Top 10 Project Management Applications – 2019
Are you transitioning your team to a new project management system? Is this the first time you’ve ever used a project management system? As a digital agency, we’ve been exposed to every PM tool under the sun. We took some time to share our thoughts on 10 of the most popular project management on the market. We hope that our analysis will help guide you to the perfect tool for your team!
Most of the tools listed below are “SaaS” (Software as a Service) products that are available on a subscription basis.
Cost: For a small team, asana is perfect. It is free for up to 15 users and also allows guest accounts, which do not count towards your 15-user limit. Beyond 15 users, asana charges per user on a sliding scale, depending on the total number of users at your organization.
Multiple Workspaces: asana allows for multiple workspaces. This allows you to create a client-facing workspace for each client to facilitate direct collaboration. You can also set up “personal” asana workspaces to keep track of grocery lists, plan get-togethers, create to-do lists, and more.
Speed: asana updates instantly. If a team member adds a note to a task, you will see her typing in real-time. There is no lag between posting new tasks, updating existing tasks, setting due dates or adding new users.
Keyboard Shortcuts: asana has a list of keyboard shortcuts to make common tasks even quicker. For example, in asana, use the “@” symbol to ping a particular user.
Notifications: You can choose which asana tasks to “follow” to receive automatic email updates. Reply to asana-generated emails to add comments to tasks without leaving your inbox. Any attachments you add to an email will be uploaded to the task, and anybody that is “cc’d” on the email will be added as a follower on that task. These email features make the transition to a task-based system easier for an email-addicted organization.
Fun Factor: asana has a “fun-factor” that other project management systems do not. asana has several “easter eggs” like flying unicorns and spooky bats, as well as fun seasonal themes. This may sound silly, but features like this really do help the task system to seem less monotonous and more personable for the user.
Flexible Views: When asana first launched, the software offered a single running tasklist view. asana now features a Kanban dashboard and calendar view as well. The Kanban dashboard allows you to visualize the status of each project at a glance. Move tasks between swimlanes to update progress quickly. The calendar feature helps you spot gaps and overlaps in the project calendar. You can also use this view to make rapid changes to a project plan. You must choose whether to configure your project as a traditional task list or a Kanban board at the beginning of each project – you cannot switch later. Regardless of which you choose, the calendar view is always available.
Integrations: asana is integrated with a number of apps and tools that we regularly use. From Adobe Creative Cloud, to Litmus, to Slack, you can sync your work to your asana tasks for easy management, without the need to switch back and forth between windows.
Overwhelming: Each task is listed as a separate line item in the default (non-Kanban) view. For projects with many tasks, this might appear overwhelming in comparison to other project management tools. asana offers options to label, tag, filter, and sort tasks to make the list less overwhelming, but at the end of the day, a long list is daunting.
Abundant Notifications: asana automatically notifies every follower of any changes to a task (uploads, status, comments, etc.) The email burden can become extreme. It is possible to “unfollow” messages from asana for a task, but this requires an extra step and must be done for each task individually.
asana takes something very complex (managing teams of people, delineating tasks, setting timelines, communicating 50+ times on the same task) and makes it look easy. asana is all about collaboration and speed, with updates in real-time. This tool is perfect for diverse teams, but probably not as ideal for back-end development teams.
Keyboard shortcuts: We love this feature! As with asana, use common keyboard shortcuts like ctrl+z to speed things up.
Notifications: You can create new tasks via email. You can also reply to comments or messages via email without going to the Flow website.
Separate folders & templates: Flow provides separate folders to upload projects from various teams and departments. You can also link your tasks to those in other departments that are a part of the same project or fall under the same client.
Flexible Views: Flow is a Kanban product. Each project’s dashboard includes modifiable swimlanes grouped by completion status. Update project progress by clicking and dragging tasks across swimlanes. Flow makes it easy to view projects, tasks, and dashboards at a glance.
Feature Overload: Flow has a lot of features. If you are accustomed to simple project management software, Flow might seem overwhelming.
Cost: The free version has limited capabilities. The full feature set can be costly, particularly for large teams, as the pricing model is based on the number of users.
This tool is very intuitive and we love the interface. Flow is perfect for managing your day-to-day personal tasks as well as technical projects.
nTask is a free online project management software that focuses on eliminating the need to shuffle between tools by offering multiple native modules.
Cost: The biggest positive for nTask is the price. nTask is free for small teams and solopreneurs and offers 5 workspaces with up to 10 members at no cost. Pricing starts at $2.99 per user per month for “unlimited-everything” access, which makes it the cheapest option we reviewed.
