Switching to Trello from Pivotal Tracker

July 16th, 2013 by Search Influence Alumni

We started using Pivotal Tracker over 2 years ago to track the status and progress of our first big software development project. As the lead developer, it fit perfectly into the workflow that I had envisioned for my fledgling department. I added user stories, gave them points and watched my velocity rise and rise as my two week iterations rolled by. I was showing value, being agile and I was generally happy with the progress of the project.

That project launched a few months later and it has been in use ever since. Then bug fixes and feature requests started to trickle in. And the development department grew. And after the success of the first, second, third, and fourth projects were added to the queue. It was obvious that Pivotal Tracker was going to need some additional tools to manage multiple projects and multiple developers across those projects. We looked into several add-ons, third party tools and even used a Google doc for a while, but nothing seemed to work quite how we wanted.

As we focused on one project, the iterations would still roll by on our inactive projects. It’s possible to change the “team strength” to 0% when you aren’t working on a project, but it is reset back to 100% every iteration, and an empty iteration is still recorded. This doesn’t look good and ruins the velocity estimates that Pivotal Tracker is so good for.

I first found Trello while looking for alternatives to Pivotal Tracker. My first reaction was that it’s too simple. Where do you put in points? Why do I have to manually move stories from the backlog to the current iteration? I ruled it out along with other more beautiful apps such as Asana and Trajectory.

The search was put on hold until I found a blog post by User Voice that describes exactly how they use Trello. I was blown away. First and foremost by the fact that a company would share this much information about it’s process. It has inspired me to be more open about how we develop software. Secondly, I was surprised to see them using it outside of the “one project is one board” paradigm. They use six boards to document, vet and prioritize new features and bugs. This really changed my view of how we could use Trello.

We don’t have one single software product called Search Influence. We have a conglomeration of many tools to help each department be as efficient as possible and still give our customers the individual attention they need. We needed a way to track each of these projects individually. Having a “Next Up” list like User Voice would be infeasible because we would have to prioritize cards across multiple projects. I would rather prioritize the projects themselves and give developers freedom to choose which they want to work on. This has worked well for us in the past and Trello is making it even easier.

Trello boards

We have one board with a card for each of our projects. It has lists for “Ideas,” “Research and preparation,” “Ready to begin,” “In Progress” and “Done”. Cards generally move left to right and “Done” really means “Done for now.” In the description of each card there is a link to a Google doc and its own Trello board. Developers assign cards to themselves from any list except “Ideas” and “Done.” I believe we will need a separate board for “Ideas” and “Research and preparation” in the near future from which the “Ready to begin” list will be populated, but for now all of our projects have been pretty well researched and we are working on some great features.

This is how we are currently doing things, but it’s a work in progress. All of our current projects are researched and ready to be worked on, but the next change will be to create a board strictly for planning. This will make it easier for other parts of the company to be involved in our roadmap. If you have any questions or use Trello in different way, make sure to comment. We’re excited about the changes going on at Search Influence.