Tracking hours burndown in Trello

TrelloIn 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.

Permissions

Upon installation, the typical app permissions warning is shown and displays the following:

Plus for Trello permissions

  • Access your data on 5 websites:
    • docs.google.com
    • script.google.com
    • script.googleusercontent.com
    • spreadsheets.google.com
    • trello.com
  • 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.

Going Zero

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:

Advantages:

  • 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

Disadvantages:

  • 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.

First Impressions

Plus For Trello Board
Plus For Trello Board

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.

Timers

Card - After Timer
Card – After Timer

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.

Burndown

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.

PlusForTrello_Burndown_AfterManualEntry

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.

Recommendation

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!

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6 thoughts on “Tracking hours burndown in Trello”

  1. Hi Jason, thanks for your review!
    I will comment on a couple features you mentioned:

    1) how to use timers:
    Indeed its not yet super intuitive, but the help pane (read it 🙂 explains it. To start the card timer, just click on it. You can then leave the card open and see a real-time timer, or close the card window and open it later to see the real-time timer even if you are on another device (if you have signed into chrome as it uses chrome sync storage for this).
    To stop the timer, click it again. This will not yet enter the timer, it just pre-fills the spent time into the plus bar so you have a chance to enter additional info like an Estimate or a comment. The “Enter” button turns yellow to remind you to cick it.

    2) Google sync mode:
    While its true that I could store everything inside trello itself, that is not convenient and even Spent for trello just reads from trello but also writes data into spreadsheets.
    The reasons are:

    – performance: I would need to read from trello board history. once for each board on every sync. In contrast when using the spreadsheet it just reads from a single sync source.

    – multiple teams configurations: when using spreadsheets, you can just point to a different spreadsheet to “open” different Plus projects, which would be tricky to support directly from trello. I will eventually make it easier to switch teams, currently you have to paste the new sync url in setup but I will add a “recent” list.

    – If I were to read from Trello, an additional setup would be needed to request a permanent trello read token, plus each user will need to configure Plus to tell which boards to read from. In constrast Plus just asks for a single google permission during sync setup and can access all boards.

    – Having a sync source separate from Trello means you have your data in two places (trello card comments plus the Google spreadsheet), which gives you more options to interface with it.

    – Trello doesnt allow to store metadata, so there are things like active card timers that I cant store directly on trello.

    – The backend reads from trello directly by using trello webhooks which is very efficient but webhooks cannot be used from a client browser. The only reason it reads from trello is really for security because users dont have permissions into the spreadsheets, The backend server reads from trello comments and read/writes the spreadsheets. So even if you use the backend you will still need to setup the backend to use google permissions.

    The current website permissions it needs are:
    docs.google.com : only to create the sync spreadsheet
    spreadsheets.google.com : to read/write the sync spreadsheet
    script.google.com : for spent backend usage (ability to call the backend)
    script.googleusercontent.com : ditto
    trello.com : to read the actual trello pages as you navigate trello

    The only two of possible concern are docs.google.com and spreadsheets.google.com because it means that a malicious extension could read your other spreadsheets besides the sync spreadsheet. Of course Plus doesnt and its easily verifiable by searching for XMLHttpRequest usage (used in Plus only to read/write the single sync spreadsheet in your drive).

    Note that in contrast to a regular website these are *local* permissions to the extension in your computer. This means your google token is never sent or stored anywhere outside your own computer (Plus doesnt even view it or store it, its managed directly by the Chrome identity API).

    All Google communications are done directly from your computer to Google.
    The code is open-source and you can even inspect it directly from chrome console (F12). I publish it un-minimized and with source comments. To inspect all its source you need to see “content scripts” from trello, and also the source code for its background page (from chrome://extensions/)

    Again thanks a lot for publishing this review, and keep an eye for cool new features soon like being able to very easily keep tabs on increased board estimates.
    To anyone still reading, please consider helping with design suggestions. Ive invested little in design so I can focus on the basic features first but I will consider all advice received (directly from the “Suggestions” link in Plus help inside trello).

    cheers,
    Zig Mandel
    Plus for Trello developer

  2. Hey, me again. I just published a new version (2.4.10), now Plus fully supports the Scrum for Trello format, which it will use if the card is new or already has S/E in Scrum for Trello format. Now users can try Plus without worrying about that.

  3. Ok I promise not to spam anymore, but thanks to your review of chrome permissions I noticed that “tabs and browsing activity” were no longer needed, thus Plus v2.4.11 no longer asks for those. They were used before chrome supported chrome.identity, thus Plus used to do the google oauth flow manually and had to detect the authentication on another tab, which is no longer the case since I ported authentication to chrome.identity recently.
    BTW I regularly (weekly) improve Plus based on user feedback, you dont have to be a blog writer to get your wishes, cheers 🙂

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