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C2C Digital Magazine (Spring / Summer 2020)

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Trello for Project Management: Use Cases

By April Robbs, Ottawa University

Are you a project manager? Many academics may not consider themselves a project manager because they are not a supervisor or are not in a leadership role. On the contrary, a project manager is focused on “ramping up, executing, and closing out any endeavor undertaken to deliver a unique product, service, or result for the underlying purposes of adding value and driving change” (Stucklen, 2017, para. 5). This could include responsibilities like course development and revision, developing policy and procedures, planning and conducting faculty development, planning a conference or event, conducting course reviews, or managing LMS upgrades (Stucklen, 2017). 

There are a multitude of tools designed to help manage projects for a variety of budgets. One such tool is Trello, a collaborative board where you can organize tasks in a process using a system of lists and cards. Trello's free version provides enough functionality, so you may not need to pay. We will look at three use cases for managing: conference planning, a team’s course revision and development projects, and a collaborative repository of open educational resources.

Trello Basics

Before we look at use cases, it is helpful to understand the main components of Trello and how they work. Trello’s flexibility allows it to fit many different projects. 


The board is the visual display for a project. The board settings allow you to customize the background appearance, set how information on cards display at the board level, and add in colored labels to flag information on the board. Boards can be shared for public viewing with a link or privately using email addresses. Users must create a Trello account to make changes on a board.

Figure 1:  C2C's 2020 SIDLIT Planning Board (A Section) 



Figure 2:  A List as an Organizing Structure 

A list helps organize your information in columns by category. At the list level, cards show a condensed preview for the information they contain. Cards can be reordered within the list or moved to other lists. Lists can also be sorted by custom parameters. Users can “watch” a list to receive notifications on changes in the list.



Figure 3:  A Card with Content-Related Resources 

Cards contain the segments of information about your project. You can click on any card in a list to expand it. Each card has a field for title and description. Additional content can be added in the form of checklists and attachments (from file uploads, shared document links, or integrations with Google Drive). Cards can have labels added which add a colored flag that can contain optional text (when expanded). The colored labels show up when a card is collapsed.

The card also allows collaboration through text-based comments. Users can @mention another user to get their attention with a notification. Users can “watch” a card to receive notifications about activity on the card.

Managing Conference Planning

The Colleague 2 Colleague 2020 Steering Committee has been using Trello to plan this year’s SIDLIT conference. C2C has one board that is shared privately with the members of the Steering Committee. The board contains a list for each subcommittee with cards for the tasks for which they are responsible.

The comment function has been invaluable for the C2C Steering committee because it provides transparency, collaboration between subcommittees, and keeps the information organized.  To streamline communication, subcommittees have been providing monthly reports on their decisions and progress right in Trello. They can also mention appropriate members to ask questions, notify them of decisions, or to hand off a task. This keeps both leadership and other subcommittees abreast of what is happening across the Steering Committee. This has reduced the number of emails and video conferences needed to plan the event.

Figure 4:  C2C's SIDLIT 2020's Planning Board 

Managing Course Revision and Development

Ottawa University uses Trello to track course revisions and development assigned to instructional designers for each term. The board contains lists for each course that outline the required steps for revising or developing a course. The instructional designers copy a template list for each course they are assigned so they do not need to build the cards from scratch each time. 

Designers use labels to track their progress and to provide administration with a high-level view for the term.  Due dates can be used to keep the project on track. Designers also use the comment feature to ask for input from other instructional designers, or to request a peer-review of a completed course.  

Figure 5:  Course Development Lists (in Trello) 

Building an OER Repository

The Ottawa University Instructional Design and Academic Technology team maintains a repository of open educational resources and low-cost resources that can be used for online course material. The board contains lists for each program at the university that contain cards with content-related resources. The attachment option has been used to include a link to resources on the cards. 

Figure 6:  OER Trello Board 

The hope is this board would become a collaborative space where faculty can share what they are using in their classes. Labels have been set up so that faculty can quickly indicate resources they have used. The comment function can be used to provide anecdotal feedback about resources for their colleagues. The at this time collaborative element of this board has limited use, but the hope is it will be leveraged to increase the adoption of free and open resources university wide.

The Open Educational Resources or Low Cost Resources by Subject Trello board has been licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License so that other institutions can use this resource.


What is your next project? Put the sticky notes away and give Trello a try. It is an awesome tool for personal and professional use because it promotes collaboration, organization, and transparency. 


Stucklen, E. (2017, June 7). Insights from the field: The instructional designer as project manager.

What is Trello?

About the Author

April Robbs is an Instructional Designer and online adjunct at the Ottawa University, Overland Park Campus. She strives to promote professional collaboration with subject matter experts in course design in order to produce effective, well-designed courses. She uses Trello, Office 365m and SharePoint to manage instructional design projects. April serves as C2C’s Vice Chair and the Kansas Blackboard Users Group Communications Coordinator. 

Her email is  

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