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Applying Trello magic to Jira projects

Applying Trello magic to Jira projects


Lately, I have been writing a lot about Release Management (e.g. a few of my previous articles- One, Two and Three). Today, I would like to share some thoughts on a different topic, namely “(the)balance between simplicity and complexity and how to combine them in order to interpret information in the most efficient way”. This article is based upon my recent experience working with a number of software engineering teams that were using Jira Software. I hope this will be interesting for you.

Disclaimer: All of the below statements are based purely on my own personal opinion. So, if you have another point of view and/or you would like to share your personal experience, I would appreciate your comments regarding this article.

Let’s go.

All started with Agile

It is no secret that Agile has become a very popular approach over the last decade.

The main success factor was focused upon relatively small and frequent deliverables that helped to

  • receive rapid feedback from the customers,
  • build the right product by adjusting the priority and scope based on feedback and eliminate (the) delivery of useless features,
  • increase panning quality and predictability by shortening the planning horizon.

Also, Agile and Lean brought many good techniques that are aimed at increasing quality and decreasing time to market (e.g. XP practices).

But in my opinion, the most important innovation has been in people engagement; namely:

  • stakeholders have become much more involved in the development process,
  • collaboration between clients/stakeholders and engineers became closer than ever before.

As a result, it empowered the creation of tools and practices to put them on the same page as the above two -very different groups of people who do not speak the same language by default.

I believe the breakthrough has been in 2 main areas:

1. Simplicity. Everything has to be as simple as possible. A prime example is the user story; where complicated and sleep-inducing requirements documents were replaced with human-readable requirements in a simple language: in the format of user interactions with the system.

2. Visualization. The visual channel has the widest bandwidth to our brain. I could not find the source but I remember reading that 65% of people are visual learners. I guess this was one reason why a lot of attention was paid to the concept of visual radiators. The most prominent examples are Scrum and Kanban boards plus a variety of different canvases that can help us to understand the information and take appropriate action.

Trello is a rock star!

Rock stars can easily be identified among other artists. A wide audience of people listen to their music over a long period of time. They are shining rolemodels for new generations and the lyrics from their songs are extensively and commonly quoted.

The same applies to Trello. Housewives and executives, alike, are using it to organize their own personal work and/or various projects at the same time. You can find a lot of examples of how the work can be organized (not always planned or scheduled) using Trello.

From my point of view, the key to Trello’s magic lies in its simplicity, amazing flexibility and an easy-to-ramp-up process so everyone can meet their needs almost instantaneously. It’s also highly visual.

Compared to Trello, Jira is a much more powerful tool. At the much-advanced levels of process maturity, sophisticated Jira functionality is a must in order to support the process. Trello in return presents far fewer limitations.

Do not get me wrong, Jira is easy to use when you get into it, but for a newbie it might be too complicated and confusing. At least that’s what I learned through various feedback when working with software development teams.

It would be great to combine Trello simplicity and Jira power at the same time!

Thus, it would be possible to exploit Trello simplicity at an early stage of adoption and gain the full power of Jira later on.

Let’s try to marry them

Agile Boards in Jira have one significant disadvantage compared to much simpler Trello Boards — columns may be assigned to workflow steps only. In Trello, we are flexible in defining columns just as we want, but unfortunately, we miss swimlanes in Trello.

What if we combine the advantages of both? Create a board, where we can show Jira issues and assign any custom or standard field to column and swimlane?

As a result, we get insane flexibility and simplicity, all at the same time.

Bear with me.

For sure such a possibility could be widely used by an Agile team. I will share some of the use cases:

  1. Story Points Estimation by using clustering (more details are here). The agile estimation board can be built by defining columns by Story Points field and assigning values according to the Fibonacci sequence (or any other grade you use). The particular user story can then be estimated by moving it between the columns and comparing it with already estimated stories which are in each column. This will help to refer to the already estimated ones and keep all the estimates consistent. This approach is quite simple yet very powerful.

Story Points Estimate.png

2. Versions Planning. In order to plan versions’ scope in a visual way, we may define columns by Fix version. By simply moving the items from one column to another, we can define version scope and easily see what has already been planned for each version.

Image for post

3. Story Mapping. We can complicate the previous use case a little. Let’s define columns as Epic (as “Epic Link” or “Parent”; a custom field in Jira) and versions as Swimlanes. As a result, we get a classic story map board (read more details here)

Image for post

4. Classic Estimation with Agile taste. The visual power of Agile estimation techniques can be applied to classic estimation in ideal hours as well. Just create columns by Original Estimate field and assign clusters of estimates in hours

Image for post

5. Agile Programs Planning (e.g SAFe PIs) can be easily created in case we create columns by sprint and swimlanes by Teams. In my example, I have labels to split the team’s but any other field could be used as well.

Image for post

6. Freeride with Labels. Labels is a very flexible tool in Jira that can give us awesome flexibility and simplicity. The main disadvantage is that people need to remember the correct values and if somebody makes a mistake while typing a Label value, then a whole new item will be created and we end up in a mess.

Using the Trello-like board to manage Label values can help with that and remove all of the above-mentioned disadvantages.

For instance, we can create value/cost mapping canvas to better understand the tradeoff we are making during prioritization

Image for post

Also, you can find a lot of articles about Trello usage that may be applied to Jira using this approach (e.g. one of them).

