Trello (maybe) Takes an Arrow to the Knee

imagesI hated Trello. Maybe that’s too strong. I was genuinely annoyed by it. It just didn’t seem to do what I needed it to do. Nevertheless I was forced into adopting it by departmental mandate.

This adoption problem though was not with Trello. The problem was with me.

I approached the service as a former developer and project manager and immediately tried to turn it into something familiar and it never met that expectation. If it has to be in the cloud can we at least use SmartSheet? I am a team player though and I had someone with fresh eyes work through a process, lay it out and simplify. Someone else had written some different views with the API and I came around. It didn’t deliver what I asked for but it did give me what I needed.

After some consideration I have decided my problem was this. Trello worked great if you think like a person and not like an engineer. (yes there is a difference)  Sure I want to know thirty different data points. Who wouldn’t. But do I NEED to know them. Trello ( and the concept of the Kanban board itself) Granularity is not always a good thing. You can become a slave to it.

Now I am sad because Trello is being acquired. I’m not sad because they got a pay day but who they sold too. My fear is simple. That nerds will ruin it.

“I was an adventurer like you, then I took an arrow to the knee”

If you are not a gamer you may not know the phrase but it comes from Skyrim. (it is not the Nordic equivalent of getting married as some claim)  Thousands of meme’s later the phrase is a rally cry for the disillusioned.

Trello in its comparatively brief run has found adopters across industries that traditionally shunned formal (i.e. technical) project management. This was a key thing that made the acquisition attractive to Atlassian. If you code you can’t avoid JIRA, Atlassian’s flagship. They make good stuff – for technical people.

The DNA of the parent company will always affect the character and expression of the acquired. Feature bloat looms as well meaning product managers will insist that it needs this or that. It is a hard thing to resist but leaving those things to the community, while not directly generating revenue is essential for that work to stay in the markets. This sounds counter-intuitive but what makes Trello work in those scenarios is it is “good enough” to start and the API is rich enough to fill the gaps without the product mandating how those capabilities are added.

The other challenge they will face is sales culture. Selling to traditional IT in the enterprise is a different animal. As much as organizations want to say they have evolved, the demand to over customize and restrict patterns of use hampers adoption of Trello like solutions outside of the technical disciplines. Users need to be free to experiment and develop improvements in their workflows in a synergistic rather than dictatorial manner with the tools.

My geek (formal IT) upbringing was impediment to adapting to good-enough project management. I am a little disappointed in myself frankly because I have been advocating for “just enough” content management for years. Granted, Trello is not the tool for everything but I would argue that it is just right for the a majority of knowledge workers in the enterprise.

If Atlassian keeps the brand and development separate as announced this is less of a concern in the short term but it bears watching by the 19 million or so users of the product. If marrying this great tool to a standard bearer for development processes takes this adventurer off the trail it would be sad indeed.


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