A project lifecycle involves 4 phases. Concept, planning, execution, and closure.
Managing them can be complex. Task management, time management, and file management. Resource allocation and getting deliverables out on time.
One has to reckon with many moving parts.
Things get more complicated when remote or distributed teams are involved. For example, there’s time zones, work schedules, and availability to negotiate.
This is why we have project management software tools. To sync work and make it better, so projects get done. Regardless of project complexity, team size, and/or geographic distance.
What is project management software and why is it important?
Project management software is software that plans and tracks all aspects of a project.
Project managers and individual team members gain visibility on workflows. Gantt charts track progress.
Project management apps are also a type of collaboration software. There’s real-time resource management and customizable workflow management. Task lists and subtasks let large and small teams distribute work effectively.
Team collaboration also benefits from timesheets and time tracking tools. Assets and information are centralized with document management, file sharing, and file storage.
Project management systems are available as SaaS cloud-based and on-premise solutions. And they typically come with a mobile app for work on the go.
Why is this kind of digital tool important?
Project management apps allow businesses to control costs and meet deadlines. To keep track of complex projects and make collaborative work more efficient.
What are the different types of project management software?
Here’s our list of the different kinds of project management tools and apps you can find:
The project management tool is downloaded as a program to your desktop (or laptop). Then you access it from your own device. This the “classic” variety of project management software. It has largely been supplanted by web-based apps.
The app is offered in software as a service (SaaS) form. This means you can log in and use it from anywhere with an internet connection. Project files and dashboards are updated in real-time for all users.
Multiple users can access the platform to work together. Project information is updated in real-time. Task, subtask, and chat tools are provided to keep everyone aligned.
Scheduling features keep project activities organized and on time. Gantt charts allow big picture time tracking. When timelines change, many apps let you compare the new schedule and baseline (original) schedule.
Project stakeholders can report issues. These can then be monitored and dealt with. Issue resolution can be tracked and team members assigned to fix problems.
Project Portfolio Management
Multiple projects in a company’s portfolio can be tracked and managed. Metrics on project progress, delays, and performance can be compared. This is very useful for larger businesses, but may not be required for small teams with few projects.
Projects entail the exchange of files and media. Document management features allow project stakeholders to access key information. To version and update files and work together.
Tracking the use of budget and human resources is important to project success. Resource management features track expenditures through the project lifecycle.
The pros and cons of project management software types
The above features all promise benefits. But they can also create potential negative impacts.
For example, say you manage a small team or work freelance. And you communicate quickly and/or work in the same space.
In this scenario, creating tasks and scheduling them may actually add to your workload. Creating “tasks” for very small tasks can take almost as much time as doing the task. While also disrupting your flow.
Also, if you don’t update your project management tool, you may find the reality of your project lifecycle is way different from what your app says. Full team adoption and constant use is necessary to realize the benefits of this software.
Then there’s ROI. It’s important to weigh the financial benefits of purchasing an app subscription. And make sure you’re ready to get your team on-board.
Purchasing a program and add-ons may end up eating into your bottom line. If you’re already in the middle of a project, you may find using a new tool can be disruptive rather than helpful.
This kind of software has a wealth of benefits. But it’s important to consider the cons before investing time and money.
What is the best project management software? Here’s our top 12 list:
What’s the difference between good and perfect project management software?
There are many well-designed platforms in this competitive field. The best tool will come down to a combination of app quality and context of usage.
Everyone has different needs. Some apps suit agencies best. Others are targeted at startups and small business owners. Individual/personal and freelancer use, or nonprofits.
You’ll want to ask yourself if you need your app to be Cloud based. Are you looking for the best simple project management software? Or just the best team project management software in general?
Here’s our list of the best project management software. With notes on what kind of business each platform is good for.
Wrike is a comprehensive project management solution. It’s designed to create full visibility and transparency on projects and tasks. To improve team collaboration, speed up approvals, and handle incoming work requests.
Compliance and auditing are made easy. You can track workflows and see who did what, and monitor everything that’s going on. You can also print reports for individual team members and determine project hours.
There are strong data reporting tools. You can also add business intelligence features for more involved reporting and analytics.
It has good integration with Outlook and Microsoft Teams. So Microsoft projects can be managed in the app with ease.
The user interface isn’t as intuitive as it could be. This can slow down full team adoption. App setup is likewise fairly involved.