7 native modules: nTask offers seven modules: tasks, projects, meetings, timesheets, issue tracking, risk management and workspace/team management. This allows teams to avoid paying for expensive third-party integrations or having to juggle between multiple tools.
Multiple Workspaces: nTask offers multiple workspaces. This means you can create a client-facing workspace for each client or project. You can also set up a “personal” workspace in nTask to keep track of the regular tasks and to-do items of your non-work life.
Flexible Views: nTask offers various views for tasks, projects and meetings. You can configure your view in a calendar and filter tasks by creation or due date. You can visit your tasks in the classic list style to get a quick summary of what’s due and what you need to prioritize. There is also a default Grid view that offers additional details for each task/project/meeting upfront.
Mobile Apps: The present mobile apps for nTask offer limited functionality. nTask is working on a new build with added functionality that will be made available soon but for now, the mobile apps can be a bottleneck for work on the go.
Integrations: Even though nTask has powerful native modules which take reliance away from third-party applications, it lacks the ability to integrate with important tools such as Slack, Google Calendar, Harvest and others. While it saves time by offering an all-in-one project management solution, teams using other tools might find the lack of integrations a bit daunting.
This is a great option for small development teams that have a need for free bug-tracking or task assignment. nTask offers useful modules that we did not see in many other tools, such as the Risk module or Issues module. In this way, it seems a bit more geared towards development teams. The interface is built for desktop, and takes some getting used to, as you have to click through a few modals and accordions to reach task comments.
Interface Design: The design and layout of this tool is great. The interface is easy to navigate and makes use of icons to give users visual clues. All “action” buttons are consistently the same color (green), which makes it easy to find what you’re looking for.
Integration: Podio puts emphasis on its ability to integrate with commonly-used software. You can import contacts from LinkedIn, use Apple’s iCal or Google Calendar over the default Podio calendar, upload files via box.com or dropbox, and host meetings with GoToMeeting. This is great because it makes sharing easy and prevents users from duplicating efforts in multiple systems. Podio also offers iPhone and Android apps.
Flexibility: Podio is all about flexibility. Want to use it as a project management system? You can do that. Want it to handle birthday reminders for all of your clients? You can do that too. Podio has an open source “library” of interfaces that you can import into your instance and configure to handle basically anything and everything you can imagine. You can also build workflows from scratch.
Flexibility: Podio’s biggest positive is also it’s biggest negative. Because Podio is so customizable, it can take quite a while to configure and maintain. For this reason, Podio is probably best for larger teams with a dedicated IT support staff.
Feature Overload: There may be a bit of a learning curve with this system because it simply has so much going on. We feel that certain features would not be commonly used. It’s also not as easy to view all the tasks in your list at a glance as it is with other PM tools, such as Wunderlist.
The interface of Podio is aesthetically pleasing. The system runs quickly and is totally customizable. The software emphasizes integration with other software programs and includes an iPhone and Android app. Overall, Podio feels a bit like an inexpensive version of Jira.
Consolidated File Library: You can upload files (PDF, text, or images) to individual tasks, but all files will also show up in the “files” tab, so you can always see a complete list of what has been uploaded, organized by date. The file library includes a sort feature for easy searchability.
Notifications: You can respond to system messages directly through your personal email by hitting “reply” without going to the Apollo site. Sensing a pattern? asana, Flow, BamBam and others have this capability as well.
Time-tracking: This feature is similar to the time tracking tool in BamBam. You can track time spent on any particular task, and later export data into reports.
Contact Management: Apollo offers a basic CRM tool. With features like contact management and calendars, your sales team can manage all of their deals in the same platform.
Cost: Apollo has a limit of 18 projects on the basic ($23) plan. The pricing structure is based on projects and storage capacity rather than users, which could force small organizations to pay more than they would on another platform.
The interface is beautiful and we haven’t run into anything it can’t do. The biggest drawback is the pricing and the limited number of projects it supports (only 18 projects allowed at one time with the base subscription). At the same time, because pricing is not predicated upon number of users, the pricing actually might be very attractive to large teams.
White-Label: ActiveCollab allows you to upload customized company branding to present a professional look and feel.Consolidated File Library: Like Apollo, any files that are uploaded to a specific project will be displayed on that project, but also in the overall “documents” library for easy searchability.Time-tracking: Like Apollo and BamBam, ActiveCollab also includes a time tracker. Uniquely, ActiveCollab allows you to track time and invoice those hours directly to your clients. Clients can even make payments using ActiveCollab.Client delegation: ActiveCollab is the most client-facing tool in our list. With this application, clients can delegate tasks directly to you and your team members.
