If your childhood was anything like mine, then you can probably remember at least one annoying kid in school who was just so full of it. She’d go on and on about how great she was at this or at that, and about how she had every cool toy in the world…

But at some point after enough chatter you realised that she was all talk and no action (I remember a few kids like that actually).

That’s what your agency’s communication would feel like if you created a communication hub but never took the next step on your conversations. It would be a lot of talk and very little action. Receiving enquiries and talking about work get’s the ball moving, but if we as agencies don't implement then we’d be out on the streets looking for new jobs.

Now that you have a communication hub in place to receive tasks, you need to manage your growing workload in a reliable way by building the action portion of your communication system.

For Task Management We Use Trello

If you’ve never used it, Trello is another awesome collaboration and organisation tool. It helps you organise tasks, projects, activities and information by following the kanban method of project management inspired by Toyota (you create a visual representation of your workflow to view and manage the process from beginning to end, adding flexibility and higher levels of productivity).

In Trello you use boards to represent a team, client, project, or topic. Then add lists to represent stages of workflow (among other things), add cards to represent projects or tasks, and on each card add comments, checklists, attachments, due dates, and tag team members for collaboration. Cards can easily be dragged and dropped to the next stage of the project, clearly indicating the progress of a task.

Trello provides a simple workspace for the entire team to jump in and manage various tasks.

But, we’re not interested in just the tools. We’re looking at how a tool helps us reach our desired outcomes and how it fits into our communication strategy.

Why Your Communication System Needs Task Management Software Like Trello

Just as Slack fits right in with our 5 features of a great ongoing communication system, so does Trello:

1. Trello can be configured for 2-way communication with clients.

You may not always use Trello for 2-way communication with clients, but you can if it makes sense for your team.

One reliable method is to give clients user access to one of your Trello boards for asynchronous chat with you around tasks. The main benefit is that all task related conversation with the client is automatically attached directly on that specific task card, making this a logical place to have task specific interactions with clients. Trello’s email notification features (or if you push Trello notifications directly to Slack) helps to keep both parties up to speed. Clients can also drag and drop tasks based on their priority, providing project management. 

There are a couple downsides with this option (see point 4 below), but if it works for you then check out how to give clients access to your board here

Another method to create two-way communication with clients is if they are using Trello in their business. The client can grant you user access to one of their Trello boards and tag you in relevant conversations, with new tasks, or with a support enquiry. You will be notified in Trello or by email (and Slack if you set up your communication hub right), and you can always send a copy of a card to your internal Trello boards for processing and action.

2. It records all of our actions and interactions.

Again mirroring Slack’s usefulness, Trello indexes much of the content you put into it (except for attachments). Trello has a handful of search options that will help you find any task or conversation you’re looking for. All your tasks are saved as well for future reference, but as an extra step to centralise team communications you can also automatically push Trello cards to a dedicated Slack channel for future reference (for example, whenever a task is dragged to the ‘done’ list a copy of the card is sent to a dedicated Slack channel).

Note:

To clarify, while Slack is the general communication and notification hub for our agency interactions, Trello serves as a hub for task and action specific communication once a task is created. We use Slack while we process a task (and for a bunch of other internal communication), but if our Slack chatting results in an action that needs to occur then we default to creating a new task in Trello (or updating an existing one). 

This is where process really comes into play. We are using a couple tools that can do similar things so we must rely on our team processes to keep all the data organised and retrievable.

3. Trello provides awesome visibility among the team.

There are loads of features within Trello that add transparency and visibility among the team. Starting from the top… 

  • all activity is documented and the notification centre showcases recent activity, making it quick for the team to see what is happening and when
  • admins can grant or restrict access to boards as they see fit
  • team members only have to join boards that are relevant to them (ie. marketing, HR, development, etc)
  • tasks can be joined by the team members in charge or involved 
  • comments and checklist items can be tagged to disperse the workload for a task 
  • due dates and colour coded labels add greater transparency

On top of the awesome general features of Trello, there are loads of apps and integrations to increase transparency among the team.

4. It provides the right amount of visibility for the client.

This is the tool where we really dig into visibility to the client. Communicating around a task is important, but ongoing clients care most about forward progress and results. So to us, the right amount of visibility for the client keeps these two things in the forefront.

One way to use Trello is to grant clients access to your boards, getting them completely involved in your work. There are positives with this level of visibility during a project, but a strong long-term client / agency relationship with ongoing work doesn’t always warrant such in-depth communication.

The downside of sharing your boards is that clients see everything, limiting you on what you can post on the cards.

You may also have to adjust your setup or process to fit the needs of the client and you are introducing uncertainties such as bottlenecks and process violations. 

Instead, the ongoing communication stage of client engagement generally requires less input from the client on the bitty details of your work and more of a higher level overview on your activity. We’ve said before that the key with ongoing communication is to provide the right amount of visibility–being careful not to overload clients with too much. That’s the approach we take.

At Endzone Software, we provide ongoing development support and maintenance to creative agencies and their clients. We have a lot of tech tasks coming in all the time and handle the actual work well, but our clients need to be able to manage our activity and next tasks based on their day to day priorities as an agency (and the way they are managing their client expectations).

So to us, the right amount of visibility for the client means giving clients more granular access to our task management and workflow. We wanted to be able to do this without granting total access and visibility to our boards and still allow certain actions and interactions with our cards (and making sure clients follow our process).

To scratch our own itch, we took advantage of Trello’s API feature to develop the Trello API Explorer tool. It helps us extract information from our Trello boards in order to generate a task dashboard for our clients.

this is what a client dashboard looks like

It works like this: 

The dashboard mirrors portions of our private Trello board and shows what we are working on in real time, but limits client access to the content we choose. Clients can log into their private dashboard and view certain details of a task such as the estimated time needed to complete an action, relevant links or support tickets, questions, the phase of completion, etc.

A dashboard like this gives the client a high level view of our workflow and progress without wasting anyones time chasing down updates and offhand reports. To achieve the granular access we wanted for clients, we included in the dashboard the same list view and drag and drop feature that Trello uses. Clients have the ability to manage task priority based on their needs (we give our clients drag and drop access to the ‘Next’ list).

This prioritisation feature is vital to keeping communication clear and consistent among our team and our clients’. We can bypass small time killing discussions – ‘Tom said this task is top priority… but John said this one is…’ – and the most critical tasks naturally move to the top of the list.

Clients get the necessary vision into our process and they can still interact with it in a meaningful way. This is just another chance to build warmth and competence in our agency.

And all of this wouldn’t be as easily achievable from a task management system without the versatility and functionality that Trello provides.

5. Trello allows us to extract information for reporting and internal improvements.

With all of our activity archived with timestamps, it’s a simple process to revisit the tasks we completed and extract details to create reports. On each card we can see the actions we took, conversations included, files attached, checklist items ticked off, time added to a particular phase, and much more.

If the info we need to process is limited, it can be done manually quite quickly with the right reporting process and templates in place. If you have a lot of info to include on a report (such as a quarterly report), there are various tools to extract information and / or create reports automatically (such as Reports for Trello).

No matter how you extract the info, Trello’s archiving feature ensures that the data you need is always available.

But Setting Up A Productive Task Management Workflow DEPENDS On Process

Trello is another easy tool to start using immediately. All you have to do is create an account, name your first board, start creating lists and tasks, and set up team access and restrictions. Trello’s guide and this post provide all the details on best practices for setting up boards.

Now that you’ve got a basic Trello account up with boards for specific topics, departments, and clients, you’ll also want to add in a workflow that is intuitive and makes sense for your team and services.

The majority of getting running with a task management system like Trello is creating and implementing a workflow process, but if you don’t have one yet it will develop over time if you stick with it. 

We’re in the tech and development space so we use a basic kanban task workflow implementing swimlanes to carry out client tasks, like this:

Next > Doing > Blocked or needs feedback > UAT or Awaiting approval > Done this week > Reported :: Process (for documentation)

Each swimlane is a phase in the progression of our work (notice how the client dashboard above is a condensed version of this board).

Depending on how your agency works or the project at hand, you may organise your workflow differently. It all depends on your agency’s process and luckily with Trello you can create nearly any workflow that your heart desires.

But here’s the thing:

It’s not enough to have a tool to manage your tasks and projects… you need clearly defined processes on how you use the tool. The tool helps us achieve incredible results, but its up to the users to use it effectively.

Eventually your team should have a well documented process for every step of task management, from processing new tasks to moving them down the pipeline. 

If process isn’t quite clear for your team, you could start with an existing board developed by Trello such as a Scrum board, a multi-client content calendar board, or any one of the many boards listed in Trello’s inspiration section.

Even if you’re just developing your process, one benefit of visualising your workflow with a tool like Trello is it helps you quickly monitor and identify areas and methods for improvement. You physically see where your cards don’t flow well or when you’re skipping steps in your workflow.

Quick Tip:

It’s good to have general agency processes, but not all clients and projects are the same. Each board can have it’s own set of processes and they need to be documented and visible to the team.

A practical way to do this is to create documentation about a board and attach the documentation directly on the board via a list. In the image above, you can see a final list labeled ‘process’. In this list, we add cards detailing as much about the board as possible, including processes for monitoring support and ticketing, creating tasks and actions, tagging team members, reporting, weekly standups, internal log hours, client meetings, and more.

