Published on: July 16, 2020
The Ultimate Guide to Trello Automation
Is it time to automate your Trello Boards?

Are you are struggling with multiple boards and a backlog of Trello cards that need organizing, then this guide to Trello Automation is just what you need!

Why automate Trello?

Trello is a popular productivity tool that is used by many people to help them achieve their business goals. It is popular because it is so intuitive and so easy to sign up for. There’s no need to download any software, and you can be up and running in seconds. You can manage most things on the free tier of the app, including creating unlimited boards and sharing them with colleagues and other people collaborating on projects with you.

The flexibility and ubiquitous nature of Trello mean it can quickly shift from being a way to track checklist items and due dates to being something altogether more complex. Before you know it, you can end up with critical operational processes reliant on a series of linked cards in Trello!

If Trello has become part of your team’s daily routine, then you have almost certainly get frustrated with doing everything manually. Dragging cards to ‘Done’ and checking off each checklist item. Moving the Card and then cross-referencing it with rows in google sheets or Excel that you share with others. We feel your pain, and we’ve got some excellent automation guidance that will help you transform Trello from a simple way to collaborate with a remote team, to a powerful tool complete with workflow automation.

Introducing Butler, the Trello Automation tool

What is Butler?

Let’s start by seeing how Trello handles these challenges and what automation solutions they have to offer. They have almost certainly experienced the same difficulties themselves, as they are known for using their product in house, from software engineering to customer services.  Their solution was a built-in Trello automation tool called Butler. With Butler, you can create rules that are triggered by specific actions, add buttons that perform particular functions, or run routines that are either deadline-based or calendar-based.

What can Butler do?

Butler is an automation engine that can undertake tasks within Trello based on multiple triggers. The most common are:

  • Taking action when a card moves to a specific list;
  • Adding buttons that can trigger action for an individual Trello card, or the entire board;
  • Take action when a card is approaching or past a due date;
  • Run regular housekeeping activities to keep your boards tidy.

You can use it to undertake everyday actions, such as marking cards complete when you drag them into the ‘Done’ column, archiving completed tasks after 30 days, or adding defined checklists to Cards at the point of creation.

How does Butler work?

Like Trello, Butler has a simple interface. To start using Butler, open a Trello board, and click on the Bell icon at the top-right-hand side of the screen.

An image of the button used to launch Butler Automation within Trello

The Butler button in Trello. Click to make the automation happen!

When you first launch Butler, it will suggest automations based on how you use Trello, and the actions you perform most frequently. As you can see below, I appear to spend a lot of time on this board, adding checklists to cards!

This is what the screen looks like when you first launch Butler in Trello. Let the automation begin!

Using the menu on the left, you can choose from rules-based automation, button-based (either with buttons on individual cards, or buttons for the whole board), automation based on due-date, or automation based on calendars.

Is Butler automation free?

You can complete some limited automation with Butler on the free tier. At the time of writing, Trello was allowing you to create one of each type of automation per board. More than that and you need to pay a subscription. But there is another way! Trello has an excellent referral scheme that rewards you with Trello Gold each time you recommend Trello to a colleague or other collaborator. Each referral gives you one month of Trello Gold, which allows you to create workflow automation for Trello, for free. You can find out more about referring people to Trello here: https://trello.com/en-GB/recommend.

Image of the Trello Gold page of the Trello Website

Earning Trello Gold could be a cheap way of funding your automation habit!

Show me Butler for Trello in action

It is all very well me telling you about it, but it is probably more helpful for you to see it in action. Here’s a short example of setting up a Butler automation that undertakes multiple actions based on a trigger. Here’s how it works. As soon as a card moves into the ‘Setup’ list, Butler automatically adds a due date to a Card and assigns an owner.

Automating Multiple Trello Boards

Automating your Trello board can be useful for ridding yourself of mundane, repetitive tasks, but there are even more benefits to be had when you work across multiple boards.

There are numerous scenarios where multiple boards can be beneficial. Perhaps workflows from one team to another, with each group working from their team board, before handing off cards to the next. You may have a High-level board where you track large items, such as annual objectives, as well as a more detailed board covering actions for the current week, or sprint. Or you may have a situation where you have one board that serves as a kind of ‘hopper,’ and you allocate cards from there to different team boards depending on workload.

You probably already know that you can move or copy cards from one board to another. The only thing you need to be mindful of is that people assigned to Cards will be removed unless they are members of both boards. Everything else transfers pretty seamlessly.

Scenario:

Let’s consider a scenario. You have multiple software development teams all working from a common Product Backlog. Each unit has its task board set up in Trello, which allows them to move cards from ‘Backlog’ through ‘WorkInProgress’ to ‘Done.’ What we want to do is this:

  1. Maintain a backlog on one central board
  2. Assign cards to teams from the central board and show them as being ‘Assigned to a Team’
  3. Allow teams to flow cards through their boards, completing the work before moving the Card to ‘Done’
  4. Update the central board to show the Trello card work is done.

Here’s how we use Butler across multiple Trello Boards

Starting on the central board, we set up card buttons to assign the Card to a team. Each team has a button. The actions assigned to the button are:

  1. Add a member to the Card (assign one representative from the team);
  2. Move the Card to the ‘Assigned to Team’ List;
  3. Add a comment to the Card;
  4. Create a copy of the board on the Team board;
  5. Link the two cards together.

Here’s what it looks like:

Trello board showing a Butler Automation

Once you have your button created on the Central Board, you can move over to the Team board and create a rule there too. This rule is going to be triggered by a card moving into ‘Done.’ Here’s what the rule looks like:

  1. Mark the due date complete;
  2. Post a comment to the Card confirming it is complete;
  3. Update the linked Card and mark it complete;
  4. Post a comment on the linked Card, marking it complete.

