In the past, I’ve written about some tools for doing Scrum inside of Trello, as well as some guidance on creating Scrum boards using these plugins. Recently, I received a question about how to accurately track hours spent in Trello. Zig Mandel, the man behind Plus for Trello and Spent for Trello, reached out and recommended taking a look at his Chrome plugin which does some similar tasks to Scrum for Trello and Burndown for Trello, but provides a richer hours burndown.
The plugin is advertised as an open-source and free tool that will not collect data or insert ads, whose primary purpose seems to be tracking time spent on cards in Trello. A lot of reporting features and timers built into the plugin allow you to track at card levels, list levels, or across the entire board. Other plugins I’ve used don’t have this level of accurate spent tracking for tasks, that is for sure.
Upon installation, the typical app permissions warning is shown and displays the following:
Plus for Trello permissions
- Access your data on 5 websites:
- Access your tabs and browsing activity
Contrast this with the permissions for Scrum for Trello:
Scrum for Trello permissions
- Access your data on trello.com
The reason for the additional permissions is to support the Google Sync Spreadsheet mode which is the mode recommended by Zig for using the plugin. This mode also needs you to be signed into your Google account in Chrome so that it can connect to your drives.
For my purposes, I wanted to limit access during my trial of this plugin so I have been running the plugin without being signed in to Chrome, and with my full browser history, cache, and cookies cleared prior to enabling the plugin. This is known as the Zero setup mode, which the Spent for Trello site states has the following advantages and disadvantages:
- You don’t need to do anything to configure it
- If you later configure a sync spreadsheet it will merge your existing data from all devices
- Cannot be used in team mode (but it allows team mode once you enable sync)
- Data is not stored in the cloud only locally, thus you could lose it on a hard-drive failure, etc
- You only see the data you entered on the same device (until you enable sync)
I can see a lot of advantages to using the sync and team modes to share data across devices and team members, but without knowing the plugin yet I wasn’t ready to roll it out to the team, so I went with zero mode.
As soon as I loaded my board and enabled the plugin, the Plus for Trello Help displayed. The majority of the introductory text asks for help by donating time or money to support the plugin, but there is a lot of information on how to use the plugin readily available here. In addition, instructions for migrating from Scrum for Trello are available, including a preferences checkbox to import the data. Unfortunately, this box does not inform the plugin to save using Scrum for Trello syntax, so once you start using the plugin timers the Plus syntax is used instead.
After setting the import preference, the board automatically shows the Spent/Estimate values, but burndown is not available yet. Timer data is needed to generate the burndown reports using tasks. If you are wanting task burndown instead of points burndown, this is perfect.
I’ll admit that I didn’t read the help. When first using any new tool I want to see how intuitive it is and I dive right in and try to use it. While the Spent / Estimate syntax was fairly straightforward, I didn’t quite get how to get the timers to do what I wanted. There’s a new button added to the card to run a timer, and it seems to support adding it in as your spent time on the card, but I wasn’t sure why my estimate value wouldn’t get set. Eventually, I started manually entering the estimate value and it seemed to work from there on.
A task spent/estimate table is shown directly in the Activity area of the card to roll-up activity on the card. The individual timer entries are added to the activity history so you can see how the values have been changed, and the tool also supports adding in data retroactively.
The Burndown is fairly straightforward. It uses the timer entries that have been stored and creates a graph showing the changing estimates of tasks, and the changing spent effort and remaining effort, and plots that graph over time. The graph will show tracking of total estimate, total time spent, and total time remaining.
Google Sync Mode
I was curious as to why Google Sync mode was required. Since Trello already shares all its data across all users in almost real-time, I wasn’t sure what else was going on here. I reached out to Zig to find out some more on this, and it seems that some of the more advanced data used by the Spent for Trello back-end (not yet available to users) cannot be stored in Trello. It will probably be a nice enhancement if this can move to using Trello as the primary data source for all of the data, thus leveraging the automatic data-sharing that Trello already has.
I think this tool has passed the sophistication of other plugins, but is lacking the user interface polish that others have. Spent for Trello is still not available as a public admin tool for a similar reason, so I think these tools could definitely use a revision by a UX designer. That being said, Plus for Trello seems to work and doesn’t seem buggy, so that’s a good sign. Also, there seem to be regular updates to the plugin, including a new version this past week. It is always a good sign to know a plugin will be actively supported and enhanced.
In regards to running in Zero mode, this mode does provide more for a user than Scrum for Trello, and supports the Scrum for Trello syntax for import, but it does mean that you will have to get everybody to switch over as the syntax isn’t backwards compatible and will update the syntax after import.
Personally, when I use Trello I prefer running ‘Scrum-light’ where I just have to worry about points and not actual hours spent on tasks, but that’s just me. I know that there were recently questions on another post asking for tracking burndown of task hours for the Sprint Burndown, as opposed to the Release burndown. Plus for Trello seems to give you this ability.
If you do run with this plugin, I recommend using one board for the Sprint only to track hours, and then have a separate board for release planning to track your release progress based on points.
I have reservations about giving a plugin the level of access this one requires for the Google synchronization mode, which is pretty much a necessity if you are running with a team on this. If there is a way to move these tools to using Trello as the primary data store, I think this would solve this for my own personal use.
Given a few more updates, Plus for Trello will probably reach the maturity it needs. When the admin tool Spent for Trello is released it will undoubtedly put the combination at the lead of the pack. Keep an eye out for this one!