Free plan for up to 5 users is available.
Professional plan for 5,10, and 15 users is $9.80 per user/per month, billed annually.
Business plan for 5-200 users is $24.80 per user/per month, billed annually.
Enterprise plan for 5-Unlimited users requires contact with the Wrike sales team.
A 14-day free trial is available for the Professional, Business, and Enterprise plans.
Allows you to manage the uncertainties of projects, and adapt to changes. In other words, the “liquid” nature of work.
Move ahead with team availability, priorities, and any scheduled employee vacation time in mind.Smart scheduling plans for the best and worst case scenarios. Estimate time ranges and better manage resources and risk.
Build a macro pipeline for managing all company projects. See pending, approved, and active projects. Manage and prioritize projects with an easy drag-and-drop user interface.
Strategic project managers are supported with automated scheduling and forecasting.
Has a moderate learning curve, and will take some training to use to its full potential. Lacks offline access.
Professional plan is $45 per user/per month, billed annually.
Enterprise plan requires contact with LiquidPlanner.
A 14-day free trial is available for the Professional plan. No credit card required.
Trello is simple, visual web-based project organizing software. It’s a flexible and easy-to-use task management tool. Built around Kanban boards for managing productivity workflows.
Information is visible on cards at a glance. You can add comments, attach files, and set due dates on each card. Create useful lists too.
There’s also workflow automation provided by the “Butler” tool. Set rules, trigger events, and schedule commands.
Trello integrates with Slack, Evernote, Dropbox, and Google Drive. And plenty more. This allows you to sync it with all the apps you already use.
The app’s long been a favorite of freelancers, startups, and small teams. It’s even touted as a way to organize your upcoming family vacation. That’s the level of simplicity we’re talking about.
Trello isn’t a heavyweight project management tool. If your project is truly complex (like say software development), it might not have the tools you need. Particularly if you’re looking for detailed analytics and metrics.
Free plan is available, with unlimited cards and 10MB limit per attachment.
Business Class plan is $9.99 per user/per month billed annually, and $12.50 per user/per month billed monthly.
Enterprise Class plan for 20+ users is $17.50 per user/per month, billed annually. Price per user drops as the number of users increases.
A 14-day free trial is available for the Business Class plan.
Asana helps teams collaborate on projects. To track tasks and communicate through the platform’s many dashboards.
One can view all their tasks as a list form, or see them plotted onto a calendar. There’s a board view, which follows the Kanban logic of moving tasks through stages.
Asana includes tools for conversation and file sharing, which means team members don’t need to rely on emails, other chat apps or cloud platforms to share comments and media.
The timeline feature is sort of a mix between a calendar and a vision board. Projects get mapped out according to an ideal plan. That keeps everyone involved and motivated to meet deadlines.
It’s great for big projects like total website overhauls and new product launches, Marketing campaigns and even event planning.
There’s a free version of the app. It’s targeted at personal work and small team project management. And it’s pretty effective.
There’s a lot of features, and it can be confusing to set up your workflow. The task layout view is not super intuitive. You have to click around quite a bit to get to sub-tasks.
Also, sometimes Asana sends you many email notifications. This can make it tricky to sort out what’s an important update and what’s not.
Basic plan for individuals and teams is free.
Premium plan is $10.99 per user/per month billed annually, and $13.49 per user/per month billed monthly.
Business plan is $24.99 per user/per month billed annually, and $30.49 per user/per month billed monthly.
Enterprise plan requires contact with Asana.
A free trial is available for the Premium and Business plans.
monday.com is a project management app with a rock-solid reputation. It's prized for having a neat interface that puts collaboration tools front and center. And for syncing information across work applications.
It lets you collate workflows and streamline tasks. It incentivizes productivity and gives everyone a heads up on what they need to do.
The platform also lets team members click around and see what’s going on within the bigger picture. That's great for project alignment, not to mention morale.
It’s suitable for startups and small business owners. As well as individual/personal use (i.e. freelancers).
The mobile version has been described by some users as “clunky.” It lacks some of the desktop app’s features. Lacks a call recording feature.
Basic plan is $25 per user/per month, billed annually.
Standard plan is $39 per user/per month, billed annually.
Pro plan is $59 per user/per month, billed annually.
Enterprise plan requires contact with Monday.com.
