Best Project Management Tools for 2021
According to the latest PMI Megatrends report, today’s world is a world of pronounced change and uncertainty that can deliver major shocks and disruptions to the economy and society within a day. In the present global landscape, project professionals and change makers work to cushion any impact by driving financial and social value through successful completion of projects, delivery of products and services, and engagement of customers and stakeholders. Teams and companies can accomplish their goals faster at less cost with the help of project management tools that support their organization, methods, and way of working.
Table of contents
- Top 10 project management tools
- What are project management tools?
- Types of project management tool implementation
- Project management tool features
- Buying considerations for small businesses
- Buying considerations for medium-sized businesses
- Buying considerations for enterprise businesses
- Implementing the right project management tool for your business
Top 10 project management tools
The best project management tools support project professionals, their teams, and subsequently their organization. These PM tools help small project teams adopt digital transformation, providing their companies accessible and affordable software for a variety of use cases, team configuration, methodologies, and budget, while performing core capabilities of task management, documentation, tracking, and status reporting. The following is a list of our recommended online project management tools for successfully completing projects in less time with less effort.
Trello is a project management and collaboration tool that organizes projects into visual boards, lists, and cards. It’s free for individuals and teams that can be productive with using up to 10 boards. Trello allows teams to create lists that reflect their workflow. Lists can contain cards that represent tasks, with cards being able to hold attachments, documents, images, links, checklists, comments, due dates, and other important project information. The visual system increases project visibility so stakeholders get real-time status and progress of the project. Premium plans with unlimited boards, Power-Up integrations, additional views, and features start at $10 per user per month billed annually.
Zoho Projects is a cloud-based project management tool that helps users plan projects, track work, and collaborate with the team. The tool is free for up to 3 users while the premium plan costs $5 per user per month for up to 50 users. The free plan has limited features, but the premium plan includes unlimited projects, 20 project templates, task tracking, Gantt chart, reminders, task automation, time tracking, project budget, and custom views. Zoho Projects also has new portfolio dashboards and workflow rules available in its enterprise plan.
Teamwork is a work and project management tool that helps teams improve collaboration, visibility, and accountability to achieve great results. It is free for individuals and small teams getting started with project management. Users can perform basic project and task management, track milestones, and send messages to team members. Teamwork is capable of managing multiple projects and can scale into a comprehensive business management suite with additional platform add-ons. The premium plan starts at $10 per user per month billed annually with advanced features like project templates, time tracking, invoicing, and agile view with workflows.
monday.com is a versatile work platform that provides an effective project management tool for teams. Aside from project management, teams can use it also for CRM, ad campaign management, bug tracking, and other work processes with its customizable platform. monday.com is highly visual and collaborative, making it easy to increase operational efficiency. A free individual plan for up to two users can keep track of tasks and work with features that include unlimited boards, over 200 templates, 20 customizable column types, and free native mobile apps. Paid plans start at $8 per user per month billed annually for a minimum of 3 users.
Asana is a web and mobile tool for teams to manage projects, tasks, and work. It improves team collaboration and work management through a single platform. Users can create projects, assign work, specify deadlines, and start conversations in the context of work directly within the project management tool. A free Basic plan allows up to 15 team members to work with unlimited projects, tasks, activity logs, storage, and comments. Teams have access to list, board, and calendar views, free integrations, basic reporting, security tools, and community support. The premium plan is at $10.99 per user per month billed annually.
Basecamp is a project management tool that improves team communication and organization. It unifies communication, documents, tasks, and schedules in one place for simpler and clearer project management. Basecamp offers a simple flat rate plan of $99 per month for unlimited users and projects. The business plan includes a dedicated space for the company, team projects, client access, and priority support. The tool focuses on organization because users can enable or disable features depending on how they organize their team and how the team manages the project. A free personal plan is also available but limited.
Toggl Plan is a simple project management tool that allows teams to plan and collaborate with increased productivity. The simple and intuitive tool allows users of all levels and skills to start using the system immediately without training. Teams work together with real-time information across devices. Toggl Plan is ideal for project planning, workload management, and task management. A free solo plan for personal projects and light planning is available, while premium plans start at $8 per user per month with unlimited timelines and plan boards, in-app notifications, recurring tasks, multiple assignment, custom colors, and time tracking integration.
