A good project management tool makes planning, executing, and monitoring project progress a total breeze. They create a transparent record so everyone knows who is doing what and when. With a range of features including flexible project views like Gantt, table, and portfolio view, as well as analytics, project tracking and resourcing, project management tools are critical for many businesses workflows.
Project management tools have become extremely popular over the last ten years, with an estimated 77% of high-performing teams using project management tools. Additionally, organizations that invest in project management tools waste 28x less money than organizations that do not. These stats are hard to ignore.
What Is A Project Management Tool?
At it’s most basic, a project management tool is software that help teams plan, manage, and optimize resources across an organization. Project management tools range in capabilities, but most have a few things in common.
- Task tracking and assigning – Most, if not all, project management tools have the ability to assign and track tasks across their lifecycle.
- Parent and child projects – These tasks need to be assigned to specific projects, so most project management tools have both parent projects (a big projects that smaller projects fall under), and child projects (the smaller project that falls under the parent).
- Collaboration – All project management tools have collaboration functionalities in some way, whether that is collaborating on individual tasks, chatting, or sharing documents back and forth.
- Document sharing – To complete tasks and project successfully, you need to be able to share and work together on materials and resources. That’s why most project management tools have document sharing capabilities.
Why Are Project Management Tools Important?
Project management tools are critical for organizations for a variety of reasons. First, they help keep the team organized and ensure that processes are followed. Second, they provide a clear overview of all activity happening in relation to a campaign, project, or task at any given time. Project management tools also allow teams to communicate clearly and quickly with comments, chat, and more.
On top of that, there are statistics to support the importance of a project management tool. Did you know that 77 percent of high performing projects use a project management tool? Or that $122M was wasted due to poor project planning? These things can all be avoided with the right project management tool.
How To Choose A Project Management Tool
With thousands of tools on the market, it can be daunting finding the best project management tool for your team. Too often, team leaders buy a project management tool only to find in a few months they’re the only one using it. When comparing tools, remember that an effective project management tool should satisfy two main requirements: First, it should have all the features that a project manager needs. Second, the tool should be something your entire team is willing to use.
Satisfying both of those requirements is easier said than done, so we’ve outlined 9 key steps to make sure your team finds the best project management tool for your needs. Are you ready to get organized?
1. Define Your Project Management Tool Needs
The first step to finding a project management tool is identifying the current problems in the way your team works. It’s important to write these pain points in a list you can refer to later. Possible problems could include:
- Lack of communication between departments
- Disorganized projects and missed deadlines
- Uneven workload between team members
- Overflowing email inbox
- Too many time-wasting meetings
When you are looking at all options for a project management tool, you need to ask: does it solve these problems? If the answer is no, remove the tool from your list to prevent you from getting distracted by flashy demos, pretty UI, or powerful features you’ll never use. You can also use this list as a starting point to define what features you do want in a project management tool. Mark each feature as high, medium, or low priority to know quickly if a potential tool is going to work.
2. Research The Best Project Management Tools
With your needs defined, now it’s time to see what options are available. Here are some ways to get started:
- Ask colleagues what they liked using in the past
- Talk to other project managers in your industry
- Check out recommendations on industry websites
- Read software review websites
Start by prioritizing feedback from your team — knowing what they liked in previous tools will make company adoption easier. Compare the feature list and pricing for each option against your list of needs. It’s worth spending a little extra time looking for that perfect fit. Does your team need Gantt charts? What about Kanban boards? Once you’ve evaluated the options, narrow it down to about five finalists, and ask team members to vote on their favorites as well. Here are a few of our favorite project management tools for you to choose from:
Hive is a powerful project management tool used by teams at Google, Starbucks, Comcast, Toyota, Anheuser Busch, and more. This app is used at organizations of all sizes, from startups and nonprofits to companies of 100,000. It’s one of the best project management tools on the market because it lets you work your way with customizable project views and over 1,000 integrations.
