I’m not a particularly organised person. I forget things, misplace things and often take on more things than I can actually reasonably handle. I’m not exceptional in that regard, in fact I think I’m fairly typical, and until I went into middle leadership living like that was absolutely fine. Sure, bits and pieces got left behind here and there, but life seemed to tick along. Since I’ve had to manage other people though, what I’ve found is that there’s a kind of negative multiplier effect – if I am organised for say 90% of things (optimistically) and each member of my department is too, the missing 10% tends to be the thing that gets emphasised. We multiply my 90% by their 90% and get 81% efficiency for me and one member of the team, 73% if you have two members of the team etc. Not sure if that makes sense but I hope you get the point: poor organisation is negatively reinforcing – it gets worse the more people you have involved.

Last year when Carousel started, I was introduced to a program called Trello. Without getting into the philosophy of kanban and agile software development, let’s just say it has quite literally changed my life. My organisation and the organisation of my department have shot through the roof. Deadlines are hit, nothing is forgotten and – broadly – everything is running way smoother than it did last year both for me personally and for the whole department.

So, what is it?

Trello is basically a big board where you can put post-it notes, but the post-it notes are much smarter than just a bit of paper with some glue. The notes are called cards and can carry conversations, checklists, videos, pictures – pretty much anything.

Our departmental Trello looks a bit like this:

Just cast your eyes over it, because at first it can look a bit confusing. In reality it is anything but.

The columns are called lists. The first list is “to discuss whole group” and includes all the things we need to talk about. We have a departmental meeting every week which is where we discuss these cards. Each week before the meeting I order the cards by importance, so we discuss the most pressing things first. It’s really important to note that any member of the team can add a card here. If someone wants to discuss something in a meeting they don’t need to email me to ask or hope that there is time left over, they just add a card to that list. This means that I don’t own the departmental agenda. I might have a role in prioritisation, but everyone has ownership over charting our course.

A card in the first list might look like this:

If you look carefully you can see there is a little picture of an eye at the top of the list. This means I am “watching” it and anytime anybody adds a card to the list I get a notification, which is really helpful for me when prioritising department tasks. You can also see a little orange bell on the “Super F” card – this tells me someone has left a comment or done something to that card and is a very easy way to attend to changes and updates.

Pretty straightforward so far. You can see that the first card in this list though is to review everything from the “Action Required” list. Once we have discussed something in the meeting, there will normally be some kind of action. I write up exactly what needs to get done and move the card to the action required list. A typical card here might look like:

If everybody has performed their actions and we’ve quickly discussed if any further action is needed, the card gets moved to the “resolved” list, where it serves as a reference and a record.

Hopefully, you can already see what a thing of beauty this is. You can write a checklist and slowly work through it over time. You can assign tasks to specific members of the team. You can set a deadline which means that people get a notification as it approaches. You can give as much information as you like and there is a section underneath where people can comment and have a conversation (featuring tagging too, so you can bring things to specific people’s attention).

We now have boards for all sorts of stuff. We have one for departmental behaviour referrals, for feedback on modelling videos and for various long term projects like booklet production and improvement. I also use one for giving action steps to my NQTs:

Where an action step might look like the below, following all my observation notes:

(For more about how I write action steps see here)
(For more about how I write action steps see here)

If the action step gets completed, it moves to the achieved column, which means that over time the NQT starts to see just how much they have accomplished over time.

Trello has a tendency to take over your life, and I now have Trello boards for loads of different areas of my life where I need to stay on top of things – and it works an absolute treat.

So there you have it: Trello. You may already be totally on top of everything you need to be on top of, but if you’re anything like me taking a program like Trello seriously can be a game-changer. If you’re interested in using it, then you can click here and the lovely people at Trello will give me access to premium stuff.