If you’ve never heard of Trello you are in for a nice surprise. Trello is a powerful project management tool that stands out for it’s simplicity. Basically, you create a project board with columns to list your “to dos”, “doing” and “done”. Then you create cards for each item to be done, and “drag and drop” the cards to the appropriate column. Each card opens to a back space where you can add comments, upload file attachments, create checklists, add labels and due dates. You can share the board with members of your team, and access the board via outstanding mobile apps. In addition, it’s free of charge at the basic level, which comes with all the features you’ll ever need for an efficient order tracking system.
I first discovered Trello about 5 years ago, when I was looking for a way to track our orders online. We were using a white board with columns for each stage of the process, and 3 x 3 dry and erase magnets we had a local shop make for us. This method was working fairly well. Each magnet had the order number, client and item written on it. There was a file in an adjacent rack that held the paperwork, which we kept in clear plastic sleeves. As the orders moved through the stages the cards moved to through the columns. It was easy to see where the entire workload and bottle necks at a glance.
But accuracy was an issue with our method. The person in charge of order management not always made the notes on the paperwork or moved the cards. In the end, the board was really being updated once a week, before our weekly production meeting. Since my team was part time, I wanted that anyone could answer a question about the status of an order at any given point, and it wasn’t working that way. Plus, as technology advanced, I thought it would be awesome to be able to check on orders when I was away from the office. So I stared to look for ways to make this possible, and that’s when I found Trello.
The beauty of Trello is that I could take the entire order tracking process online, just as I had it in my physical white board. Not having to make any changes to the process made adoption very quick and easy. We soon stopped using our white board although we did keep our paperwork pretty much the same way, and still do.
Our Order Tracking Board
This is a sample board I created to demonstrate how we set up and used our board. First off, we created the same columns we had on our white board: Order Entry, On Hold, Production, Shipped, Delivered, Archive.
On the first column we have a “how to use this board” card with basic instructions of the tracking process workflow, this is very useful when someone new comes on board, or someone has to fill in for the person in charge.
We create a card for each order as they come in, and title it the same way we did our physical board: number, client name, and item name. The front of the card shows some of the information that you add to the back of the card, such as due dates and task lists progress.
When you click on a card you access the back of the card, this is what it looks like. It’s pretty self explanatory. We created a template card with all the customization included, shown below. Every time a new order comes in, we duplicate this card to create the new card for the new order, and the pertinent info is filled in.
This is how the back of a completed order card looks like:
There are several features we find useful, such as labels, which allows you to tag your card and quickly see what’s being done or needs to be done. We have the “needs action” label on our template as it will require action most of the times, to be able to move it to the next step.
Another great feature is the calendar, where you we add a due date. This shows in the front of the card and changes color when it’s past due. One way we use this to indicate when an order is due to ship, and then change to when it’s to be delivered, etc.
We also created checklists for every step in each of the stages. Very easy to be very detailed on the tracking process, from anywhere. Checklists have a progress bar, and when you tick off a task as it’s completed, the task doesn’t disappear, like in most task management tools.
New orders can be added via email, using an email address that’s assigned to each board. New cards sent by email are automatically added to the “order entry” column, and we transfer the information to a duplicated template card and then delete the card that was emailed.
There you have it!
We’ve tried a bunch of methods and this is, by far, the easiest way for everyone in my team that’s involved to do their part to keep it moving. It just works. I hope you find this useful, and would love to hear your thoughts about how you use Trello, or if you have found another practical way to manage your orders that you are happy with.