Features of Hive include:
- Flexible project views, including Gantt, Kanban, calendar, table, and portfolio view
- Ability to add comments, sub-actions, dependencies, and attachments to action cards
- Time-tracking and timesheets capabilities
- Resourcing functionalities
- Integrations with over 1,000 tools like Jira, Gmail, Zoom and Salesforce
- Native chat and email integrations that allow increased connectivity
- Detailed, real-time analytics
- Web and desktop apps
Trello is a Kanban-based project management tool that was founded in 2011 and is currently owned by Atlassian, who also own Jira. Trello is loved for its simplicity and ease of use, as the Kanban view is straightforward and easy to master for users of all skill levels.
Feature of Trello include:
- Kanban and calendar style project management boards
- Ability to add comments, due dates, and attachments to action cards
- Built-in workflow automation capabilities
- Custom fields
- Custom backgrounds and stickers
Asana is a visually appealing project management tool created by one of Facebook’s founders, and easily ranks among the best project management tools. Used by creatives and teams all over the world, Asana’s dynamic format and design keeps users engaged and active in the platform. Asana helps people and teams increase overall accountability and improve communication.
Features of Asana include:
- Flexible project views including list, timeline, and boards
- Ability to add comments, due dates, and attachments to action cards
- Real-time analytics and charts to map progress
- Workload tracking to help team members manage individual workloads
- Ability to set strategic goals in-platform
4. Microsoft Teams
If you’re already active in the Microsoft Suite of products, Microsoft Teams could be a great choice for you. This tool allows you to chat, collaborate, communicate and meet seamlessly, which is even more important now that we’re all working remotely. Bonus: Did you know you can integrate Teams with more in-depth project management apps like Hive?
Features of Teams include:
- Chat with gifs, stickers, and more for easy virtual communication
- Meet virtually with teams of 2 to 10,000
- Collaborate on files in real-time using apps like Excel, Word and Powerpoint
- Integrations with hundreds of other apps like Hive
Airtable is a high-powered spreadsheet in which you can list tasks, projects, and store files. Within the spreadsheet, you can attach a variety of items, including images, links to other tasks, and assignees. Airtable also has other views aside from the spreadsheet/table view, which include calendar view, Kanban view, and gallery view. This tool is one of the best project management softwares if you’re primarily used to working in Excel or Google Sheets.
Features of Airtable include:
- Ability to create a customizable database to fit your flow
- Views that include calendar, gallery, and kanban
- Automations that allow you to send notifications and create tasks
- Over 50 pre-built apps
Smartsheet is a project management tool largely based in table view, which mimics the look of an Excel spreadsheet. Smartsheet is a dynamic tool used by teams all over the world looking to streamline their processes/workflows and collaborate more efficiently. In the last few years, Smartsheet also acquired 10,000 Feet, which is a great resource management tool.
Features of Smartsheet include:
- Dashboards that provide admins or team leaders insight into overall project progress
- An activity log that acts like an audit trail for all work completed
- Content management with the ability to plan and review content in-platform
Wrike is a powerful project management tool best for creating custom team workflows. From there, you can easily set a timeline, create interactive charts like Gantt view, and easily visualize tasks and next steps. Wrike also allows you to analyze performance with their real-time report building feature.
Features of Wrike include:
- In-depth work intake forms
- Multiple project and task views including table, Gantt, list and more
- Flexible project management templates to encourage repeatable work
- Custom workflow statuses
3. Test Out The Project Management Tool
Now it’s time to test out the tool for yourself. Almost all project management tools come with a free trial, and even if they don’t, many companies are happy to offer one if you ask. First you should gather together a small group to pilot the tool together. Make sure to choose people who have different functions and working styles, as diverse opinions are critical to preventing future issues.
It’s also a good idea (if possible) to have the pilot team work on a real project. It’s easy to play around with the features for five minutes, but you need to see how it performs when you use it to get something done. Otherwise, you won’t truly understand its benefits and drawbacks.
It’s also important to test out the customer service. Implementing a new tool, even if it’s a great fit, takes work. A provider that supports you can make all the difference. Better yet, request a demo and spend 30 minutes to an hour with their sales team to learn a bit more about how the sales team themselves are using the tool, and what functionalities you can expect. You can also ask the support team a question and see how long it takes them to respond. Check out their help center and resources to see if they have assets that will help you get started. Ask your sales representative how they plan to support you if you make the switch.
Here are some of our favorite project management tools that offer free trials:
- Hive – Hive offers a 14-day free trial with no credit card required
- Kintone – Kintone offers a free trial with no credit card required, and a special trial for non-profits
- Asana – Asana offers a 30-day free trial for all new users
- Zoho Projects – This tool offers a 10-day free trial of all paid plans
4. Get Feedback From Your Team
After you’ve completed the trial, it’s time to gather feedback by reaching out to everyone on the pilot of your potential project management tool. Things you should ask about:
- Would the project management tool make their workflow more efficient?
- How much time would be spent updating it?
- What did they like the most/least about the tool?
- How much time did it take them to get started?
- How likely would they be to recommend the tool?
Next, go back to your list of pain points from the first step. Check to see how well each option solves your main problems. It’s also important to think about how the project management tool works with external parties to prevent your team from doing duplicate work.
For example, if you’re a marketing agency, you may want your tool to easily share project progress with your clients. Otherwise, your team will have to duplicate work in order to keep clients up to date.
You also need to consider how easy it is to work with other departments. Let’s say your customer service team needs notifications from the CRM to start an implementation. If the project management tool doesn’t integrate with it, it’s going to slow down everything down.
5. Evaluate the Cost of the Project Management Tool
Consider not only the price per user, but also the time it would take to implement the tool. Weigh that against the cost of continuing to work the same way. Think about the time wasted, opportunities lost, and problems caused by your current workflow. How could this new tool change that? If you can see long-term savings, then you’ve found a good option.
You should also consider what payment method works best. Do you prefer monthly subscription or annual payment? Do you want to commit to 3 months and then reevaluate? This is an investment. Figure out what is the best use of your company’s resources.
6. Get Executive Buy-In
When you’re preparing to implement a project management tool, it’s critical that you get buy-in from the executive team, or at least part of it. Because you’re going to ask dozens of people to likely change their day-to-day routine, it’s best to have support from leadership. A few ways you can do this include:
- Having a group of leadership team members on the tool selection committee
- Openly communicating with leadership about current tool shortcomings
- Providing statistics of past successful implementations to leadership
7. Purchase The Project Management Tool
Once you’ve gotten executive buy-in from the right people at your organization, it’s time to make the purchase of the tool. Since most project management tools are purchased based on a seat count, we’d recommend making a purchase that outfits 2-3 teams, and using them as a test to see how you’d roll out to the rest of the organization.
8. Implement The Project Management Tool
Congrats! You’ve found your project management tool! The research is done and you have the perfect option. But don’t forget an implementation plan. Most teams are resistant to change, so you need a plan that makes the rollout as smooth as possible. Key items to consider:
- Timeline: When do you want to bring everyone on? Do you want to spread it out or do it all at once?
- Training: What training do various people need? Who will provide it? How will it be provided?
- Champions: Who are going to be the key advocates for this tool? How do you get them to buy-in? What will they do to encourage others?
- Integrations: When are you going to set up key integrations? Who will be responsible for setting them up?
Once you’ve got everyone onboard, it is critical that you set a good example. Make sure you continuously use the tool and are available to answer any questions.
Once the tool has been implemented, it’s helpful to take a look back at the process. Were there areas that you’d have worked differently? Things about the implementation that didn’t go smoothly? As you think through this, give direct feedback to the sales and customer success teams about your experience — who knows, maybe there are parts of the tool that they can tell you about to help solve for any issues.
It’s also critical to have regular check-ins with your team to learn about how they’re using the project management tool, where you can make changes, and how to better implement it over the long run.
Overall, getting your team on board with a project management tool can be tricky, but once it has been implemented and it is in-use, it’ll make everyone’s life so much easier.