello boards, and even then you’ll be able to observe all the boards on the Gantt chart.

Now you get the precious bird’s eye view on the whole portfolio. Since the Gantt chart is a timeline-based tool, your Trello tasks receive the crucial ‘Start date’, in addition to Trello’s standard ‘Due date’, preventing teams from being confused about what to do when.

Once the high-level epics and stories have been scheduled on the Gantt chart over, say, the coming year, teams are free to plan their agile iterations in an agile manner, in their boards. But, they have to be aware of the milestones and deadlines set by the product or project manager on the Gantt chart.

How you aggregate multiple Trello boards in a single Gantt chart?

BigPicture Config > Scope definition > Boards (more in docs)

Add as many boards-projects to the scope of your Gantt chart, as you wish. Note in the below screenshot, that this portfolio (a.k.a. program) of three projects has 1111 tasks-Trello cards.


Multiple Trello projects scope


About The Author

With his automotive background Marcin goes beyond the 'Jira + software development' standard. He likes simple, up-to-five-sentence answers to complex questions.