- Easy to use
- Cheap monthly cost
- No learning curve
- Rudimentary feature set
- Not suitable for large businesses
In a world inundated with social media (from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and Snapchat), comes a project management application clearly gaining inspiration from these social platforms: Trello. The first time I opened up Trello, I thought, “why am I looking at a Pinterest board?” Indeed, the resemblance between Trello and Pinterest is a little uncanny, from the asymmetrical layout of rectangular boxes to the fact that different projects are called “boards.” Obviously, the comparison breaks down eventually, but it is clear that Trello is a product of the social media generation.
Trello is a fairly young platform, launching as recently as 2012. Originally developed by Frog Creek Software, Trello spun off into its own company, Trello Inc., in 2014. Since then, Trello has expanded dramatically, with nearly five million users and locations in Brazil, Germany, and Spain. At the helm of the ascending company is CEO Michael Pryor, accompanied by Trello’s beloved doggy mascot, Taco the Husky (and yes, Taco does merit his own Twitter feed).
Table of Contents
Web-Based (SaaS) Or On-Premise
Trello is web-based software. It is supported in the latest versions of Chrome and Firefox, as well as Safari 6+ and Internet Explorer 10+.
Wherever you look on Trello’s website, you’ll find the statement “free forever.” And that is true…mostly. There is a free version that contains many of Trello’s best features. However, if you want “extra bits of fun and functionality,” you’ll have to pony up. Personally, I don’t love it when a software claims to be “free” only to admit that, yes, you will have to pay if you want more features. Having said that, let’s see exactly what the various subscriptions get you with Trello.
- Unlimited boards, lists, cards, members, checklists, and attachments.
- Basic power-ups
- Basic integrations with Drive, Box, and Dropbox
- File attachments up to 10 MB
- $9.99/user/month (when paid annually)
- Integrations with Evernote, Github, Google Hangouts, MailChimp, Salesforce, Slack, Google Drive, Dropbox, and more.
- File attachments up to 250 MB.
- Group and organize all of your team’s boards with Collections.
- Maintain control with immediate, one-click access removal for former members.
- Stay secure by controlling who can create public or private boards.
- Keep company information private with restricted membership invitations.
- Add personality with custom board backgrounds and stickers.
- Priority email support with a human being and a guaranteed 1 day response time during business hours.
- $20.83/user/month (when paid annually)
- All of the robust features of Trello Business Class.
- Onboarding with Single Sign-On (SAML 2.0 service) means seamless access for your entire team.
- Enable 2-Factor Authentication to keep all work data secure.
- Stay connected with a dedicated Account Executive to streamline training and enhance productivity.
- Receive personalized onboarding assistance to aid in adoption, migration, and execution of all materials.
- Get answers quickly with priority email and phone support with responses in less than 1 business day, guaranteed.
- Be informed with comprehensive legal contract review and enhanced SLA.
- File encryption at rest.
- Intrusion detection with enhanced software monitoring.
- Custom security review for record of usage documentation.
Trello accepts payment in US currency from credit cards only. Customers who choose monthly subscriptions are automatically billed on the first business day of each month, while yearly subscribers are billed each year on the anniversary of their initial subscription. Paid plans may be canceled at any time, and Trello offers full refunds to users who cancel their accounts within 90 days of signing up. Additionally, users who recommend Trello to other people receive a free month of Trello Gold, providing the other party ends up subscribing to the software.
Trello also offers what they call “Smart Billing,” where they only charge you for your active users. If an employee no longer needs Trello’s services, they will credit your account for the unused time.
Note: Even though Trello is an online service, it is considered taxable in certain states. Tax-exempt organizations may email their tax-exempt certificate directly to Trello and charges will be adjusted accordingly.
Ease Of Use
Trello’s simple, visually-appealing UI makes it incredibly easy to use; there is almost no learning curve involved. A mere five minutes after I signed up I was able to navigate the software quickly, creating cards and boards like a pro. Some of Trello’s most intuitive, user-friendly, and time-saving features include:
- Sign-Up: As I mentioned above, signing up for a new Trello account is quite painless. A new user need only go to the software’s homepage, click the button that says “Sign Up – It’s Free,” and input their name and email address. You can even just use your Google account. Access to new accounts is almost instantaneous, and work can be started right away.