Where the Power is?

From my point of view, the great power is in combining simplified boards/canvases with extensive Jira functionality. So, Jira issues can start their journey from simplified canvas and end up on a standard Scrum/Kanban board for the engineering teams.

Such flexibility can enhance the strengths of visual learners and make simpler the organization of complex work as well as a large number of tasks.

Also, such functionality forces better integration of technical/engineering people, and non-technical/business people.

All of the screenshots above are taken from Advanced Agile Bopards. You can find similar Apps on the marketplace that can also open such great possibilities for the developer/user.

I hope that this article has been interesting for you and that you’ll be able to apply these ideas yourself to improve your day-to-day work and make complicated things that little bit simpler.

Stay tuned, folks!

Annex 1. Not just Agile, other use cases

Such flexibility can help to organize the data in multiple use cases.

Please find some ideas below:

  • Technical Backlog organization. Columns for version or sprint and swimlanes per component can help to visualize and plan the technical debt for each component and arrange and organize deliverables of them.

Image for post

  • Weekly Planning board. Columns for Due Date with current/next weekdays assigned can help you and your team plan the tasks for the upcoming week. Also, We can create swimlanes by assignee. According to the feedback from the field, this is a great fit for Non-engineering teams, such as those working in Marketing.

Image for post

  • Assignee board. Columns by Assigned and swimlanes by priority.

Image for post

  • Components board. Swimlanes by components will help to triage issues between components and arrange all of them in a visual manner much quicker when compared to a classic component assignment from the component selector.

Image for post

Thinking of more use cases? Please leave a comment to this article. I greatly appreciate it.



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Vero Rivas
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Feb 05, 2021

Hi @Yuri Kudin 

   WOW Yuri, GREAT article ...


Like Yuri Kudin likes this

Thank you @Vero Rivas for such pleasant feedback!

Like Vero Rivas likes this

I've used both Jira and Trello, but I learned a lot about each from reading your article. Thanks.

Like Yuri Kudin likes this

@yuri great article and very informative when it comes to various types of approaches to releases planning, managing technical debt etc. 

I have few curiosity questions:

  1. do you have any step by step insight on how practically integrate Jira with Trello to achieve the results you show on the screenshots?
  2. how do you think such handling of both Jira and Trello boards can be helpful to the Teams and how to make it easy, simple, and running on the "auto-pilot"? - do you have any suggestions here?

many thanks in advance for sharing your experience?

Like # people like this

Hi @Eva Kasiak , thank you for your feedback.

In the article, I have used Canvas for Agile Teams & atScale App which can build multiple types of canvases using any standard or/and custom filed in Jira. Also, in order to simulate full Trello freedom, you could create labels based board.
The main value was using Jira issues on the board.

There are a few more add ons to integrate Trello boards inside Jira such as

or Trello power-ups for Jira:

But, from my point of view, having 2 ecosystems (Jira + Trello) is less convenient comparing to work in Jira and have advantages of Trello (by using add on) and Jira in the same tool.

Hope this will help you.


Like Adriana.Miroslav likes this

Hi @Yuri Kudin  many thanks for that will have a look into the add ons you reference above. Enjoy your week ahead ;) 

Like Yuri Kudin likes this

Ótimo artigo, sou usuária assídua do Trello e iniciante no Jira, acho mais simples o Trello, talvez por usá-lo a mais tempo, mas vejo o Jira mas completo em questão de gerenciamento.

Like Yuri Kudin likes this

Interesting article. Need to think about new way of using Trello. Thanks 

Like Yuri Kudin likes this

Hi @John James 

Thank you for your feedback.

Actually, we don't have a goal to integrate Jira and Trello and use them all together. There is a lot of add ons on the Marketplace for integration with Trello so Trello cards will available in the Jira.

No doubt that integration will bring great value but at the same time, using 2 systems at the same time, will bring certain disadvantages.

We wanted to bring Trello flexibility to Jira, make Jira more simple, easy to adopt for beginners who don't want to dig into the workflows, schemas etc. At the same time remove the limitation to assign statuses only (or workflow steps) to columns will open the great possibility to visually organize the work or any other information.

Btw, I would like to use the opportunity to say that we have implemented an option to define WIP (Work In Progress) limits to column, swimlane or intersection of column and swimlane. This will open wide possibilities to configure a flexible Kanban process that can't be created out of the box.

Please let me know if I have any specific questions about your use case. I would be happy tying to answer them.


Hi @Yuri Kudin , Thanks for the article.  After reading this, and a few links and also watching the demo at: 

(Playing with Trello Board items from within Jira), 

I am technically curious about two things (though not reached such a use case myself yet):

1.  What are the downside of such integration - like over cluttering or mixing of concerns => is that why your comment about not over-integrating?

2.  Is it feasible, perhaps for some orgs, it may be useful to have a Trello Board as a staging area for Issues created by novice/ intern users, before a {rule-based | or manual} curated set is then made part of the JIRA Project/ board.

Or, could be used to accept issues from loosely coupled/ external team or a "chatty" team whose inputs need to be reviewed before slotting them in ?

Will appreciate your thoughts on this.  Thanks.

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