Image of a rule set up in Butler for Trello

The final step is to move the Card on the Central board into the ‘Done’ list. The trigger we will use is the comment ‘Complete’ that was added to the Card by the rule on the Team board. What we are doing is using the Butler rule on one board, to trigger a Butler rule on another. Clever eh? Here are the steps:

  1. Mark the due date as complete;
  2. Move the Card to the ‘Done’ list.

Butler for Trello rule moving a card to Done

And there we have it! Our automation is all set up. Let’s see it in action:

Integrating Trello with other applications

Butler for Trello provides some decent workflow automation capability, allowing you to keep your boards well maintained and up to date.  We’ve seen in the example above how you can get an overview of work across all of your teams by putting rules in place to copy a card, link the Card and create a bidirectional link between two different boards.

The Butler power-up does a great job automating tasks within your Trello boards, but what if you want to integrate your Trello workflows with other applications? Think about it for a moment, how many apps do you use and switch between regularly? What if you could integrate those with Trello? Here are some of the possibilities you may wish to consider:

  • Every time someone signs up to your Zoom Webinar, a card is automatically created on Trello, reminding you to reach out to them personally;
  • When cards are moved into ‘Ready for Security Test’ a ticket is automatically created in the call logging system used by the Security Team;
  • When cards on an incident management board are completed, an email is automatically sent to the person who raised the issue, confirming it has been closed;
  • When a card representing a project moves from one gateway list to the next, the Project Portfolio Management (PPM) tool is updated, and the PMO are notified;
  • Automatically creating new cards from a google sheet;
  • Sending a Slack message to the team to celebrate each completed task.

Butler has some integrations built-in. With the integrations in place, you can send emails, update Jira, or send a Slack message, quickly within Butler. For other automation, you will need to look at alternatives, such as an application or service-specific Power-Up, Zapier integrations, or Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

Using Trello Power-Ups

The team at Trello understand their customers will be using multiple applications, and have done some great work to make Trello APIs accessible, and to encourage others to integrate with them. Browsing through their ever-growing list of Power-ups, you will see familiar systems such as Salesforce, Slack, Github, and many more. Not all of these Power-Ups are free, and some are more feature-rich than others, so you will have to do your research.

Zapier integrations with Trello

Zapier has a large number of Trello integrations that allow you to link your Trello boards.

What is Zapier?

If you’ve never come across Zapier before, it is well worth you having a look. Zapier is an online automation tool that focuses on connecting applications and services together. It has a simple web-based drag-n-drop interface that allows you to easily link data or actions on one application to actions or data in another. In Zapier language, each of these interactions is called a Zap, and it is these zaps that allow you to integrate Trello with thousands of other apps. Whether you want to sync your to-do list with Evernote or connect with Project Management systems such as Basecamp, or collaboration tools such as Miro, You can create your very own custom Zaps in under five minutes.

How does Zapier work with Trello?

Zapier is simple to set up. While there is a paid subscription, there are many zaps you can create with a free account. Consider the example below. I was running a live event ticketed through the online ticketing site Universe. I created a Zap that would automatically create a new card in Trello every time someone purchased a ticket for my event on Universe. The image below shows you how simple it is to start building your Zap. Once you have defined what the Zap should do, the Zapier application walks you through the process of connecting up your accounts and testing your Zap to make sure it performs as expected.

Setting up a Zapier Zap to connect Universe with Trello

We are setting up a Zapier Zap to connect Universe with Trello.

Harnessing the power of RPA

For more complex or customized integrations, Using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) solutions like UiPath is an excellent solution. HotPMO specializes in RPA solutions, and UiPath recognizes us as experts in supporting and delivering RPA solutions that drive real transformational outcomes for customers. If you’ve not come across RPA before, then you should probably pause reading this article and take a look at our recent post Automation in a time of Covid19, which gives an excellent example of how automation can accelerate processes and free up time.

Here at HotPMO, we’ve used RPA in two ways with Trello:

1. Using UiPath RPA to interact with Trello Boards in the Browser

Using UiPath RPA to interact with Trello Boards in the Browser: One of the things we like to do is keep track of how many people are attending our regular PMO meetup, #PMOWfh on Wednesdays.  To achieve this, we have an automated bot that runs regularly. The bot grabs the latest attendance figures from Zoom.us, before updating cards in Trello with the latest stats. This approach allows people to get the latest data directly in the Trello board without contacting the Zoom account owner to ask for status updates.

2. Using UiPath RPA to engage with the Trello API

Trello has a robust API for performing sophisticated automation. Recently, HotPMO worked with ChangeSchool.org to deliver a virtual business accelerator program. During the program, 20 teams of engineering entrepreneurs in Malaysia, Jordan, and Egypt used Trello to visualize progress and support each other on their journeys. By using UiPath and the Trello API, we were able to spin up the 20 boards rapidly. The bot configured the Trello Boards with the correct Power-Ups, Lists, and Checklists. Finally, it allocated individuals to boards and emailed them the details. We used RPA to track progress too. A Bot regularly ran throughout the Accelerator, collecting card status data from all 20 boards and consolidating it into a central dashboard that visualized team activity, we could provide targeted support for the teams that needed it most.

Summary

Trello is a great productivity tool for individuals and small teams, but it can be cumbersome at scale. Fortunately, robust automation solutions exist that help with this, allowing you to automate workflows, maintain visibility across boards, and link Trello with other systems and apps. We hope you find this guide useful and are keen to turbocharge your Trello productivity through automation. Have you got a Trello automation story to share? Let us know in the comments below.

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