Successful projects are all about successful project management. Use these tools to cruise your way to success!
Project management is the secret sauce that finishes projects successfully and allows companies to become great. No, this is not clickbait — I’ve seen two software companies up close (I was employed there) get destroyed within 1-2 years because of poor project management. A few others saw their product launches delayed by several months. While I’ll agree that like most other disciplines out there, project management sees plenty of snake oil and charlatans, it doesn’t diminish its importance and impact.
And what applies to project management applies to project management tools as well — the excellent ones can help you increase managerial efficiency, reduce completion time, reduce confusion and frustration, and so on. So, here are some of the best project management tools out there for companies of all sizes and needs.
Basecamp has been in the project management game for a very long time. It was launched in 2004, and since then has more or less stayed true to its philosophy of simplicity and clarity. These are the folks that created the hyper-popular Ruby on Rails web framework, so I’d say they know a thing or two about designing simple, useful things. 🙂
Basecamp has teams, projects, tasks, etc., as you’d expect, but there are a few other cool features I’d like to highlight:
- Real-time chat: If you use Basecamp, there’s no need to toggle between it and a chat tool to manage real-time communication. The group chats are also capable of all the features we expect these days from chat applications: @mentions, media attachments, emojis, and more.
- Client access: Basecamp lets you hook your clients directly into your projects (fully controlling what they can or cannot see) and work with them. Existing clients emails can be forwarded to Basecamp, and deliverables can be previewed, discussed, and approved directly from Basecamp.
- To-do lists: No matter how sophisticated project management tools get, there will always be room for to-do lists. There are many, many cases when the tasks are very well understood by everyone involved, and all we need is a “quick and dirty” way to keep them somewhere. In Basecamp, to-do lists are quite powerful, as reminders and notifications are done automatically, so you don’t have to poke anyone for status updates. 😉
- Message boards: When brainstorming or announcements are done, tremendously useful discussions can be generated — and lost. Basecamp’s message boards allow you to turn such communications into a message board, where your team can discuss, react, and attach files.
- Documents and files: Basecamp’s document and file management game is solid. All project uploads and preserved, and files that get changed are versioned. Google Docs can be directly shared into Basecamp and edited.
Basecamp is a delightful product, in my opinion, that makes sense for teams of all sizes whose needs are generic and straightforward. Yes, Basecamp is not a power tool for doing very specialized tasks (say, Agile Software Development), and the company doesn’t hide that fact.
Probably the best part is pricing: at a flat $99 per month (yes, no matter what team size!) Basecamp makes itself a no-brainer in its domain.
Quite unlike our previous tool Basecamp, Jira is a project management suite geared towards managing agile software projects. As a result, its target market, pricing, complexity, capabilities, etc., are all different. In fact, it’s not uncommon for software teams to start on Basecamp and “graduate” to Jira.
Jira is developed by Atlassian, the company behind BitBucket, which for a long time, was preferred by closed source projects over GitHub as it offered unlimited private repositories.
If your software teams have grown to the point that project management tools that felt breezy before now seem to be inadequate, it’s time to move to Jira. Right from project planning to reporting, tracking bugs to going deep into wastage, Jira has everything. Here are some cool features that distinguish Jira:
- A rich set of APIs available for those wanting to build alternative interfaces for their workflows.
- Scrum and Kanban boards.
- Several development methodologies are supported. For those who are still not happy, there’s the option to create your own.
- Integrates with over 3,000 apps.
- Intelligent automation like auto-assigning tasks to a person, linking issues to code, etc., reduces mental friction and let you build complicated workflows quickly.
- Powerful and extensive reporting.
Jira is pricey, at least as compared to other popular but lightweight project management tools. Its cost per user per month model ($7 for standard, $14 for premium) can cost thousands of dollars a month for large teams. But then, the cost is offset by the fact that without Jira, teams of this size would simply sink. 🙂
Asana is a general-purpose project management tool that focuses on speed and intuitiveness. I say speed because Asana is a great example of a well-designed single-page app. Everything happens instantly, the very moment you click, which is such a convenience when you’re doing stuff in a hurry (under pressure).
Here are some of the noteworthy features of Asana:
- Workload: Workloads are a visual summary of how much your team members have on their plate. That way, you can tell at a glance whether your marketing, design, and engineering teams will be able to collaborate over that key product change due next month.
- Visual timelines: Project timelines in Asana are visually composed and very powerful. They allow you to plan a project with ease and visually see where it stands.
- Calendar: The Asana calendar is connected to all of your tasks and plannings, and can reveal how the schedule for the team is stacked up. It’s the place to go to if you want to make sure the schedule is not out of sync or just broken.
- Image proofing: This is just a fancy term, but the underlying feature is great — it allows reviewers to add comments to various parts of an image. This is invaluable for design teams, as collecting feedback without specific visual references tends to be a nightmare.
The basic version of Asana is free and has a restriction of 15 team members. If you need to add more members or want to get access to advanced features like the admin console, image proofing, etc., pricing starts at $10 per user per month.
There’s much more, and not enough space here to cover. The bottom line is that Asana has risen to popularity rapidly and is an excellent choice for project management for organizations of all sizes.
Trello is a refreshingly different and minimalistic take on project management. It has none of the overwhelming features that require deep study and commitment. In fact, its total number of key features can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Before you roll your eyes and dismiss it, give it a chance.
Trello took the concept of Kanban board from the Agile software methodology and made it mass market. The idea is simple: tasks are created in cards, which are stacked on one of the many boards you create.
