Big Project, Many Tasks – How to Stay Sane

You know the project. The one with so many steps – to do at different times – by different people. Oh, and while you’re working on it, you always discover new things that need to be done. It’s enough to make you wonder if the project is even possible.

One missionary friend tells me he’s often asked about his 10-year or 5-year plan, but he has none. His “plan” is simply to follow God’s direction and do whatever He asks. With a strategy like that, the tools we use must offer organization that stays flexible.

Today I’ll share the free tool that we’re using at Edify Hub to keep the team straight yet flexible with our website builder project.

Years ago, I would define milestones, itemize steps, estimate durations, assign responsibilities, draw out Gantt charts, and create a beautiful plan. Printed on a ream of paper (or what felt like one, anyway) and taped together into a giant poster, this plan would adorn a wall and align the team. Then, halfway through the project, we’d learn something that changed most of what we thought we knew, and it was time to start over.

I don’t use Gantt charts any more.

What do I use?

Last Weekend's Trello Board
Last Weekend’s Trello Board

Last weekend, we were finally able to invite the second round of missionaries to the “closed beta” of Edify Hub’s missionary website builder. This offers a select group of people early access to create their own missionary websites. As you can imagine, getting past this milestone included a dizzying number of tasks to perform, problems to fix, and things to check.

And that’s just to get past the “closed beta” milestone. We still have a number of milestones left before we’re ready to open the floodgates.

How do we keep track of everything? A free online tool called Trello.

Imagine a stack of index cards and a giant bulletin board divided into columns. Each column on the board represents a category that a task might fit in. Some categories might represent a milestone in the project. Some categories will represent the state of work in progress. We’ll explore these category columns more a bit later.

Whenever you think of a task that needs to be done, pick up a card and write a short description. On the back side of the card, write as much information as you need to for someone to understand what needs to be done. Then, pin the card on the board in the column for that task’s category. Place the cards that need to be done soonest on top, and the cards that can be done later down towards the bottom.

At any time, someone on the project can look at the board and know exactly what needs to be done next to move the project forward.

Our Categories

On the Trello board we’re using for Edify Hub software development, we currently have four columns that represent milestones, and three columns for work status.

Milestones:

  • Required For Closed Beta (Things that had to be done before we could invite new missionaries to use the website builder.)
  • Required For Open Beta (Things that still need to be done before we can let missionaries invite other missionaries)
  • Backlog (Things that need to be done eventually)
  • Future Features (Rough ideas of things we may or may not build “some day”)

Work Status:

  • Active (Someone’s currently working on the task)
  • Waiting For Push (Development and testing is complete, but it hasn’t been promoted to the official web server)
  • Done

As soon as someone starts working on a task, they move the card from the milestone category to the “Active” category. And as work progresses, the card moves to the various columns of the Work Status until it’s “Done.”

How Can I Use This For Ministry?

Trello works well for many kinds of projects that have multiple tasks that work together to accomplish multiple milestones. Using our categories as inspiration, think about what milestones and statuses you have with one of your current projects

You can also be creative. A card can also represent something other than a task. For example, some ministries may have an outreach pipeline that tracks potential members through various stages of invitation and growth. Each card could be a contact. Each column could represent either a touchpoint or a growth stage for that contact. Consider columns such as these:

  • Awaiting Phone Call
  • Awaiting Visit
  • Awaiting Sunday School Enrollment
  • Awaiting Salvation
  • Awaiting Baptism
  • Awaiting Church Membership
  • Awaiting Discipleship
  • Awaiting Leadership

How Easy Is It?

The simplicity of the tool is what gives it its power.

To add a card to a column, click “Add Card” and type a quick summary. To add details or see them later, just click the card.

When priorities change (as they often do) or a task gets completed, just click and drag a card to move it wherever it needs to go. All of the other cards automatically move out of its way. A real bulletin board can’t do that.

If you’re really organized, you can even add color coded labels to each card, and track who is assigned to each one. You can even attach pictures or documents if you need a lot of detail.

I don’t miss the days of the taped-together Gantt chart on the wall. With today’s free technology, our whole team can stay on top of our plans no matter how often they change.

Take Action

With your next project, take 15 minutes to see if Trello will help you stay organized.

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