A 14-day free trial is available without a credit card. It includes unlimited users and boards.
Cloud-based tool for managing project teams. Helps plan work, track it, and collaborate over distances.
Gantt charts help you build a project plan. Keep track of critical tasks. See, at a glance, if there’s a gap between planned progress and reality.
Automate routine tasks to save yourself time. Use a drag-and-drop interface to visualize and build up automation rules.
Timesheets let you log billable and non-billable hours. This is super helpful for invoicing. There’s direct integration with Zoho Invoice as well, which will auto-generate invoices from timesheets.
You can also use Zapier to connect Zoho Projects to a ton of other apps. Excel and Slack, for example.
The user interface is not the most intuitive or aesthetically pleasing. Search function is limited to tasks within specific projects.
Free plan for up to 3 users and 2 projects is available.
Standard plan for 6-10 users is $2.50 per user/per month billed annually, and $3 per user/per month billed monthly.
Express plan for 12-50 users is $3 per user/per month billed annually, and $4 per user/per month billed monthly.
Premium plan for 15-100 users is $4 per user/per month billed annually, and $5 per user/per month billed monthly.
Enterprise plan starting at 20 users is $5 per user/per month billed annually, and $6 per user/per month billed monthly.
A 10-day free trial is available for all paid plans.
Zenkit uses the Gestalt approach to promote project unity. It’s a multi-view project management platform.
The app offers managers an instant big-picture overview of all ongoing and planned work. It goes on to include several alternative ways of tracking progress. Then there’s task management features and scheduling.
The wide range of project views are definitely one of Zenkit’s best selling points. The options include list, Kanban, table, calendar, and mindmap.
Switching between views is easy. And any changes made in one view will automatically get updated to the others.
It has a collaborative feature set that’s great for any heavy-duty teamwork projects.
Then there’s the ability to publish, share, or embed project overviews on any website. This is an excellent feature for freelancers and teams working with clients.
Zenkit offers mobile versions of its app. Their tablet architecture for iPad even supports split screens.
For freelancers and individuals on a budget, Zenkit offers a free version for life.
The platform’s user interface takes some getting used to. And the overall number of features can be overwhelming at first.
Personal plan for individual users is free.
Plus plan for teams is $8 per user/per month billed annually, and $9 per user/per month billed monthly.
Business plan for growing businesses is $21 per user/per month billed annually, and $25 per user/per month billed monthly.
Enterprise plan requires contact with Zenkit.
There are no free trials for paid plans. Special pricing is available for educational and nonprofit usage.
Basecamp is designed to improve productivity and organization. It does this by combining communication tools with file storage and work management dashboards.
Split work into projects. Add whoever needs to be involved to each project.
Each project has its own message board, group chat, and to-do lists. And a shared schedule too. You can also set up automatic check-ins, which prompt team members to give an update on status.
Works well as a comprehensive cloud storage platform. Upload and share documents, files, images, and spreadsheets. Organize your files to keep track of everything project-related.
There’s a free version of the app. This makes it suitable for freelancers and small nonprofits. And for personal projects.
Lacks a cohesive, quick overview for seeing what multiple team members are doing. In general, it’s not super robust as a piece of task management software.
Pricing model is nice and simple. However, the paid verison’s point is likely above the budget of some small teams and startups.
Basecamp Personal is free.
Basecamp Business with unlimited projects and users is $99 per month. There are no per user fees.
A 30-day free trial is available for the Basecamp Business plan. No credit card required.
Simple project planning software with collaboration features. See your project in full and prioritize work. Organize by boards, lists, and tasks.
Track time spent on tasks. Do work management with task assignments and due dates. Set project budgets and track expenditures.
Import .CSV files and copy and paste tasks from other apps. Convert to-do items and to-do lists into tasks. Break down large chunks of work into smaller tasks so they get done.
Integrate Breeze with GitHub for code management and open source projects.
It’s not a super visually engaging app. Limited customization options for reporting.
Freelancers plan for up to 5 users is $29 per month, billed annually.
Small Business plan for up to 12 users is $59 per month, billed annually.
Large Team plan for up to 30 users is $129 per month, billed annually.
Enterprise plan for up to 60 users is $249 per month, billed annually.
A 14-day free trial is available for all paid plans.
Redbooth places strong focus on communication and cooperation. It works as a shared platform where teams can communicate in real time, organize tasks, and keep projects on track. The PM tool offers dedicated workspaces and many commenting features.
It also has powerful time tracking and a project timeline overview. As well as predictive task management. With visual dashboards, and easy drag and drop functionality, teams get a clearer view of how their projects are progressing.
Redbooth promotes accountability by giving everyone a clear picture of task delegation. Users can know precisely who is working on what at a glance.
Timeline Overview is a simple and intuitive way to visualize progress on multiple projects at once. This is Redbooth’s version of a Gantt chart. A visually pleasing and easy-to-read system that paints a clear picture of how projects are progressing.
Redbooth includes web, iOS and Android apps. This lets you access a single workspace from multiple devices. And there’s a video conferencing feature too.
The user interface could use an update. Customer support is not always super responsive.
Pro plan is $9 per user/per month, billed annually.
Business plan is $15 per user/per month, billed annually.
Enterprise plan requires contact with RedBooth.
A 14-day free trial for the Business Plan is available. No credit card required.
Jira (by Atlassian)
Targeted at Agile and Lean software development teams. Features knowledge management, development workflow, and continuous integration and deployment tools.
The platform is based around drag-and-drop, visual dashboards. Scrum boards, Kanban boards, and big picture roadmaps.
Like a matryoshka doll, you can keep adding depth and complexity to projects. Assign tasks and make one task reliant upon another. Create mini projects within bigger ones.
Jira is very customizable, and there’s many ways to extend its features further.
There’s a GitHub for Jira app. So you can connect your coding work with work in Jira.
And the app integrates readily with Jira Service Desk. This adds help desk functionality.
Jira offers very strong data encryption and security. It has broad security compliance with ISO/IEC 27001 and the US/EU Privacy Shield. As well as many other programs.
The UI is unconventional. Finding workflows and making sense of them can be challenging. This gives the platform a moderate learning curve.
Free plan for up to 10 users is available.
Standard plan for up to 5,000 users is $7 per user/per month, billed annually.
Premium plan for up to 5,000 users is $14 per user/per month, billed annually.
A 7-day free trial is available for the Standard and Premium plans.
Podio’s goal is to get everything you need to see on one page. To speed collaboration and ensure everyone is aligned.
It offers comprehensive project communication and work tools. File sharing, task management, workflow, and reporting tools.
Create personal, shared, and recurring tasks. Organize daily operations into open, private, and employee workspaces.
Social activity streams reduce email and increase knowledge sharing. There’s chat and group chat with media and file sharing. And audio/video calling in-app.
Podio API allows developers to build new integrations. Or new apps.
There’s a time tracker too. This can be used for employee timesheets. Or for tracking time spent on projects.
It’s very customizable, so initial setup can be time-consuming. And a bit confusing.
It must also be said Podio has quite a flat visual identity. This may pose some issues for full team adoption.
Free plan for up to 5 users is available.
Basic plan is $9 per user/per month, billed annually.
Plus plan is $14 per user/per month, billed annually.
Premium plan is $24 per user/per month, billed annually.
No free trial is available for paid plans. However, a free version is available.
Choosing the best project management tool for your needs: key takeaways
So now we know the best. Here are the key takeaways.
Firstly, comparison shopping is key.
The list in this article is a great place to start. But you will need to reflect on how you run your business. And envision how a new project management tool can be folded into daily operations.
A Kanban board, comments, files, and lists might be enough. Particularly if you’re just using the app for personal/freelancer purposes. Or a small team or startup.
Or you might want powerful analytics, and predictive scheduling and task automation. You may be running multiple projects at once, and want a way of comparing them and drawing data-based insights.
Then there are budgetary considerations. You may find it useful to pick a platform with a flexible pricing model. One that will scale with your company. Or you may be fine with a one-size-fits-all solution.
What is the easiest project management software?
The easiest PM software around is intuitive and visual.
Trello is probably the de facto winner in this regard. It’s very easy to get up and running with. A good place to start with this kind of digital tool.
Later on, however, you may well want to look into more heavyweight project management platforms.
Does Google have a project management tool?
No, Google does not have a proprietary project management tool.
But there are many third-party apps that integrate smoothly with G Suite and Google Drive.
What is the best free project management software?
Looking for a free plan? Here are the best free project management software apps and tools: