This article is written for everyone who is interested in project management, but just don’t know where to start. The article dives into what project management actually is and lists tools that will help you manage your projects successfully. If you are just a beginner this article will help you understand, how to start managing projects and if you are a hardcore project manager with a number of successful projects under your belt, you will find the list and reviews of project management tools most interesting.
Project management is a term that gets more and more attention these days averaging more than 350,000 monthly searches on Google. When I started writing this blog, I had to replenish my knowledge about the topic by reading the guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge. If you want to dive deep into project management I recommend reading this yourself, but if you want a simpler overview of project management with software reviews this article will suffice.
All in all I started with the question every soon-to-be project manager asks him or herself…
“Successful projects are completed on schedule, within budget, and according to previously agreed quality standards.”
This quote is from Bert Esselink and it is the essence of what project management strives for. It may sound extremely simple to you but there are a number of processes that need to happen if you wish to achieve this result. What is even more important than just successfully finishing a project, is the ability to recreate the success on your future projects.
Project management can be broken down into 6 steps:
Before you start planning your project its smart to have a great foundation to build on – this is the initiation stage.This is the point where your project begins to shape.
First things first, every project needs to have a basic idea and a goal behind it, so you should sit down with your team and pinpoint both the idea and the goal.
Next, you need to set boundaries to the project by setting a time limit and the scope of the project.
After you are done with this the project needs to be sliced into manageable parts.
The project should be broken down into two parts:
- The first part is the breakdown where you specify and hierarchically arrange all the parts of the project with deliverables and outcomes.
- The second part is the work breakdown,where you specify how work will be done, from larger sets of tasks to exact daily tasks. There should always be one person that is responsible and one person that is accountable for a specific task (some tasks should also need consultancy from an expert or the person that is influenced by the completion of the task).
Since you already set the duration of the project and with this the final deadline, you should also predict and set the important points in your project called milestones.
This will provide you with a firm set of direction. Next you must analyze your business needs and requirements to reach your project goals. If by this point you didn’t do the SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses,opportunities, and threats to the business) now is the time.
Always have a firm idea on what you want to achieve, how do you plan to get there and what are the possible obstacles that stand on your way of successfully finishing your project.
Phew! Done with the first step, now comes the planning part!
During this phase your aim is to plan time, costs and resources in more detail, so you can estimate how much work is needed to finish the project as a whole. You also find possible risks that may endanger the execution of your project.
As you start the second phase you should find a management methodology that suits you best. There are two main project management methodologies: plan everything in advance from start to finish or plan in waves where you plan little by little.
At this point you will need to decide if you can plan this project on your own, if not this is the time to choose a team that will plan the project with you. Expert opinions are especially helpful in this stage, so choose your team with care.
Next you take the tasks you identified in the initiation part and specify the activities that are needed for the completion of each task and create a network that connects them in a logical manner (the precondition to start working on a task may be the completion of another task etc.).
At the same time, you should decide who is working on those tasks and determine the duration of each task (again you may want to ask for an expert opinion).
Next come the budget and scheduling part. Both are quite self-explanatory, a precise budget for each task should be defined as well as a precise schedule for all tasks.
Now the only thing that stands in your way of the executing stage is a formal approval to the project from the upper management. If you are lucky you are the project manager AND the upper management. In that case congratulate yourself you’ve done well with the initiation and planning of the project!
As said in the beginning successful projects are completed on schedule, within budget, and according to set standards.
If you want to achieve this, you'll need to document every part of your project so you'll know if you are on the right track during the execution of the project. In the end you'll figure out if you indeed stayed within the boundaries you set at the beginning of your project.
Exact documentation will also help with future project planning and managing. You can always check on your previous project, find the mistakes that were made, learn from them and be more efficient and successful on your next project.
Proper documenting will satisfy anyone who is interested on how the project was conducted, may that be your upper management or your client.
Probably no one will argue with you about documentation being a pain in the … but this is still the only way to stay on the right track with your project.
The output of this faze are the completed tasks that you planned in the first two phases. The main job of the project manager is the correct allocation of human resources - distribute tasks to your team members and make sure the tasks are executed correctly.
Your team should always stay in the boundaries that were set in the first two phases (plan and budget). The success of the execution phase is highly correlated with initiating and planning, meaning that if you fail to do a good job there the execution will be poor and inefficient.
If the documentation part was done correctly and with precision, monitoring your project should go very smoothly.
Project monitoring has three main functions:
The last step you must take to complete the project is its closing. This means that you formally declare that the project has finished and your part as the project manages is done.
Don’t forget to run through your documentation and scan for possible unfinished tasks or any other mistakes.
After you finish you project you should do a post implementation review where you will learn from your project and apply the knowledge to your next one. Focus on the things that you did correctly and take note of your mistakes so they will not appear in your next project.
Project management software is meant to make the lives of project managers easier. Its main task of all project management tools is to help you organize a project much quicker and more accurately and execute it with perfection.
Depending on its features a project management tool can help you plan your project, manage project resources and give estimations about time or money consumption by tasks or by project.
Project management software can also help you allocate resources, present you with an efficient communications channel and a space where you can manage and save your documentation.
There are many different types of project management tools. First you have desktop software, that needs to be installed on your computer, web-based tools that exist in the cloud and need a live internet access and mobile apps that you install on your phone.
Most of the project management tools out there offer a combination of a desktop, web and mobile versions. This makes the software more versatile and usable. You can manage project on the go with the mobile app and make detailed plans on you desktop app for example.
Secondly you may distinguish project management tools by their usage. You have collaborative systems that are designed for larger teams. Their functionalities closely resemble the stages of project management mentioned above. The most complete solutions include every step from the initiation phase to project closing.
On the other hand, there are personal project management solutions for lifestyle management or to manage some project at home. These tools tend to be simpler and are mostly meant for single users.
The most popular functionalities of project management software include: project planning and scheduling, team collaboration in real time, time tracking, some type of reporting, budgeting and billing functionalities.
Now that you know what project management and project management software is, you are probably interested in why would you actually use and pay for the software.
Project management tools make project management much more organized. You have everything that you need to run a successful project in one place.
The real-time collaboration between team members in a shared space raises the levels of focus and speeds up the work when you have tasks that are interdependent.
At the same time, the project manager has a birds-eye-view of the whole project and can spot mistakes and rearrange the workload if necessary.
You can share and store documentation all in one place.
A large number of project management tools will offer a cost management and predictions which can be one of the hardest and trickiest part of project management.
A large part of project management is reporting. This help you stay on track and it is easy to track the progress of the whole project. Reports should offer you to customize the data in a useful and meaningful way. Reports are often the backbone of every successful project.
The bottom line is that project management tools should make the life of a project manager and his team members easier.
No matter how complicated the software gets, it should always be user friendly so that the tool does not have the opposite effect and complicates project management any further.
The aim of the test was to simulate the process of an average buyer with a basic knowledge of project tracking. The tools were chosen by collecting the data of 50+ review sites and blog posts about project management. I found the most mentioned tools, just as a potential user would and reviewed them.
A visit to the website was the first thing I did, before starting to test the tools. I got a fast overview of the tool and its core functionalities from the website.
Then I located the free trial. I had one rule, always pick the trial that did not demand my credit card and had the most functionalities.
When I got the trial, I followed the on-boarding process and got to know the tools in detail. I also had multiple emails so I could check out the team member features and simulate the needs of a real user.
I extensively tested the support of each tool on this list. I always asked the same three questions:
- Can I delete my data at any given time?
- How do you store the data?
- How long do you store the data after an account was deleted?
Asana is one of the most popular project management choices out there. It is a cloud solution that offers functionalities focused mostly on tracking and planning projects and focuses less on productivity tracking. If you are looking for a simple and user-friendly project management software you can't go wrong with Asana. Asana is in its core a to-do list with additional features focused on project management and planning supported with team communication, file storage and notifications that make a neat project tracker. It also has mobile apps (both iOS and Android) and over 100 integrations.
Asana offers two trials Premium and Business and a free forever option – Basic. I tested the Basic plan which does not have and time limitations, but the Premium and Business trials both have 30-day trials.
Firstly, I created a project and added tasks and teammates. The on-boarding process is done with the help of template tasks that you complete one by one. This helps you to start using Asana as naturally as possible. There are a lot of short videos all around Asana that help you or give you useful tips and tricks about using the software.
This is your home screen in Asana with its left sided navigation panel where you can choose your favorite projects, check out your reports or manage your team with a simple click. The main focus in the middle of the screen are the tasks that you need to focus on because of their due date, your favorite projects and projects that you recently added.
This is the project screen where you can have an overview of you whole project and tasks division. Under the project name you can choose the list, board (the one you see on the screenshot), calendar, conversations and files view. In the Premium and Business trials you can also try out the timeline, progress and forms view. This allows you to customize your view that can satisfy most project management styles and need. The calendar, timeline and board views are the most useful and the most versatile in our opinion.
Similar to the project screen you can manage your tasks in the list, calendar or files view. All tasks can be seen in the center of you screen. You can click on a specific task and add a description, project, tags and other useful information about the task. You can add files to the task and your team members can comment on the task if it is public. Every task can be assigned to specific team members and can have a due date and followers.
The support form was a tad tricky to find (you need to scroll and click around the help center to find it).
Asana does not have chat support. The response time was just under 2 hours and the answer to the 3 questions about security was:
Can I delete my data at any given time?
"You can delete your tasks, projects or teams from your Organization or Work space at any time."
How do you store the data? / How long do you store the data after an account was deleted?
"While we can't disclose our internal data retention and deletion practices because they are confidential to our business operations, we will comply with our legal obligations with respect to retaining and/or deleting data uploaded by you to our platform."
I was not completely satisfied with the answers because they were not straight forward. A number of additional documents were read and even then, I didn’t get the short and sweet answer that I wanted.