ClickUp is a suite of online tools that include project management, to-do lists, docs, reminders, time tracking, and chat. The customizable platform provides features that users can enable and disable. ClickUp has built-in tools to support process management such as dependencies, checklists, goals, and milestones. It also has task management, time management, integrations, collaboration, reporting, apps, and other customizations. A free plan with basic features and a fully featured unlimited plan at $5 per user per month billed annually is available.
Todoist helps individuals and teams organize projects and tasks with a flexible to-do list software. Todoist for Business is a team project management tool that provides project workspace, task assignment, file sharing, collaboration, and progress and time tracking. At $5 per user per month billed annually, teams have multiple collaborators per project, file uploads, filter views, activity history, reminders, due dates, priorities, comments, labels, add tasks by email, calendar sync, automatic backups, and integrations. A free plan for individuals with limited projects and collaborators is also available.
Freedcamp helps teams stay on top of projects, processes, workflows, time entries, and issues. It is a free project management tool with core features included like task management, shared team calendar, file management, online discussions, milestone tracking, and time tracking. Paid plans start at $1.49 per user per month billed annually with advanced features. With premium add-ons, they get email integration, integration with online storage apps, project templates, reports, issue tracker, invoices, wiki, white labeling, and 2FA security. Native mobile apps are also available.
What are project management tools?
A project management tool is a productivity system that is affordable and ready to use. PM tools usually take the form of software-as-a-service (SaaS) with a monthly or annual subscription. Businesses of all sizes take advantage of the rapid deployment, minimum initial expense, and scalable features of web-based and mobile-app based project management tools—especially small businesses. A project management tool offers capabilities to help teams work collaboratively on a real-time basis and support project visibility for easier tracking and reporting. Companies also don’t have to worry about system maintenance and feature updates, since that typically comes with the subscription price.
Types of project management tool implementation
In the mid-1990s, developments related to the internet changed business practices significantly. A new interactive medium allowed people to browse, purchase, and track products or services online instantly. With internet connectivity, PM tools allowed firms to be more productive, more efficient, and more client-oriented. Here are five main types of implementation to consider when investing in a project management tool.
Cloud-based project management tools
A Cloud-based project management tool is accessible through a standard web browser and is the most popular type of implementation. Any project team member with the right access and permission can input the most recent status of their assigned tasks, find out the overall progress of the project, spot any delays in the schedule, and stay up-to-date for their project role, wherever they may be. These web-based PM tools allow different individuals and groups to accomplish tasks better, faster, and cheaper through collaboration. By bringing together a variety of resources and harnessing collective knowledge and abilities, cloud-based project management tools improves productivity, streamlines processes, and optimizes decision-making.
On-premise project management tools
With the introduction of low-cost personal computers and associated computer networking facilities in the 1980s, more platforms became available, making the proliferation of project management tools and techniques more widespread. Although more businesses are shifting to cloud solutions lately, some mid-size and large enterprises are retaining their investments in hosting their project management tools on-premise. With the increasing incidents of security breaches, malware infections, and ransomware attacks, enterprises are keeping a tighter security on their company data. On-premise PM tools like Microsoft Project and ProjectLibre have comprehensive sets of features that can manage both simple and complex enterprise-level projects.
Integrated vs. best of breed tools
Integrated project management tools enable organizations and teams to use a single solution to initiate, plan, execute, monitor, and close projects. Integrated PM tools include sets of features for managing the project as a whole rather than managing a single process. Most solutions provide tools to plan schedules, manage tasks, track project status, report progress, organize files, and facilitate communication among team members, stakeholders, and clients. Many project management tools are adding resource and workload management features to make sure teams reach project goals within time and cost constraints through efficient use of resources.
An integrated solution is ideal for new companies starting without any existing system or for companies replacing whole systems. But those who have working customized applications may only need one or a few tools to complete their business solution. In this situation, a best of breed project management tool is a better alternative. Best of breed applications provide management of singular and a few related processes. For instance, a company with a new software development department may need agile project management tools like Pivotal Tracker to help its team of five developers. But the company does not need to replace its existing tools for managing sequential projects, only to integrate new tools to existing ones.
Free and/or open source project management tools
Free and open source tools are available for a variety of tasks, including project management. Many cloud-based PM tools like those in our list offer a free plan for a small number of team members, with limited functionality, or both. An open source PM tool allows users to download the source code and customize it for free. Some providers, like OpenProject, let users access a fully functional tool online and pay for the hosting service. A free and open source PM tool is a tool where the developers choose to release the source code or allow the use of the tool to others without any payment.
Industry-specific project management tools
In general, the principles of project management applies to all industries alike. But the execution of processes can vary specific to an industry. A sequential approach may be ideal in the construction industry, but an iterative approach is more valuable to the software development industry. So, with a bottom-up perspective, developers of PM tools for specific industries included customizations to make their tools more relevant, efficient, and effective. Some examples are Procore, Buildertrend, and Aconex for project management specific to the construction industry.
Project management tool features
The best project management tools are the tools that fit the requirements of a team or company. Whether an integrated or a best of breed solution, cloud-based or on-premise system, teams should carefully choose the tool with the right features that support the achievement of project and organization goals while boosting productivity, enhancing quality of deliverables, and improving team performance.
Task management features let a project leader list, create, assign, and monitor tasks that come from a work breakdown structure. The project team can easily understand the nature of the task, who is responsible, when it is due, and how it relates to the bigger project. PM tools allow users to order tasks according to priority and move and track them as the tasks go through the different stages of work or phases of a project. Some tools can further break down a task to subtasks, assign more than one user to a task, or set dependencies in relation to other tasks and schedules. Tools can display tasks in a list, on a Gantt chart, on a Kanban board, or within a calendar.
Read also: Relationship vs. Task Oriented Management
Project teams frequently need information from or access to their team member’s work. Project management tools provide the central workspace and channel where multiple team members can quickly communicate with each other in an organized way. The tools allow individuals to exchange information, hold discussions, send comments or approvals, and send direct messages in the context of work.
Every member of a project team uses email. With email integration in a project management tool, information can easily and automatically flow back and forth between the PM tool and the email software. Users do not have to be directly using the PM tool to create or edit tasks, send comments, set due dates, or update a task status. They can do these actions from their inbox while they are performing other work functions. Furthermore, bidirectional sync and integration allows team members to receive notifications from either tool whenever there is an update, change, or comment.
Project management tools provide a dedicated space for teams and projects to store project files, images, photos, and other digital assets important to the project. PM tools offer a friendly interface or organizer utility that makes access and search for a file easy. Additional functionality includes easy uploading and downloading of attachments, batch actions, labeling, version control, and security. Many online tools now offer integration to cloud storage apps such as Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, and Box.
Aside from web-based interface, more project management tools are now offering mobile access via native integration or HTML5 technology. With affordable yet powerful mobile devices, teams can easily make project updates, communicate with the team as needed, and get the latest update of your PM tool while on the go. With minimal to no training needed, teams can quickly use the PM tool on their mobile devices with a familiar interface and features using gestures that they use with their other mobile apps.
Software support documentation helps new and existing team members troubleshoot issues within the software and learn to use the tools quickly. Documentation like help desk articles, how-to videos, in-software tools, and chat bots provide instant support. It’s also important to check if free email support, phone support, or periodic webinars are available.
Third-party integrations or API
The best project management tools provide a stable core of features that allow users to manage projects effectively. More often, they also offer multiple integrations directly or via API for extended functionality or for seamless workflow. Best of breed PM tools will offer more integrations, but integrated solutions are also offering increasing connectivity to other systems, especially known companies like Google and Microsoft.
White label, branding, and custom settings
Project management tools when used for external clients will benefit greatly with features such as white labeling, custom branding, or customization settings. These features often appeal to sales and marketing agencies and multinational corporations who want to adapt their tool to meet language and cultural requirements.
Project management tools have reporting functionality included, but to varying degrees. Companies should consider the depth of their reporting needs to quickly share information, whether they indicate shortcomings, issues, or problems. More PM tools are offering analytics and business intelligence in their products, so users can get dashboards that show progress and insightful reports that documents performance. If the reporting functionality is not as extensive or if available only in premium plans, then teams should check if they can export data to build custom reports using a business intelligence system or if an integration to a reporting software is possible.
