Trello is a free task management app by Atlassian that may seem like it's mainly for personal use. Colorful, with little cards you slide around and "boards" that look like they belong in an elementary school classroom, the app has secret superpowers that make it a strong candidate for business use. As a project management tool, Trello is meant to help you communicate and organize information. It's versatile enough to help you manage your budget plans, team members' performance reviews, monthly goals and accounting. As an all-purpose project management app, Trello can keep tabs on just about every area of your business.
What's so powerful about Trello? In the modern age of complex spreadsheets on Google Docs, apps on our phones that ping us every five seconds, and the total chaos and confusion of social media, this is an app that looks simple and straightforward. It looks like just a few little cards and boards on the screen.Credit: Trello.com
The basic concept comes from a bulletin board you might attach to the wall in your break room. You might create boards for each team or department, or around areas of expertise. Some companies create boards for each major project. Within each board, there are columns of cards that contain each task. Even then, you have some flexibility. You can create cards that each contain checklists. Employees will love marking tasks as done, sliding cards around from one column to another, and closing finished projects.
Other than the clean visual approach, which beats some other task managers by a mile, Trello is just fun to use. Cards animate a little at an angle when you move them. You can add high-resolution photos to the background of boards to liven them up. Within each card, you can leave comments about that task, include links to docs and images, and collaborate in ways that even give the people behind Slack something to think about.
One powerful feature is the filtering. Let's say you create a board for team goals. You can mark all marketing goals in red and all accounting goals in yellow. If you filter for red or yellow, you can see only the goals related to your own team or projects.
Running your business
Now, task management is one thing, and filtering on labels is nothing new. We all have projects to mind and team members to manage. Trello is great if you need to design a new website or make a marketing brochure, since everything is clear and easy to use. But running an entire business? That might not seem possible, but here's the thing: Users don't like clutter, and they prefer to use one app to do as much as possible.
On their phones, if they use an accounting app, a collaboration app such as Convo or Slack, and are also dealing with social media and email, it's overwhelming. If the "serious" business work – what the employees actually need to do – is all run in one app, you will find people actually complete their tasks. Forget all of those spreadsheets you use. Load them all into Trello – budget tasks, goals, events, strategic plans or anything that has a due date – and you cut through a lot of the insanity of the modern workplace.Credit: Trello.com
Trello reduces clutter, but with some caveats. If you're talking about actual budget numbers you need to add up and generate charts for forecasting in your business, you'll need a different app. Also, the chat within each board is extremely handy but not as real-time as Slack. You wouldn't want to have a long team discussion for an hour using Trello. Use group texting or a messaging app for that.
There's no question Trello is an app in a crowded market of task and project managers. It's free to use; you only have to pay extra if you want to use upgrades that tie into other apps like Slack or generate reports and a calendar view. But Trello even competes with its own parent company. (Atlassian's Jira is more powerful, but it charges a fee for each user.)
If you're mainly trying to keep a list of tasks, other free apps like Google Keep will do the trick just fine, or one of hundreds of other simple task management apps designed mostly for mobile.
In our tests, Trello wasn't perfect. Some team members had a hard time understanding when to use checklists, cards or simple lists within a column of cards. That's a training issue, mostly. The app can handle just about any needle you have in a haystack. It's powerful enough to help manage the tasks for an entire business. [Interested in online project management software? Check out our best picks.]