Trello is a simple Kanban based project management tool, where you can create unlimited boards, with lists and cards. The tool is meant for smaller teams but can be upgraded to enterprise level. This is a flexible solution, but that means that you will need to invest more time to find a way to manage your projects efficiently. Trello is a cloud-based and works on both iOS and Android. All in all, Trello is a great and simple tool for team collaboration and project management.
Trello has three packages, Free, Business Class and Enterprise. I tested out the Free package, because the other two upgraded packages do not have trials. The Free package is free forever.
Firstly, I created the account on Trello. Then I followed a wizard that explains the basic structure of the tool (Board, List and Card). Trello is extremely simple to use so the best way to learn how to use it is to just click around. Because it's very intuitive and has versatile use cases you will soon find a flow that suits you best.
This is the screen you will mostly work with. This is the scheme that was suggested by the wizard when I created the new board. I created three lists (Things To Do, Doing, Done) with different cards inside them. You can add unlimited lists and cards and you can simply drag and drop everything on the board. On the right side of the screen you can see the menu where you can operate the basic functionalities of the board or glance at your activity feed.
Cards are most commonly used as tasks when managing your projects with Trello. This is where you can add descriptions, check lists, labels, a due date and file attachments to specific cards. Cards can be assigned to team members, that can also leave a comment on the task. You can choose between a large number of power ups for Trello (in the free plan you can only have one power up at a time).
The Butler feature is a bit more advanced than the rest of Trello. It allows you to automate your project management. You can create rules, buttons and scheduled commands that resoult in specific actions on your board. This can range from very simple to complicated automation, that makes Trello faster and more efficient. You can set up the automation all on your own, so again there is a lot of versatility to this feature.
The support form was easy to find on their website. Trello does not have chat support. The response time was just under 1 hour (the business plan guarantees that your questions will be answered in 24 hours) and the answer to the 3 questions about security was:
Can I delete my data at any given time?
"Yes, data can be deleted in the app, but will exist as a backup for another 90 days."
How do you store the data?
"At this point all of our data is stored on Amazon's AWS Infrastructure in US regions."
How long do you store the data after an account was deleted?
"All data that is deleted in Trello will be deleted in accordance with our terms and service / data retention policy. Data will remain in encrypted Trello database backups until those backups fall out of the 90-day backup preservation window and are then destroyed."
Wrike is one of the most complete project management tools you can find, but it comes at a price – its price! It is the most expensive solution on our list, but Wrike offers Gantt charts, visual reports, real-time collaboration, workload management, financial management, scheduling and much more. You can organize your project from the very beginning to finish, because the solution covers all of the stages of project management we talked about at the start of this article. Wrike is meant for larger teams and enterprises. If you can afford it will be one of the most valuable tools in your collection. Wrike also offers both iOS and Android apps and integrates with numerous other solutions.
Wrike has 6 packages: Basic, Professional, Business, for Marketers, for Professional Services and Enterprise. You can get a free 14 day trial for each of the packages.
I choose the Marketing package. You don’t need a credit card for this trial but you need to type in your phone number (besides your email and other info).
Wrike is one of the more complex solutions on this list. The on boarding process is well handled but it takes a longer time to get used to Wrike and to truly understand and use all its features. I started this trial by learning from a preexisted template meant for marketing projects. The hierarchy in Wrike goes from Space to Folder to Project to Task. This gives you a micromanage approach to planning and monitoring your projects.
This is the screen you will be seeing a lot if you are using Wrike. You have two navigational bars, one on the left side with different spaces, project and tasks in a drop-down menu. And on the top of your screen you have your Inbox, My Work (every ongoing action regarding you), Dashboard (for a birds-eye view of your project). You also have Reports, Calendar and a Stream tab where team communication is gathered.
You can see all the task that are in the project in the middle of the screen and you can change the view from list to board table, Gantt chart or any other you see below the name of the project.
In the right side of the screen you can see an example of a task inside a project, where you can add a variety of information like the status of the task, users asigned to the task, you can add files and sub tasks, ... Under the description space you can monitor what is happening to the task by checking the activity log.
This gives a great overview of your project. You can see all the tasks and sub tasks you added in this board. The you can add widgets to the Dashboard and drag and drop elements from one widget to another. This is an easy way to organize your team and your tasks inside the project. You can change the major thing inside the project here and then manage the tasks in detail in the project view.
The reporting in Wrike is one of its biggest advantages in comparison with the competition. You can create 6 different reports (Active tasks, Weekly project status, Overdue tasks, Projects due this month, Unassigned tasks and Time spent this week) or you can create a custom report. This covers the monitoring part of project management completely. Maybe you will need some time to get used to reporting, but if done correctly it can benefit your project greatly.
The support in top notch, Wrike has a chat-based support system where I spoke to a real person (not a bot chat) and I got an answer to our three standard questions in a matter of minutes. This is what we found out:
Can I delete my data at any given time?
Sure, if you want to do so, just follow the standard steps.
How do you store the data?
Wrike hosts its mission-critical servers in dedicated cages within data centers located in US and EU.
How long do you store the data after an account was deleted?
If a user is deleted by mistake, there is a possibility to recover the deletion in 3 business days if you contact us. Some user info can be recovered for up to a month after deletion.