How to use Trello for Scrum?

Trello is one of the most popular task management tools in the world. We take a look at how you can construct a scrum board on Trello and take a dive into the constraints of using Trello for scrum.

What is Scrum?

Scrum is a popular agile framework that modern teams use to build software.

According to, Scrum is a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.

The general principle behind scrum is that a large body of work can be broken down into smaller more manageable units of work and completed iteratively in cycles. These cycles generally aim at releasing a demo ready version of the product (however scoped down it may be). Scrum teams work in sprint cycles to complete the final product over a period of time.

One of the biggest advantages of choosing scrum is that the product can be brought out to market and tested earlier and more often. This feedback loop ensures that bugs are caught earlier and fixed on the go, hereby improving overall product quality. Building iteratively also allows product teams conduct earlier demos and validate market requirements.

Why use scrum tools

Implementing scrum is often not straightforward — especially when compared to more lightweight agile frameworks. It often involves introducing a whole new set of scrum roles and meetings. The transition to scrum often involves selecting a tool that can accommodate various squads and their sprint workflows.

Scrum tools come designed for different team sizes and your choices may vary from the most simple tools to complex tools for mapping and managing workflows.

What is Trello?

Trello is a simple online kanban board tool that is used by teams of all sizes for task management.

Trello works by organizing your projects into boards with columns. Each column denotes a status or state. Work is represented by cards that can be moved from one column to another. Glancing at your Trello board gives you an idea of what is currently in progress, who’s working on what and what work is coming up next.

A Trello template for Scrum teams

Small development teams can use Trello to maintain a basic backlog of tasks and develop software products in sprints. Here is an example of a Trello board with a workflow to manage a simple scrum team.

The following are the statuses in the board and their functions.

  1. Product Backlog: This is the default status that work to be done is dropped in. All development tasks are dropped into the product backlog. Items that are in consideration for the next sprint are moved to the next column.
  2. Sprint Planning: The sprint planning column contains work that is being planned for the next sprint. The product team can work on fine tuning the specifications for these items and ensuring that the development team has all the information they need to work with minimal intervention. Items that are later removed from consideration for the next sprint are moved back to the product backlog column.
  3. Current Sprint: The current sprint contains a list of items that the team is currently working on as part of the current sprint. Care must be taken to ensure that the sprint planning column is being populated for the next sprint while the tasks in the current spring are being carried out by the development team.
  4. Done: The done column contains a list of work items that were completed and moved out after the sprint. This column can be customized to be filtered to show only items that were completed as part of the most recent sprint.

Some additional columns that can be considered are separate statuses for design, QA etc based on where they fit in the teams workflow.

Advantages of Using Trello for Scrum

Some of the important advantages of using Trello as your sprint tool involves the following:

  1. Ease of Setup: Trello boards are extremely easy to set up. The sprint board illustrated above can be set up by anyone in a matter of minutes. Scrum processes are often hard enough to implement - a simple tool that can get you up and running in no time can greatly reduce the burden of team wide adoption.
  2. Developer Friendliness: Trello is one of the simplest tools in the market with an extremely flat learning curve. The core concept of a kanban board based workflow is to complete tasks assigned to you and move them to the next status. This saves developers a lot of time and helps them focus on building software, rather than understanding how to use their project management tool.
  3. Support for basic requirements of engineering project management: A Trello card comes equipped with almost all the necessary constructs to specify a user story in a format that is acceptable for most agile development teams. Some of these features include the ability to add attachments, labels and subtasks; assign cards to teammates, mention due dates etc.
  4. Wide availability of integrations: The immense popularity of Trello as a project management tool means that almost any tool in the product development stack comes with an option of integrating with Trello. These could be any tools from product roadmapping all the way down to developer tools and crash reporting. The caveat with Trello integrations is that they are often quite rudimentary and often come in the form of power-ups.

Disadvantages of Using Trello for Scrum

While Trello might be a great place to start for small teams starting with scrum, growing teams will almost certainly hit roadblocks when it comes to having Trello scale with your team. Some of the most common challenges you will face as as a growing team include:

Lack of inbuilt scrum constructs: Trello is fine as a basic task management solution. Teams that want to carry out sprints on Trello often end up having to bend their workflows to suit the tool.

Product planning tends to be harder on Trello: Trello’s core strength as a platform lies in its ability to facilitate the flow of work from one state to another. This is great for the execution phase of a project but product owners are often forced to think in tickets.

The challenge with thinking in tickets is that it becomes really hard to envision and plan out products. This results in product owners often using a different set of tools for the planning phase of an agile project. This data then has to be moved to Trello cards via integrations and this often results in a loss of data or context.

Lack of elaborate workflows: The fact that the scrum process is modelled into a Trello board means that your actual development workflow during the sprint could be difficult to map into the process.

For example, take a typical development workflow where a fully designed and specified product is moved into a sprint where development, QA and deploy processes are to be followed - mapping the entire workflow would require a two dimensional kanban board (or multiple boards).

Item Types for various types of work: It is a common pattern in agile product development to represent different types of tasks as different item types. The most common item types used are user stories (for core user flows in the product), bugs (for bugs identified in the QA process or reported by customers), enhancements (improvements), tasks and subtasks.

The ability to differentiate between item types is not just a visual cue for developers — item types often have to be resolved using different workflows and might require multiple boards or workflows.

Sprint Tracking can be challenging: Sprints often don’t go according to plan. This is especially true for teams that are new to the scrum framework. It can be difficult to track how your sprint is progressing and take corrective action without the common reporting aids for scrum teams (like burndown charts). Trello has some of these tools available as integrations but a tightly integrated sprint experience might be difficult to fully create on a Trello board.

More robust tools will give teams not only the ability to execute sprints but also measure and improve team performance iteratively.

Lack of tight Integrations with the development stack: Trello is primarily a task management solution. Its simplicity and flexibility allows it to integrate with a variety of developer tools. There are over 35 developer tool power ups available on the Trello marketplace. The limitation of these power-ups is the over reliance of the board method of displaying data.

If your development team is looking for more complex developer workflows and understanding the link between feature progress and status changes in the codebase, you might find Trello restrictive. And so, you might have to look for a Trello alternative, which will be a more robust scrum solution.

These are some of the most common challenges faced by modern development teams that are looking for a scrum tool that scales with them and are considering Trello for scrum.

Also read about the 8 problems you'll face if you're considering using Trello for web development.

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