- Home Page: Trello recently debuted this new page — it gathers information from all of your boards and displays the most important items (like upcoming due dates) for your easy convenience. Like the dashboard, homepage, or similar view on so many other sites, Trello’s version is a great place to go to get the general pulse of your projects before diving into specific tasks.
- Apps & Mobile Access: For those of you who like to work on the go, Trello is supported in most mobile browsers, including Safari on iOS 8, the Android 4.0+ browser, and Internet Explorer 10 on Windows Phone 8. There are also free native apps available for the iPhone and iPad, as well as Android devices.
- Email Integration: Users can create new cards on a board by writing or forwarding an email to their Trello account, and the process is simple. The subject line of the email becomes the card’s title and the body of the email becomes the card’s description. Any files attached to the email will also be automatically added to the card. There are even ways to assign labels and/or add members to the new card via email.
- Notifications: Notifications in Trello are pretty straightforward. By default, users always receive notifications about recent card activity (i.e. new comments, changes, and additions) and any upcoming due dates. Users also get automatically notified if they are mentioned in a comment or checklist item, are added to a card, board, or organization, or are made an admin-level user. When notifications are received, a bell-shaped button in the top right corner of the screen turns bright red. If you do not choose to click on the red bell and view your notifications as they pop up on your screen, you will later receive a default email that contains all unread communications. Happily, users can even control the frequency of these email notifications or opt out of them all together.
- Labels: Labeling cards allows for better organization and visual appeal. Trello allows you to label your cards with custom names and/or colors (there are ten different color options). Each card can be given multiple labels.
- Due Dates: In keeping with the visual focus of this software, Trello has come up with a unique way for users to see at a glance — via color-coded badges — which tasks are due, due soon, or overdue. Cards with a light gray badge are due more than 24 hours in the future, while yellow badges signify that the card is within 24 hours of its due date. A card with a bright red badge is currently due, and overdue cards are marked with a dark gray badge. If you happen to have set up the calendar power-up, you can also see all of your cards with their due dates in a calendar view.
- Keyboard Shortcuts: Trello has shortcuts for everything from opening, editing, and navigating cards to voting, creating new labels, and more.
- Power-Ups: Power-Ups allow users to enhance the functionality of their boards with card aging and voting features. Card aging is a particularly interesting power-up, intended to visually highlight cards which haven’t experienced any recent activity. When card aging is enabled, inactive cards begin to either slowly fade away or — if the power-up is in Pirate Mode (!) — yellow, fade, and crack like an old treasure map. The voting power-up, also an unusual but fun extra, allows board members to vote on cards. It is a feature that can be used to “help establish priorities in projects” or just for fun.
- Calendars: Each board also has an optional calendar power-up that allows users to see their cards, complete with due dates, in a calendar view. With this calendar power-up, users can switch between week and month modes, drag and drop cards between calendar days to alter due dates, or expand the size of the calendar days “for a roomier display of cards.” It is also possible to import these feeds into external 3rd party calendars, so if you need or want to view all of your board’s cards in one place you can simply import multiple iCal feeds and combine them into a single view on your external calendar.
Customer Service & Support
- Email Support: Trello provides email support (via firstname.lastname@example.org) to all users during normal business hours (Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM EST). Most of the support offered is in English only, though the company does offer limited support for German and French, and in some circumstances will “use Google Translate to help provide support in other languages as well.”
- Articles/Tutorials: There are a number of written tutorials and articles on the Trello support page that help explain the software’s basic concepts and allow users to troubleshoot specific problems; most are accompanied by screenshots and/or step-by-step instructions. I found all of the articles to be well-written, thorough, and helpful.
- Social Media Engagement: Trello has a Facebook page that contains press releases, articles, announcements, and the like. Customers seem to use the Facebook platform to ask simple questions and are usually answered quickly. The Trello Twitter feed serves a similar function and is complete with articles, updates, fun/innovative suggestions about how to use cards, etc.
- Feature Requests: The company actually uses one of its own Trello boards to let users vote for (or propose) new feature ideas and implementations, and see firsthand how features-in-progress are developing.
- Trello Blog: The company blog is well-designed and well-written and seems to be updated with admirable frequency.
When I first started looking at Trello’s support page, I have to admit, I was surprised and a little annoyed that there was only one help video to be found. After clicking around a little, though, I found that I actually quite liked the print-only help guides. I found them well thought out and liked the fact that I didn’t have to continually pause a video to check back with the program. I could read, look through the screenshots, and then head back to try out what I had learned.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
Trello is generally well-liked by its users, but some have pointed out a few downsides to this software, including:
- Overly Basic Design: Trello is excellent at what it does — organization of ideas and broad task/project management — but it is not well suited for advanced project management purposes. There are no reporting features, time-tracking tools, or resource management features. Some people will love this part of Trello, while others will find the limitations irritating.
- Hidden Details: Trello keeps its UI clean and neat by relegating details (like due dates, participants, descriptions, file attachments, etc.) to the ‘back’ of each card. Users must click on individual cards in order to see more about them. The problem with this method of organization is that information tends to get hidden and/or forgotten, and some users complain that it is hard for them to keep track of all their work or get a good overview of everything that is going on.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
Users are most enthusiastic about these Trello features:
- Free Subscriptions: In its most basic form, Trello is completely free and requires no risk or obligation on the part of the user. But even the paid plans, which offer a bit more functionality, are quite reasonably priced (at $5/user/month).
- No Learning Curve: Trello is so easy to use that is it accessible to anyone with even the most basic computer skills. If you can read, open a browser, and manipulate a mouse, then Trello is well within your reach.
- Visually-Pleasing User Interface: Trello is designed to be easy on the eyes, and organizes information in a way that is visually appealing and simple to understand. Like I said at the beginning, it looks like Pinterest!
- Collaborative Features: Multiple users can work together on a Trello board. It is even possible to bring in outside collaborators at any time simply by emailing them an invitation to join your organization or sending them a link to a board.
- Many Languages: When we last reviewed Trello, it was only available in English. Since then there has been a language explosion at the Trello offices! This program is now available in Portuguese, French, Spanish, German, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Czech, Dutch, Italian, Turkish, Thai, Japanese, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, and Vietnamese, as well as English.
Trello is about as straightforward as it gets. The premise of the software is simple: members belong to boards (projects) which are populated with cards (tasks/subtasks). But as simple as Trello is, it comes with a surprising number of interesting and practical features:
- User Types/Permissions: It is possible to create three different types of users in Trello: normal users, observer-level users (only available with a subscription to Trello Business Class), and virtual users. The majority of account members will have normal user status. Observers, as the name would suggest, are limited to read-only access. Virtual users are those who have been invited to join a board but who haven’t officially confirmed their account. In addition, users can be assigned different permissions. Board admins, for example, have the power to change anything on a board. And some users are only granted access to one board, while other users have organization member status, which means they can potentially see all boards across an entire organization.
- Organizations: In Trello, organizations help to group different people and boards together “to make sharing and collaborating even easier.” It’s not hard to add new users to an organization, and Business Class subscribers can actually link their Google Apps accounts to Trello and transfer everyone from their company into a Trello organization. Organizations can be made public or kept private. Private organizations do not show up on a user’s profile. Public organizations, on the other hand, have a public profile that allows outsiders and visitors to see important details (like the names of members and a list of any public boards).
- Boards: While Trello boards can have varied uses and signify different things, it is best to think of them as representing projects or products that are continuously changing and developing. Each board is made up of one or more lists (which are in turn made up of individual cards) that “represent a collection of ideas, things to remember, or different stages of a workflow.” There is no limit to the number of lists which may be added to any one board.
- Cards: As the most basic components of Trello, cards can be used to represent anything from tasks/new features to legal cases, customer support issues, or story leads. Cards can also represent clients or potential employees. The folks at Trello are pretty invested in the 3×5 card metaphor, so to view card details like subtasks, attached files, due dates, etc., users must turn the card over to look at the ‘back’. In true kanban fashion, individual cards may be shuffled from one list to another “to indicate progression.” In a recent update, Cards can be set to “recurring,” so you can save some time when creating tasks for routine operations.
- Checklists: Checklists are used to keep tabs on different subtasks within a card. Each card can have multiple checklists. Conveniently, if a card is starting to become a little overwhelmed with subtasks, users can simply turn one or more of the checklist items into a new card.
- Activity Feed: Located just below the main menu on the right-hand side of the UI, the activity feed is a running list of all changes made to the board. This includes all card creation, moving of cards from list to list, and all comments made on any part of the board.
- Copying/Templates: It is possible to copy almost any work item in Trello and essentially re-use existing boards, lists, cards, and checklists. After copying the work item, users are given the option to rename the newly created card/board/list/checklist and may also choose what other details to keep (members, due dates, etc.). Because it is so easy to make copies, users could potentially generate any number of reusable custom templates.
- Attachments: Users can add an unlimited number of attachments to their Trello cards, either from computer hard drives, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, or Any Link. While attachments from a user’s computer are actually copied into Trello, documents attached from file storage programs “simply link back to the document in its respective location.” In general, when attaching files from a computer hard drive, there is a 10 MB file upload limit per attachment, though Business Class and Gold members can upload up to 250 MB per file. One feature I really appreciate is that if you happen to attach an image file to a card, Trello automatically places the image (known as a ‘card cover’) on both the front of the card and in the header of ‘back’ of the card. This makes it easier to quickly identify cards. It’s also possible to preview Trello attachments without actually having to download them simply by clicking on the attachment thumbnail, which I find handy.
- Exports/Imports: The free version of Trello only allows data to be exported in JSON format, but with Trello Business Class you can export all of an organization’s boards in JSON and/or CSV format. Unfortunately, Trello doesn’t provide a generic import tool, but users can transfer data into Trello via basic copy/paste techniques, the Trello API, or a Zapier integration.
- Markdown: To allow for text formatting to a card’s description, checklists, and/or comments, Trello uses a modified version of something called Markdown syntax. Markdown lets users add italics, bold, paragraphs, lists, links, headers, images, and code blocks to blocks of texts.
- Customization: Users may select from six different colors to customize the backgrounds of their Trello boards. In addition, subscribers to Trello Gold and Trello Business Class can choose from a variety of photos and patterns or upload custom background images.
- Stickers: An unnecessary but somewhat whimsical feature, stickers are a “simple yet fun way to add visual flair to your Trello cards.” They can be used for practical purposes — to indicate the status of a card, for example — or just for kicks and giggles. Users with paid subscriptions are able to upload custom stickers if they so choose.
Integrations & Add-Ons
Trello may be integrated with several 3rd party apps, including:
- Sunrise Calendar App: The Sunrise app “seamlessly” integrates with Trello, allowing users to view all personal cards and boards on the same calendar. Unlike regular iCal feeds, Sunrise is integrated via Trello’s own API (see below) so it requires much less set-up and maintenance.
- Google Drive
- Google Hangouts
Trello also provides a RESTful web API.
Trello, Inc. protects users in the following ways:
- Full compliance with the EU Data Protection Directive through Safe Harbor certification.
- Restricted database servers.
- Use of Transport Layer Security/Secure Sockets Layer (TLS/SSL) protocol.
- Credit card transactions processed via a 3rd-party, industry-accepted Payment Gateway.
- Hourly data backups and additional data storage at an off-site location in case of disaster.
You may obtain more detailed information about Trello’s security protocols upon request.
Trello is simple. Trello is cute. Trello is a breeze to learn and implement. Trello allows for unlimited boards and users for free. If all you need from your project management software are those things, I don’t know a single reason not to give Trello a try. Sure, there are no budgeting tools, no timer app, no advanced resource allocation or Gantt chart views. The thing is, Trello is not trying to be a program to fill those needs. And if you want to be greeted by Trello’s brilliant interface and have access to those more advanced features, there is an open API so you can design your own integrations.
Trello makes everything easy on you. If you are in the market for task management tools, I recommend giving it a go. You may find that the cutesy layout and stickers aren’t your cup of tea. On the other hand, you might find that being able to put a smiley face, checkmark, or husky dog sticker on your teams’ boards and cards perfectly fits your company culture. Most likely, if you feel these things are or aren’t for you, you already know whether you want Trello or not. If these things get you a little excited, then Trello has accomplished the company’s goal already.
To learn more about how we score our reviews, see our Project Management Software Rating Criteria.