World: “Hey, can you do a review on the best digital project management tools out there? Perhaps list their pros and cons.”Me: “Yeah, that’s a no-can-do on that one.”World: “I see. How about just your favs…and why.”Me: “Fine. But no one will agree.”World: “That’s because I’m fraught with indecision and conflict.”
Over the years, I have been persuaded, forced, bullied and seduced to setup and deploy an array of project management tools and software.
Some were short-lived. Others were amazing. I do not believe that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ tools out there. Project management software is only useful if it fulfills the requirements of the user or a project workflow. This includes the industry type, user role, cost and ease of use.
Great for personal lists. Your somewhat-glorified To-Dos. Plays nice with mobile. The moment you add more than one additional user, things will go south. Reporting isn’t great either. This tool is best used if you’re looking to move tasks from one state to the next, without much regard to collaboration. Therefore, it can be used by just about anyone. Quick to setup and not much to customize. Like most of these tools, the basic version is always free. Costs range for businesses to enterprises. Why? I have no idea. Likely due to additional security and encryption.
Solid for teams, in particular Agile-based projects. Pretty easy to use and configure. Great for on the go and quick changes/updates during your daily stand-ups. They even made it prettier over the past few years. Costs are set by number of team members, rather than features. Which is nice, in the event your organization expands. No need to learn new functions. It is a bit pricey at $250/month for a max of 50 project collaborators. Great for small-medium size agencies. The BBC uses internally…so there you are.
“…my favourite – FW:FW:RE:RE:WHY:URGENT: project threads.”
Oh, Basecamp. You adorable thing, you. Always trying to make everyone happy. I’ve used this tool in-house during dev cycles, and on client-side. Yes, there are “100K+” companies using it, but this is due to its umbrella approach of capturing all types of projects. This is great for keeping track of who said what when. I would not encourage dev shops to use this as a task management tool, but rather as a means to replace wandering emails and my favourite – FW:FW:RE:RE:WHY:URGENT: project threads. It does have a calendar and To-Dos tool, but again, you will not have much in the when it comes tracking and accountability/reporting. I recommend investing in this tool for client communications, and having a more robust system in place for all internal tasking…
Redmine and EasyRedmine
The first is an open source tool, the second builds on this software (code was forked a few years ago) and adds a more robust user experience, along with resourcing functionality and some reporting. It can be frustrating to use at times, in particular when a task cannot be migrated or converted into other project components (i.e. tasks to milestones or to a calendar event). There is also little integration with popular 3rd party applications. Not for Agile teams. There is no function for iterative processes or sprints. These must be managed/configured manually. We had hosted this on the agency’s server, which did cut the price quite a bit (one-time pricing $500-2500, depending on team size) – but we were restricted (likely due to cost) to the core application only.
Which takes us to JIRA .
My great love. When I was once tasked to migrate our shop from Waterfall to Agile – this was our winner. Atlassian built a beautiful, powerful, robust and highly customizable tool. They had developers, designers, QA resources and PMs in mind.
With excellent reporting, portfolio planning, task and resource management, kanban and scrum boards, this tool was a winner. QA processes were tailored to each project based on need and hours allocated. It was clean, fast, and even played nice with MS Project for import/exporting of project schedules. Workflows could be customized. Blockers quickly addressed, and issues efficiently communicated and resolved. Costs are based on team size, but well worth it if you’re managing 20+ production-based resources. Perfect for cross-border or remote teams. They even have a cloud version (or you can host your own solution in-house).
Neat tip – if you’re a non-profit, Atlassian offers very special pricing.
There are nearly infinite number of plugins and modules (via Atlassian Marketplace) for all your 3rd party needs like accounting.
I’ve also used a number of other cloud-based solutions like Freedcamp, Roadmap, Asana…these all fall somewhere in between my list above. Great for communicating or tasking – not so great for resource management, risk assessment and scheduling.
No single solution will be perfect. I strongly recommend to first clearly outline the needs of your team. Understand your present requirements and document any new ones (‘pie-in-the-sky’ dream features) your team may need nine or 18 months down the road. This will avoid countless frustrating hours of migration and re-training. Since most, if not all of these tools come with a free trial, your PM will find it cost-effective to research and test quite a few options. It will also likely drive him or her to the cliffs of insanity. But hey, life’s a journey.