Trellisaze: Using Trello for lab organisation

Previously, I wrote a post with tips for new PIs on lab organisation. Since that time, I’ve started using Trello to organise operations in my lab.

Trello is basically a way to track the progress of projects. Collaborative working is built-in. A friend had begun using Trello as she got involved in building an app. It seems that Trello is popular among teams working to develop software. Sure enough, I asked for opinions on Trello via twitter and got a nice email from somebody on the Open Microscopy Environment team on the pros and cons of using Trello. You can see one of their boards in action here, it is after all, open! This convinced me to give it a go. I set up a few boards, invited the lab members and got stuck in.


I set up subject-specific and technique-specific boards (as well as my own to-do list and a board for tasks at home). All lab members are members of Royle Lab group and we have two groups boards – General and Molecular Biology. The General Stuff contains information about lab meetings, one-to-one meetings, orders etc. even photos of lab socials. Molecular Biology, everyone is a member because everybody does some cloning in my group. Then the Membrane Traffic people have a board that the others can’t see etc. I’ll probably move to making them all available to everybody in the group soon. The default is for boards to be closed, i.e. not possible for outsiders to see. You need to add people to your board for them to see it and to work with you.

Part of an example board is shown here:


I’ve redacted parts that we’re not ready to tell the world about just yet. There are many guides online to show you how to get going with Trello. Basically, you have Boards. Within each board you have Lists, the columns that you see above. On a list, you put Cards. On the back of the card you can comment, add checklists, files, links, due dates etc etc. People can be assigned to cards and to provide updates with how it’s going. All of these things can be easily edited as priorities change. For example, I am writing a paper with one person and so we have a list for the paper, with cards for each figure and a card for writing.

I’m happy with how this is working. For example, when writing a paper, myself and the first author used to do an awful lot of rapid communication via email (I’ve previously called this Tiki-taka). It’s best if this was kept out of our Inboxes and organised somewhere. Also, how can we keep track of what still needs doing? Did that experiment get redone with the extra control? Which folder were the tracking experiments in? All of this can be recorded and managed using Trello. You can see the little speech bubble on each card indicating that we are talking to each other.

My tips/notes are:

  • In a team, there will always be some people who take to it and use it avidly, while others don’t engage.
  • To encourage take up, I communicate through Trello to the lab rather than using email.
  • Also, at our weekly one-to-one meetings, we edit cards together.
  • We are just using the free version. I’ve accumulated credits to go gold, but haven’t done so.
  • There are good iOS and Android apps for Trello. Notifications get pushed here if you subscribe to a board, list or card. It will ping you emails too, but you can switch this off.
  • File sharing is still done via our server (or Dropbox for small files), but notifications go on the board.
  • Make cards very specific, cards covering big lab projects will fester and clutter up the list.
  • The help files are incredibly nerdy… they even have a dog called Taco who pops up now and again.

Summary: I recommend Trello (note that other management softwares are available – kanbanflow, slack etc), particularly if you have a large group. Even for new PIs or those with small groups who might be on top of everything, I think there is still something that you’ll get out of it.

The post title is taken from Trellisaze by Slowdive from their Pygmalion LP.

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