By LaTia Few, MBA, PMI-ACP
Principal Project Manager and Founder
LaFew & Associates LLC
Now, more than ever, organizations are looking for systems that enable more effective team collaboration, particularly for remote workers, on mission-critical projects and day-to-day initiatives. Luckily, there’s no shortage of productivity and project management software. But in a market over-saturated with cloud-based tools offering similar features and price points, not all software is created equally.
In my experience using some of the leading project management tools with organizations ranging in size from solopreneurs to Fortune 500 companies, I’ve learned that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to choosing the right project management software. What works for a creative freelancer may not be the best fit for a large IT organization or for certain individuals in either environment depending on their work style, technical background, or the types of projects they manage.
With so many options, it can be overwhelming for organizations to choose the right project management tool. For this reason, I’ve rounded up three top project management software tools to help your organization compare features, use cases, and select the best option for your needs.
Trello is based on Kanban project management, an Agile practice where teams visualize various stages of a workflow using cards or sticky notes. At the heart of the Trello platform are “boards” that resemble color-coded post-it notes, which are used to organize projects. Each board provides options to include key project details like task ownership, status, deadlines, and more. Highlights of Trello’s features include workflow automation, people tagging, status notifications, file sharing, calendar view, search/filtering, and the ability to communicate with team members inside the tool.
As a virtual project manager, Trello is my top pick due to its intuitive and easy-to-use user interface. I’ve found that with limited-to-no training, users at most organizations can quickly grasp the concept of planning and organizing their work efforts using the Trello cards. Additionally, Trello is the most affordable of the tools, providing a free option with basic features and an upgraded business class version with enhanced functionality for $10 per user, per month. There is also an enterprise version for a slightly higher cost.
Trello works best for more “visual workers” who want to collaborate easier on projects with small teams. It is also conducive for Agile and Scrum sprint-based project management approaches to initiatives like web development and is suitable for managing ongoing tasks like standard operating procedure maintenance. However, even with a calendar view option, Trello is less flexible for those who may use other project management approaches. Given its colorful, card-based interface, Trello is not ideal for those with less visual work styles.
Coming in at #2 is Smartsheet, which leverages a spreadsheet-like approach. Users can organize projects into “sheets” which can be formatted using one of the many templates offered by Smartsheets or created from scratch. They can then enter and format tasks similar to traditional spreadsheet software like Excel or Google Sheets; however, Smartsheet’s functionality makes some tasks like adding due dates or collapsing and expanding data much easier than using a traditional spreadsheet. One thing I like about Smartsheet is how much easier it is to view your “sheet” on a mobile device than using Excel or Google Sheets. Other features available in Smartsheet include the ability to add videos and PDF attachments, shared workspaces, change history/tracking, advanced reporting, automation, calendar view, application integration, and more.
Smartsheet is obviously best for people that are most comfortable managing projects with spreadsheets or those who prefer a less visual user experience than Trello but need a more straightforward tool than Asana. Like Trello, Smartsheet is relatively simple to use with some basic training. I have found it to be most useful for projects like event management or budget tracking. Perhaps the biggest con of Smartsheet is its price, as the free trial is only available for 30 days, after which the cost goes up to $14 per month for an individual plan and $25 per user, per month.
Asana is best known for its checklist approach to task and project management. It works by allowing users to create projects and list the tasks that require completion. Project tasks can then be viewed as either a board, list, timeline, or calendar where users can communicate on status via centralized chat and email integration. Asana supports Agile project management, as well as other project management approaches.
Asana’s functionality is by far the most comprehensive of the tools. It includes task and project chat, project templates, project reporting, filesharing, and task independencies and subtasks, application integration, and much more. However, the platform, while robust, is significantly less intuitive than the other two tools. Asana is best for tech-savvy teams that oversee complex projects with many moving parts. In my experience, it has a steep learning curve, and I usually have to spend considerable upfront time training users before they feel comfortable with the platform.
In terms of cost, it’s on par with Trello but is slightly more expensive. Asana offers a free option that only allows up to 15 users, while the premium version is about $10 per user, per month. Between the complexity of its interface and the higher cost, Asana is usually the last tool I recommend for most organizations, especially if they are implementing a project management tool for the first time.
The Bottom Line—Conclusion
When evaluating a potential project management solution, my advice is to keep it simple. Focus on your people and the types of projects they manage, rather than the tool itself. Putting your users’ needs first before functionality and features will keep you from choosing and ultimately investing in software that may end up complicating your work environment rather than making it easier.
Keep in mind that any type of productivity software is intended to complement your team’s culture, environment, and processes but is not a substitute for having an effective project management structure. As such, I recommend evaluating, establishing, or improving your current project management approach before exploring or implementing a project management tool.
Are you looking for a better way to manage project teams using the latest virtual tools and best practices?