The Let’s Do Video team relies heavily on both Slack and Trello as part of our everyday workflow. So when Trello announced a new app to integrate with Slack, I was very interested and took a closer look. I soon learned that there are multiple ways to integrate these two tools and it may be a little confusing for the typical user. With that in mind, I thought I would take a few minutes to discuss how the integrations work and how useful they may be.
The Trello + Slack Business Management Strategy
There are countless business management applications online and their use can be essential for any working team. The key is to find a service or services that match your particular needs. For example, I recently met with a start-up using a robust business management service with tons of features from communications to accounting to a full CRM. Unfortunately, the team really only needs chat, and this solution is so complicated that no one uses it at all. On the flip side, I often see teams trying to use a single purpose tool for all purposes and being frustrated by the results. At LDV we realized our primary needs were team communication and project management. Slack meets our team communications needs and Trello handles project management for us.
There are certain business processes that are easy in the office, but hard for a remote team. Communications is a big one. You can just walk up to someone’s desk to talk to them at the office. For a remote team there are countless options; email, phone, video, texting, chats, etc., and things can quickly get muddled. For LDV, Slack and video meetings handle the bulk of our team communications. We rarely send internal emails or talk to each other on the phone. By keeping project based conversations within Slack, we have an easily searchable record of project history. By effectively using Slack channels, we keep these conversations all within their proper context. However, while we love Slack for communications, it doesn’t meet our project management needs. In particular, it doesn’t provide the “status at a glance” you get from a project management system.
Project management is another business process with challenges for remote teams. At a physical office you can simply designate a whiteboard or corkboard for project management and use sticky notes or cards for your to-dos. Whether you are kanbanning or scrumming or using your own system for project management, you can maintain and display project status in a common area where everyone will see it daily. The virtual equivalent is a solution like Trello. We have several heavily used Trello boards for project management at LDV. Whether its big picture, business development efforts, preparation for industry events, content planning for the website, creation of consulting deliverables, or any other team project, it is tracked on Trello. Any member of the LDV team can at any time check the status of any team project. They can see the specific next task to be done for that project, who it is assigned to, and when it is due. However, while we love Trello for project management, it doesn’t meet our communication needs. While Trello allows users to communicate by sharing comments in task cards, it doesn’t provide the quick back and forth conversation you get from a true communications solution.
The result is a bit of bouncing back and forth between the two. For example, we often will be working through something on Slack and generate tasks for ourselves. This results in having to switch over to Trello to create cards for these new tasks. Similarly, I may be in Trello choosing my next task, and have to switch over to Slack to find the conversation my team had when we created the task so I can remember the specifics. I often have them both open at the same time, one on each of my monitors, which made me question the value of integrations. If I am currently in both Slack and Trello, why do I need them to talk to each other? Why should I create a Trello card from within Slack, when it is so easy just to create the Trello card in Trello? After taking a close look at what the integration offers, I think there is actually value even if you do have both apps open and accessible.
Trello + Slack Integration
There are three ways to integrate Trello with Slack. The first two (Trello Alerts and the Trello App) are configured and used within Slack. The third (Trello’s Slack Power Up) is configured and used within Trello. Basically, they all push and pull information between the two solutions, which could help teams better coordinate their project work.
- Trello Alerts For Slack: We have been using Trello Alerts for well over a year. It is now bundled into the download for the new Trello App, but it is still treated as a separate app in the Slack configuration menu. Trello Alerts is pretty simple. It links a Slack channel to a Trello board. Any time there is activity in the Trello board, you get a notification in the Slack channel. So, in essence, you have a Slack channel that is a real-time feed of Trello project status. This is a one direction send of information from Trello to Slack. There is no back and forth. Nothing done in Slack will show up in Trello.
While you can associate a Trello board with an existing channel, I recommend creating new channels designated for this purpose. You don’t want notifications spamming up your normal Slack conversations. For example, if you have an active sales team constantly updating your Trello sales board, you don’t want to link that board to your Slack sales channel. You want to create a new Slack channel called #TrelloSales. That way your existing Slack channels and conversations aren’t disturbed. The benefit of this integration is that it provides a timeline of activity for any project in a custom Slack channel. Of course, there is an activity feed already within Trello, but it’s nice to have it in Slack as well. Some teams live in Slack and only check Trello periodically.
- Trello App For Slack: The Trello App is similar to Trello Alerts in that it is configured from within Slack and it works within Slack. However, it provides a very different type of functionality. Unlike Trello Alerts, the new Trello App allows users to directly work with Trello cards from within Slack. This doesn’t just provide notifications between the two, but actual control. A Slack user can, from within a Slack channel, create a new Trello card, assign the card to a team member, put a due date on it, etc. Again, not something I see myself using very often, as I have Trello up and running on my second screen and it is very easy to create a card directly in Trello. However, some teams live in Slack every day and only check Trello during progress meetings. These teams could find the new Trello App to be very useful. For example, if a team leader creates a new Trello card within Slack, other team members can then join the card and work with it from within Slack as well. It certainly can make a meeting run a little smoother if multiple people are saved the time of switching from Slack to Trello.
One very powerful feature of the new Trello App is the ability to attach a Slack conversation to a Trello card from within Slack. This isn’t something that just saves a few clicks, this adds significant value to your Trello cards. Often, a Slack conversation with multiple people contributing ideas and input will result in the generation of a new task for a team member. This team member then creates a Trello card for him/herself. A few days later, that team member will come across the Trello card and start to work on the task, but will not remember all of the details of the conversation. The new Trello App allows users to attach Slack conversations to Trello cards. So in this scenario, when your team member opens the Trello card to begin work, there will be a link to the Slack conversation at the day/time when the idea was being discussed. This is a power feature. I don’t expect everyone to use it, but those that do will benefit greatly.
- Trello’s Slack Power-Up: This can be thought of as the counterpart to the Trello App and Alerts. While the previous two “take place” within Slack, this power-up takes place within Trello. If you have users who live in Trello and wants to control things from that UI, the power-up might be right for them. The power-up is only available to Trello Business Class users, so I have not tested it. But from the description it appears to primarily send info from Trello to Slack. Great for team leaders going through the Trello board and wanting to get things moving by sending notifications and timed reminders directly to Slack channels.
While I don’t think these integrations are essential for Trello/Slack users, I do think they will be appreciated by a good number of heavier users. If you are managing dozens of people, the value of saving each user a few clicks here and there starts to add up. Keep in mind, the convenience and efficiency is only part of the power of these integrations. By adding the context of Slack conversations to Trello cards, you make it easier to effectively follow up on tasks and provide quality results. On the flip side, by being able to quickly share information from Trello cards you are improving the effectiveness of Slack conversations.
For a remote team like LDV the combination of Trello, Slack, and videoconferencing can form the infrastructure of our virtual office. Effective synergies between these tools, like the Trello/Slack integrations, can only help make teams more productive and effective. While we may be feeling a bit of “app overload” these days, if you are using Trello and Slack, these integrations are worth checking out.