Search function: The search functionality is limited. Whereas tools like asana let you search with specific filters (return only project results, return only task results, etc), ActiveCollab only performs a rudimentary keyword search.
Reports: The process to generate reports is complicated.
The design of ActiveCollab is extremely similar to the design of Apollo, right down to the fonts and colorscape. However, as a whole, we didn’t find this system as sophisticated as Apollo. For example, Apollo includes a built-in CRM tool, while ActiveCollab does not.
Flexible Views: The interface is intuitive. This is a perfect tool if you are a project manager that runs an Agile development team because you can configure the swimlanes to correspond to your specific sprints. In addition to the default Kanban view, use the calendar view to see a quick snapshot of the overall project schedule.Accessibility: Trello is easily accessible on various operating systems, devices and browsers. If you have Trello installed on multiple devices, it will synch, so you can always be sure that you’re seeing the latest data.Integrations: Trello has several integrations (called Power-Ups) with popular 3rd-party and native apps to help keep your team informed. Integrations include Evernote, GitHub, Google Drive, Slack and more.
Calendars: It is not possible to synch Trello with external calendars such as Google or Outlook.
Over-simplified: It might be difficult to manage complex projects using Trello. Most of the features are designed to satisfy projects with simple needs. For example, the default version of Trello does not allow you to define dependencies (though this is possible with a Power-Up).
Design Interface: Clicking a card in Trello will open a task in a modal window (pop-up) to display the full details. We find this a bit unwieldy, particularly on smaller screens. Tools like asana, which open task details in a side panel, are easier to wrangle when you’re juggling multiple windows.
If you are looking for a simple tool that doesn’t require much on-boarding time, look no further. Trello is the perfect tool for you. If you’re looking for a bit more sophistication, the options higher on our list will likely serve you better.
Flexible Views: Configure your Jira application to work for your team. For each project, you can choose whether to configure “issues” (i.e. tickets) as a single running to-do list, or as a Kanban board. Specify unique swimlanes for each Kanban project.Permissions: Jira has the most robust permission options of any platform. You can get incredibly specific about who should be able to see each element of the platform. You can lock users out of specific issues or projects, restrict users’ ability to add new issues, and more. These permission capabilities can get rather complicated if you go too far down the rabbit hole, which is why we do not recommend this solution unless you have a dedicated administrator to configure the software and make updates when needed. Jira also recommends that users pay for yearly software maintenance.Development-focused: Unlike many other options on this list, Jira is really designed for large-scale development projects. Jira allows product managers to sort issues and projects into “releases,” making it easy to report progress to stakeholders. Jira is very much set up for traditional development teams that perform bug fixes and operate off of pre-determined release schedules.
Reports: Jira offers several pre-built reports for experienced project managers to assess team productivity. This is great for tracking the resolution time for high-priority bug fixes, the workload of individual development team members, and more.
Time-tracking: Use Jira to track time. Jira integrates with the popular 3rd-party application, Tempo Timesheets, making this an attractive option for teams that want to manage their entire process in one place.
Cost: The pricing model could be a benefit or a drawback. Jira is one of only 2 options on our list that offers a one-time cost and server (or cloud) installation. This, again, is likely a great option for very large development teams but is probably less than ideal for smaller agencies. In addition to the cost for the application itself, Jira also recommends that users subscribe to annual software maintenance packages, which are approximately ½ the total software cost, each year. For example, if you have paid the one-time cost of $1,820 for Jira software for your team of 40 users, your yearly maintenance cost would be $910.
Design Interface: Because this product is geared towards development teams, it may seem inappropriate or overwhelming for non-developers. Team members like content strategists and social media specialists do not have “bug fixes” or “releases” to worry about, so this software may not feel intuitive to them.
Searchability: Jira’s flexibility is useful but can also be detrimental. It’s very easy to make permissions errors, which can make it nearly impossible to find what you’re looking for. For example, if the Jira administrator changes the status options on a particular project workflow, it could affect your pre-built task lists and force you to dig around for tickets.
Onboarding Commitment: Jira is a big commitment. If you’re struggling to convince your team that you even need a project management system, or trying to get people to move away from emails and sticky notes, you probably should take a baby step with a program like Trello or Wunderlist before you attempt to leap to Jira. Non-developers will likely hate Jira’s interface, so tread lightly if you feel like your team is already apprehensive about a switch.
Jira is another heavy-hitter in the world of PM tools. Jira is likely an attractive option if you use the rest of the Atlassian suite (including Confluence, Service Desk or Hipchat), as everything will integrate seamlessly. We do not recommend Atlassian products to teams that do not have a dedicated IT administrator to handle configuration, as it is typically purchased as a server-side solution. Jira is especially well-suited for back-end development teams, but we find it’s not as good for non-developers such as copywriters, designers, etc.