PM tools with scheduling promotes organization in multiple teams. It allows users to set schedules on tasks, create timelines and milestones, and determine dependencies and resources. It is an essential project management function in order to deliver projects on time. But for organizations with simple projects, short-duration projects, recurring tasks, or small teams, this may not be as important.
Time management features in PM tools enable team members track how much time they spend on tasks. It allows project managers set ideal time goals for the project, and integrate with a timesheet or payroll app. Teams with long-term projects or those that regularly employ contractors may find these tools highly useful.
Buying considerations for small businesses
Small businesses relying on spreadsheets or whiteboards are missing an opportunity to manage their projects more efficiently. While they try to avoid high cost, spend time for training, or deal with complex but unnecessary features, small businesses can find a modern project management tool to make their workflow organized, their process efficient, and their stakeholders well informed.
Free or low-priced options
Many project management tools offer a free tier for a small number of team members or seats. So, companies can identify the essential personnel who need access to the PM tool. For the rest of the company, they can collaborate through email or other forms of integration. If the company needs more users to have access to the tool, they can also choose those products that offer scaling plans or a flat rate for unlimited number of users.
Task and project visualizations help teams see the progress of multiple projects running at the same time. Whether through a Kanban board, Gantt chart, burndown chart, or other custom visualization, these PM tools give an overview of the project’s progress. Small businesses need to understand what data or metric is important for them to see. A seamless process to transform these visuals into reports to share with stakeholders is also important.
Small businesses have fewer tools, but email is always among them. When their project management tool integrates with their email, the project team can easily share updates and reports with the rest of the company without increasing user subscription. Also, when users do not have to stay directly logged into the PM tool but can collaborate using their inbox, then more individuals can use the limited accounts to work with the software.
Buying considerations for medium-sized businesses
Growing businesses face different challenges such as scaling up company requirements, initiating multiple projects simultaneously, and managing more complex projects. Project management tools can help these businesses define their project processes, refine existing inefficiencies, and improve overall project outcomes.
Built-in collaboration and communication
As more people get involved in project management, communication and organized collaboration becomes critical. Project leaders and team members will face serious challenges if goals, priorities, and methods are not clear. PM tools enable multiple teams to work in alignment with bigger business goals with a concerted effort.
Time tracking functionality in PM tools help teams track contract work, employee hours, and billable time spent on projects. It enable project teams to tie work hours directly to individual tasks. The functionality should provide automated computation of hours across projects or filtering of hours for individual contributors. Companies need to check the ability to integrate to accounting or payroll systems.
Reporting and analytics
Larger teams have a greater need to track and analyze key project data that comes from multiple sources. They need a project management tool with reporting and analytics engine to display metrics such as total tasks assigned, estimate vs. actual time, planned budget vs. actual expense, and other indicators such as performance, growth, velocity, and profit.
Buying considerations for enterprise businesses
Large companies have the financial and infrastructure resources to implement enterprise-scale solutions. They need to find the right project management tool that will maximize their resources as well as provide them the insights from across a huge amount of data while keeping data secure.
Enterprise businesses thrive on automation and connected apps. Whether your project management tool lives inside an ERP or business process management (BPM) system or exists as a standalone solution, integrations are essential. API connections and native plugins ensure key information flows quickly into the project management tool and reporting metrics flow back out to the right systems.
Reporting and analytics
Enterprise-grade reporting and analytics features in project management tools play a vital role for its usefulness. These features show bottlenecks in the process or other indicators of inefficiencies. Enterprise companies need to check if their business intelligence tool can seamlessly integrate, import directly, or is compatible with the export format of their candidate PM solution.
Data safety and security should matter to companies of any size, but enterprise companies need user controls to effectively manage data access. An enterprise company looking for their next project management tool should carefully consider how the software provide administrative authority over access to projects, the number of available user seats, and granular access to capabilities and tasks.
Implementing the right project management tool for your business
Companies should carefully plan how they adopt and deploy project management tools. It’s important for the project manager to get a buy-in from major stakeholders, from C-level executives to end-users of the project team. Project managers should include an adequate training time for all users before taking on a major project. This is where support from the chosen provider—from requirements gathering, configuration, training, to possible customization—becomes critical. Feature upgrade support is also important to discuss as well as service interruption and backup.
We’ve outlined the best project management software tools at the top of the page. Check out our Top 10 Task Management Software article to help you find the right task management software for your needs.