This serves as a helpful place to monitor, document and improve your internal operations.

So you set up your board based on what makes the most sense for your agency at the moment. Once you have a client board ready to go, this is the right time to set up a dashboard if you want to provide clients with granular access to your workflow and activity (we wrote an article with more details about this here).

You’re almost good to go. Now to streamline the task management process just a little…

Integrate For Efficiency

In the last article about Slack, we touched on how you can get more out of the tool when you link it with other tools, especially a support ticketing platform (like Freshdesk) and a task management platform (Trello). We’ve already talked about connecting Trello up with your communication hub and some of the benefits, so on to ticketing…

Support Ticketing Software

It’s not 100% necessary to link support ticketing software with task management, but it definitely helps to streamline the task management process. Integrating the two allows you to create new tasks from right within your support software, creating more efficiency and decreasing the chance of information falling through the cracks.

If you’re using Freshdesk, here’s how to link it to Trello.

Email

Ideally we’d like all of our activity to be documented through a support ticket of some sort, but we can’t expect clients to always stick to our process. There are times when we have to converse with clients over email. In situations where an email includes actions on a task or project, Trello offers the ability to create cards on a board or add comments to a card just by sending an email. This feature provides greater efficiency and transparency among the team.

More details on getting the most out of this feature can be found here.

As you can see, these little additions seem like ‘nice to haves’, but adding efficiency and decreasing the chance of data lose are highly important to busy agencies. There are plenty of other tool integrations that add even greater value to Trello – from improving task and project management to improving marketing, development, support and operations management. Check out some of the more helpful integration possibilities here and here

An Average Day The Trello Way

Let’s quickly pull these pieces together to examine how information and activity can flow through Trello as you process it…

Say your job is to help process support enquiries and to help manage and carry out actions and activity based on those enquiries. You’re using Slack as your notification hub so it all starts there.

You begin your day by processing a support ticket notification you see in Slack (pushed from Freshdesk), and determine that a new task card needs to be created on your task management board. You navigate over to Trello and create a task card on the client’s dedicated board, making sure to add all important information and labels. You also add a tick (✅) in Slack so everyone knows it has been processed. Then you update the client with a note on the support ticket indicating the requirements of the next action (the client already knows they can log into their dashboard and prioritise the new task). This all happened with a few simple clicks.

As you begin to work through support tasks, you pick up from where your teammate left off yesterday on the ‘doing’ list by joining the card and removing your teammate. You complete the task and move the card to the next workflow phase for approval.

Then you grab the task at the top of the ’next’ list – knowing that it’s top priority for your client because they use their client dashboard – move it to the ‘doing’ list, join the card and get started on the task. As you work through the task, you check off and update the task card with actions you took.

Then you eat a sandwich for lunch.

make it a thick sandwich, you've been managing tasks in Trello all day

After lunch, you have a few more support tickets waiting for you to process. You determine that with one ticket, the action requested is a change to an existing task. This time you add the content from the ticket to the corresponding task card existing within Trello, update the card with relevant details, add a tick in Slack, and update the client support ticket.

In processing the second ticket, you need more clarity so you enquire with a teammate by tagging them on the support notification in Slack. Then you update the client on the situation.

On the third support ticket, you answer a question from the client, mark the ticket closed as no further action is needed, and add a tick in Slack.

You work through the day in this systematic method, only working on one task at a time and starting next tasks based on real time client prioritisation.

Wherever you are on a task at the end of the day, you update it and leave it for your teammate to pick up in a few hours (because they work a different shift).

That would be a basic day receiving tasks in Slack and managing the workload with Trello.

The Value Is In The Process

You can see why you should implement a task management tool like Trello into your communication system. The tool itself is powerful for managing tasks as an individual, but with team collaboration and various other features, it makes an extremely useful addition to any communication system. It's the right tool for our needs.

But task management software is only as good as the process that is applied to it. That means that the value of the tool isn’t just in its capabilities, but the deeper underlying value of using a tool like Trello is that it forces you to create and follow a process in your agency (or else you’d quite using it and suffer the consequences). With processes in place, carrying out a workflow using Trello is straightforward and reliable, and you’re putting swift action behind your words.

Now that you have a communication hub to receive and talk about work and a task management platform to organise and carry out the work, the work level of ongoing communication is covered. On to the second level of the communication process – reporting on what you did. For that we use the simple tool, Google Drive.

Agency Ongoing Communication 101

This post is part of our series on creating an effective ongoing communication system in your agency. Start at the beginning of the article series or pop directly to the topic you need help with most right now.

Got questions or want to start a conversation about communication challenges in your agency?  Shout at us on Twitter using #clientcommunication.