Simplicity: You set a date, add comments, and click save. You can share your list with any other user.Calendar: You can synchronize Wunderlist with your Google calendar for easy integration.Price: Wunderlist has a free option with plenty of features, as well as a monthly paid option with unlimited users. Both options are among the cheapest of the services we reviewed.Email Compatibility: You can send task lists via plaintext email with just one click.
File Storage: The free version doesn’t let you upload files above 5 MB, which can get tricky when you’re working with larger creative files.
Limited FeatureSet: Wunderlist is not very comprehensive (no time tracking, calendar, invoices, etc.) It does one thing – makes lists – and does it well, but this tool might not be robust enough for diverse teams. It also does not have a Kanban option, though you could, presumably, create list dividers as de facto “swimlanes” if you really wanted to force it.
Branding: Wunderlist does not allow a white-labeled client-facing view.
If you like checking things off as you go: this one’s for you. If you need something client-facing: look somewhere else. Wunderlist may work better for personal use than for a managing large team projects.
Design Interface: Basecamp features a simple tabbed interface.Ease-of-Use: It is really simple to set up Basecamp and to operate within the system.To-do Lists: Basecamp gives you the ability to label and order to-do lists, as well as the ability to filter lists according to specific users.
Interface: The Basecamp interface is inferior to the others in our comparison in both design and functionality, and hasn’t changed much in the past five years.
Over Reliance on Messages: There’s an over reliance on messages with this system. We tend to wind up with long email chains rather than an organized list of tasks. Milestones stand alone in the calendar view, and the messages live in the messages tab; without much cross-linking between the two. Everything seems pretty siloed, and more message-based than project-based or task-based. This does not work well, especially if you’re trying to convince your team to move away from email and into a more organized management process.
Email Notifications: Email notifications are automatically triggered every time someone makes any changes to the task or project. There is no way to get around these email notifications besides creating a custom rule.
Basecamp has been the leader in project management software for years, and is one of the most well-known project management system out there. However, Basecamp has failed to adapt to the changing landscape in project management, pushing it to the bottom of our list.
Honorable Mention: BamBam
Interface Design: BamBam and asana both feature stellar user interfaces. The placement of each element is intuitive, from the comments section to the status buttons to the due dates. Even a PM, who has never used a task management tool will be able to learn the basics of BamBam in a day or two. We loved the sticky bar at the bottom of each page. This bar allows a user to switch between views to visualize a project several ways (simple, list, grid, etc.). This flexibility will appeal to users with different organization styles.
Status and Prioritization: BamBam includes multiple default project statuses beyond just “open” and “closed,” such as “in progress” and “resolved.” BamBam makes prioritization easy with color-coded urgency tags like “critical” “high” “low”, etc. This can be very useful for project managers juggling multiple tasks with limited development bandwidth.
Hiding Task Groups: We mentioned that asana can feel overwhelming, since each task is listed as a separate line item. BamBam solves this problem with easy toggles to “hide” or “show” certain groups of tasks, resulting in a more manageable view. PMs who have difficulty focusing on several tasks at once will love this feature.
Wiki & Time-tracking: The Wiki feature allows you to save client notes, policies, how-tos, and other topics with all team members. The time tracking feature is a nice alternative to timesheets. This data can be exported, allowing you to run reports to understand how each user is spending time, which clients are draining resources, and more. This is a great option for teams that are trying to eliminate redundant tools, since BamBam consolidates so many features into one system.
Multiple Workspaces: With BamBam, you have the ability to restrict rights to specific areas of the application, which is great for teams with more sophisticated security needs. One user can also create multiple accounts with a single login and password. This allows a user to switch between multiple workspaces (say, one for client X, one for client Y, and one for personal projects) with just one click.
Feature Overload: We’re saying a lot of great things about BamBam but you’ll notice we still have asana ranked number one. For everything that BamBam does well, we feel that there is a simplicity to asana that is hard to beat.
Integrations: BamBam handles integrations via REST. This will be complicated to implement for most users.
Unclear Future: BamBam is now a part of Buddy, a platform for app and web developers to manage automation tools. You can still login into your BamBam account through Buddy, and the project management software is still available from certain third party sites, but it is clear that BamBam is being faded out as a platform.
BamBam is very similar to asana, although a bit more complex. While we enjoyed using BamBam, and originally ranked it 3rd in our list, it’s unclear future and lack of ongoing support make it a much less viable option longterm.
So which one should you choose? It depends on your team and your needs. We hope that the chart below helps make your decision a bit easier: