Managing the chaos for a student media program is an exciting but complicated task. For the past few years, my editors have tried every possible tracking and communication method, from Google spreadsheets with elaborate color-coding to Facebook groups, classroom posters and everything in between. Nothing seemed to meet all of our needs.
That is, nothing until Trello. It’s a free collaborative tool for project management. Yearbook adviser Michael Simons, CJE, shared this great video to show how his students implemented Trello within their program. Projects are organized based on a system of boards, lists and cards.
The features and benefits are pretty straight-forward: Trello is free and keeps everything in one place so that all staff members know the status of projects, pages, stories — anything in production now or planned for the future. Students can see real-time updates from the Web or using the free iPhone and iPad apps.
Cards can have deadlines, notifications (AKA deadline reminders) and related checklists. Advisers can see discussion and feel in-the-loop at any time. Users can sort and view information in a variety of ways, including attachments.
High school media programs started experimenting with Trello to improve their work flow and communication, and it worked. Advisers have been jumping on board ever since.
But what matters most is student buy-in. Editors like hearing from their peers how a tool works and why, so here’s proof from a quick Q-and-A with VISTA-j editor-in-chief Taylor Blatchford from Mountain Vista High School.
Q: What made you decide to use Trello in your journalism program?
A: My adviser showed all of us editors a video about it and how it was organized. Right away, we realized it could be a solution to some problems we’d been having with deadline management and organization, so we all made accounts to try it out, loved it, and implemented it right at the start of the second semester.
Q: What was your previous method for tracking and monitoring progress?
We used Google Drive spreadsheets to organize our content ladder for the yearbook and our plans for each issue of the newspaper, but we didn’t really have an effective method of tracking progress by each individual page or deadline. We would write all the pages on the whiteboard and make different lists of what stage each one was at, but Trello made all of that so much easier.
Q: Describe your process regarding the cards and boards and how you organized them.
A: For the newspaper, we had a board for each issue, and within each issue we had a list for each section (news, sports, feature, opinion…). Staff members submitted story ideas for each section in the form of cards and could assign themselves to a card if they were interested in working on a particular story. Then as editors, we could look over the ideas for each section and comment on them if we had questions. We then put a checklist on each card with the deadlines for the issue, such as when stories were due to us and when pages were due, so each staff member would be easily able to see them and check off the deadlines as they met them.
Q: In your opinion, what was the biggest advantage?
A: I think the biggest advantage of using Trello to organize our work flow was the ability to track the progress of both pages/spreads as well as individuals on our staff. We created lists with different levels of progress for pages and spreads as well as checklists on the cards for each page, so it was very easy to see how far along people were on certain things. We could also easily see who had signed up for different tasks and who hadn’t, which made our system of grading much easier.
Q: What was the biggest challenge?
A: The biggest challenge in beginning to use Trello was getting all of our staff on board with it and teaching them how to use it. We were all used to using Google Drive (and continue to use that for editing stories) but some people had difficulties figuring out Trello.
Q: How did you make sure staff members logged in to communicate using this tool?
A: Instead of writing deadlines or tasks for the day on the board or telling them to the staff at the beginning of class, we had a “Management” Trello board that had the current deadlines as well as a to-do list for the staff. This way, at the beginning of class we could just tell them to check their Trello board, and if they didn’t know what they should be working on they could easily find out there instead of having to ask us.
Q: Now that your staff has experience with this tool, what changes will you make for 2013-2014?
A: Now that we’ve used it for a semester we know some things that work and things that don’t as far as tracking progress and organization. I think it will save us a lot of time manually organizing things, writing lists on the whiteboard, etc., and hopefully can make our year as a whole more organized. We’ll probably use it a lot while creating the yearbook content ladder as well.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share for students and advisers?
A: Even though it might seem confusing to learn to use a new program, it will probably help you immensely with organization if your staff is anything like ours. Stick with it and be creative in how you use it, and it will probably save you a lot of time in the future!