Staying organized with an abundance of unique, custom projects

Posted on May 21 2021

trello board metal custom orders with cutting torch background

I recall back to quite possibly the busiest week of my working life, the combination of finishing medical school finals for the semester and beginning the Christmas rush of 2017. I was finishing up a long, long semester of studying the kidneys, anatomy, and whatever else my training fed me at the time. Coming out of my exhaustion with finals, I had over 130 orders for custom metal signs to ship in just 4 days time. 4 days. I’d never done anything like it before. Spoiler alert - we crushed it. My wife and my dad played a big role helping me get some things done in the shop. How did we organize it?

Trello.

The simple, free app you can start using right now, pictured above. They aren’t paying me to say this, although I wish that they would. Perhaps more important than Trello was first understanding my own process for production. Make the sale, do the design, export the file, cut the steel, clean the steel, paint, dry, package, ship. Myself, I did this over 2,000 times during medical school.

Trello is set up to match this process. Our lists reflect the process described above. As projects move from one stage to another, they get moved in Trello. This was helpful when I worked alone. It was critical during rush seasons (I’m looking at you, Christmas 2017). It’s absolutely 100% essential now that the business operates with 3-4 people having their hands on a project at any given time.

We have our own Trello language.

“#1204_24 - Wilson - ^^ - PC BLK” may mean nothing to you, but to any of our team members, they will know exactly what to create, including welded tabs and a black powder coat. The language was born out of shorthand for keeping the cards simple over the years. After all, when you have 130 orders open, things need to be brief.

It’s free, I think I mentioned that. You may know of a fancier option, as they readily exist(CRM software) but I would challenge you to test the limits of Trello first. (How am I doing, Trello folks? Have I earned a commission yet?) To boot, we have triggers set up to integrate card creation. The triggers consolidate our orders from Shopify and Etsy into one place, which is a huge benefit of Trello for us. When we get an email that we have a new order, that email feeds a filter that automatically creates a card with pieces of our language. We still curate the cards and polish them to match the customer request but it trims the leg work significantly. We do pay for the triggers, some $20 per month via Zapier.com - well worth it for the many orders we have coming in. 

The organization paid off in 2017, we managed to get all the orders out in time for Christmas. We’ve been using Trello since Day 1 of business. These days, we 'run the board' as a team to get on the same page. We start at the beginning column and work our way to the end, discussing any cards or projects that need to be discussed. It takes a couple minutes, and sometimes uncovers miscommunications in production.

 

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