These boards can represent anything: the functions/divisions in your company, the state of the task, or maybe even the months of a calendar year. Team members can comment on the cards, get into discussions, attach images, and so so forth. Once task on a card is finished, it’s moved to the next one. Like this:
The free plan of Trello is pretty good, with a limitation being only on the number of boards and attachment size, and not on the number of users! For most people, this is enough, though premium plans are starting at $10 per user per month. If you’re a small team (or even a single person!) whose projects don’t need to be elaborately planned, Trello is a fun and efficient option!
Next up on our list is Podio, which is a heavyweight offering for large teams and enterprises that need customization and CRM capabilities.
So why use Podio? Here are some of the reasons:
- Customizability: Unlike many of its competitors, Podio has extensive customization options. This allows you not just to change the way how its modules work but also get rid of parts that aren’t relevant to you.
- Built-in CRM: The Podio CRM comes complete with customer information management, customer journey tracking, lead tracking, and other key features in a CRM.
- Employee management: Podio has first-class support for employee management, allowing you to manage expenses, vacations, activity streams, and more from a single place.
- Project management: Collaborating with clients, linking emails to tasks, granular access rights, planning Scrum projects, and making sprints, it’s all included.
- Event management, email management, business management . . . the list goes on! 🙂
While Podio has a free plan, it only offers basic task management. Quite frankly, there’s little reason to use the basic plan other than to get the feel of the platform. The paid tiers are where the really powerful features are unlocked, and these vary from $9 to $24 per user per month.
True to its name, Teamwork allows teams to collaborate and work more efficiently while allowing the stakeholders to always maintain a high-level view of the project.
Teamwork has Trello-like boards and time tracking built-in, so if you’re looking for a clean, useful app with these features, Teamwork is for you. It’s free to use if you have up to five users, while the premium plans start at $9 per user per month.
Before I close it out, I do want to mention that Teamwork is a suite of products, the project management app being one of them. They also offer a CRM, a helpdesk software, a document management system, a chat app (like Slack), and more. Check them out here.
In terms of pure innovation, Airtable is the most exciting development of late when it comes to project management tools. You can think of Airtable as spreadsheets on steroids — and even the company describes it that way — but in my opinion, this view does a disservice to the capabilities of this tool.
Now, one component of Airtable is indeed spreadsheets, but it’s so loaded with features that you might start hating your favorite spreadsheets program! I mean, just look at this:
It’s as concise as a spreadsheet but has visual separation of tasks, colorful tags that can be instantly distinguished, ability to assign tasks to people, notifications, and on and on.
Another kick-ass feature is Blocks, which are small, complete, and specialized modules that you can incorporate into your workflows to increase productivity. Sounds abstract, I know, so here are some concrete examples: maps and geocoding, Gantt charts, bar/line/scatter plots, visual page builder, 3D models explorer, time tracker, organization chart — well, I’m out of breath! The point is, these Blocks just work and can be dropped into any of your tasks and workflows.
Combine this with the usual features like document management, Kanban boards, calendars, and you have something amazing at your hands.
The best part is pricing: the free plan allows teams of unlimited size, with the only restriction being that a single base (sheet) cannot contain more than 1,200 items. Sounds pretty irresistible to me!
There is a Udemy course for entrepreneurs if you are interested in learning Airtable.
When Microsoft does something, it may not be the prettiest thing ever, but it gets the job done do well, and people can’t separate it from their lives. Windows, Office, Outlook, Sharepoint, and Exchange all examples of that. Same goes for Microsoft Project, a product aimed specifically (in fact, highly specifically) at professional project managers working with very large teams.
Whether it’s project management, resource management, or portfolio management, Microsoft Project gives you a comprehensive tool to capture the complexity accurately. As of writing, Microsoft recently added support for Agile project workflows, which will appeal to those enterprises that have some teams or divisions working in an Agile way.
There are two big reasons to choose:
- On-premise installation: While the tools we’ve covered so far as amazing, the reality for most enterprises is that they’re not allowed to host data outside of company assets due to compliance reasons. With Microsoft Project, it’s easy to accomplish this as they also offer an on-premise version.
- Long-term stability: Microsoft is a company that has been around forever and will be around forever (kind of), so you can be safe in the knowledge that your business processes won’t come to a grinding halt one day as the company that built the tool collapsed.
Planning, PMP, Enterprise — sounds like your jam, then check Microsoft Project out!
As the name suggests, TeamGantt is to Gantt charts what Trello is to Kanban boards. The company has focused on Gantt charts as the primary (and only) driver of planning and executive project workflows. Now while this does restrict functionality severely, it also makes TeamGantt incredibly clean, easy to learn, and efficient.
But don’t get deceived into thinking that all you can do with TeamGantt is make Gantt charts and follow up with the assignee. There’s a lot of functionality that revolves around making collaboration easier, such as:
- Document management
- Time tracking
- Dependencies (mapping projects that rely on other projects)
The free plan allows only three members and one project, so it’s pretty there to let you get a taste of the app. Paid plans are at $10 and $15 per user per month. If you think Gantt charts work the best for you and want to build your workflows around that, TeamGantt is a nice and good-looking option.
Zoho Projects is one of the many offerings from Zoho, a company with which you might already be familiar. Think of Zoho Projects as a solid mix of sorts of all the features we’ve come across in this list.
Gantt charts, milestones, bug tracking, timesheets, document management, finance, integration with popular apps, forums and more — like I said, it’s a bit of everything and plays all the parts really well. The base plan is free for up to 10 users, and after that, the app will cost between $20 and $35 per month (note: it’s a fixed monthly cost, not per user).
Zoho Projects is a nice option on its own, but it makes even more sense if you’re already using the Zoho business suite of apps.
There’s no denying that project management tools are critical to a team’s success. With so many options around, it can be overwhelming to decide what’s good for you. That’s why this list contains the top tools that I think are the best and quite different from each other. I really hope it helps you zero down on the right one! 🙂