Top 12 Project Management Tools Tested and Reviewed in 2021

Marcel Tit

Written by

Marcel Tit

Read Time

39 minutes

Paymo

Monday

Wrike

Basecamp

Active Collab

Zoho Projects

Freedcamp

Asana

Podio

Smartsheet

Airtable

Teamwork

Time Tracking

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Resource Scheduling

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Invoicing

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Pricing Starts At

$9.95 (user/month)

$24 (3 seats/month)

$49 (5 seats/month)

$99 (month)

$7.50 (3 seats/month)

$4.75 (user/month)

$1.49 (user/month)

$12.50 (user/month)

$7.20 (user/month)

$20.50 (3 seats/month)

$10 (user/month)

$11.50 (user/month)

Overall Score

4.5

4.3

3.9

4.1

4.1

3.9

4.1

4.3

3.9

4.1

4.2

4.3

Verdict

Best project management tool with time tracking

Highly-visual spreadsheet-style

A project management solution for Enterprise

Robust team collaboration features

A project management tool that does a little bit of everything

Packed with features but not so easy to use

A pm tool for individuals and small teams

An application with lots of integrations available

Good pm software with CRM capabilities

An Excel-style project management tool

For those who prefer tables and spreadsheets

Complete project management tool

Project management tools and software have come a long way in the last few years. I thought it was about time for a detailed review of the modern tools designed to support how teams work today.

I scoured the market to come up with the top tools used in project management. These products scale with you, let your team manage their projects the way they want to, and have a user experience that isn’t—well—horrible, especially if you’re working remotely

Most of the tools that made this list are more suited for small and medium businesses, and there are trade-offs here and there.

You’ll save hours of research by reading this guide, as I’ve already tested and compared all of these online project management tools for you. My colleague, Alexa, peer-reviewed this article and updated the screenshots.

Before you read on, put together a list of your top needs. Then go through all of the available options to pick your top 3 to run for a trial based on your requirements, budget, team type, and pain points you want to solve.

Remember that I only focused my research on tools with complete project management features. I left aside software used solely for time tracking, task management, human resources, file management, or accounting. Sometimes these market themselves as project management software but are not sufficient when compared to established pm tools.

Top project management tools

I have conducted an in-depth review of the most used project management tools and software. Here’s my pick of the top 12 best project management tools. These are the first options you should consider due to their winning combo of features, usability, and reliability, along with good reviews from their users.

PAYMO

Paymo is the best project management tool with time tracking and invoicing features.

Paymo project management tool

The Table View in Paymo offers plenty of info about tasks.

If you are worried that your employees or team members are wasting too much time doing specific tasks, if the project is getting delayed repeatedly, or you feel that you could do the whole project much faster, then Paymo is the right project management tool for you.

Paymo has something that many other pm tools lack, namely time tracking integrated into its core project management functionality. Time tracking is a native feature, which means smoother communication between modules. On top of that, you don’t have to spend extra dollars on dedicated time-tracking solutions.
This integration is critical in managing work and projects because you see exactly where time is spent at the end of the day. You will have a clear overall picture and be able to adjust tasks and priorities accordingly.

For example, by looking at where time is spent on your project, you may find that John is spending too much time on simple tasks. You can delegate the task to another team member or assign more people to work on it. This way, you can address problems as they occur and avoid ending up in bottlenecks where everybody starts blaming others (you know what I mean, right?) Then you can chat with him about the snag and take action before it’s too late.

Paymo is a work and project management tool best used by project managers who have issues with tracking time spent on tasks. Unlike many other popular pm tools like Asana, Basecamp, or Monday.com, Paymo has put a lot of time and effort into making time tracking as straightforward as possible.

Paymo even went so far as to develop a fully automated time tracking method, where you don’t have to do too much to track the time. Time tracking can be initiated from many places, as seen in the pictures below.

Besides time tracking, the tool has all the standard project management features and a few extra ones, like invoicing. Being able to export an invoice with all the work that has been done in one click is a godsend for many teams. Imagine the hassle of going through all the tasks done by every team member, then calculating the total number of hours worked by them — it would be tedious and inefficient. With Paymo, you can automate all of this. Read more about it here.

Knowing exactly how much money you make at the end of the day is the goal of any business. Although this is also missing from other pm software, a profitability feature would make Paymo even more helpful. At the moment, the only way to do this is to calculate the profit separately, but Paymo is currently making strides to launch a profitability feature in the near future.

What I would also like to see implemented is a more useful dashboard and the ability to import data from other systems. The app gets better the more you use it, so it’s a shame that people who come from other software don’t have an easy way to bring their data too. 

Fourteen years ago, Paymo started as a time tracking and invoicing tool for freelancers. In time, Paymo evolved into a full-fledged work management software since more and more features have been added.

It allows small businesses to manage projects and tasks, create work schedules, invite collaborators into Paymo, or use the mobile app for complete project management solutions. As for product updates, both its mobile app and software get updated frequently.

MONDAY.COM

Your go-to project management tool that boasts a highly visual collaborative experience.

mondaydotcom

You can tell from the start that this is will be a colorful experience.

With Monday everything is visual and colorful to make using the app more fun on a day-to-day basis. It was made for users who enjoy using a flat task structure, or as the guys from monday.com call it, “an intuitive, flat way to organize information.” By comparison, most online project management tools rely on a hierarchy that could be more difficult to navigate for certain teams and certain project types.

If color makes a big difference in managing tasks and priorities, you should consider giving Monday a try. But before you try it, you should know that even though the use of colors is among the most praised features, it’s also among the most criticized—some really like it, some people don’t. Check out the picture below for a glance over the interface. Make sure you are in the group of people who like it, at least before you pay.

mondaydotcom colorful

Also, for those who’d rather use Monday.com in your native language, this project management tool is available in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Hebrew, German, Chinese, Italian, Russian, and Dutch. If you’re looking for an alternative in your mother tongue, Paymo is also available in 20+ most common languages. 

One of the frequent complaints users have is related to notifications. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by notifications if you have a larger team, but imagine getting unnecessary notifications even if you are not assigned to those tasks or projects. Make sure you are ok with it before you commit to it for the long term.

After checking hundreds of user reviews, the second most frequent complaint I noticed is how confusing or overwhelming it may be for new users. Even the best project management tools have this problem but to varying degrees. When compared to other project management software, Monday.com receives most of the complaints that it’s pretty complex, lacks tutorials, and it’s hard to pick up without training.

If you are one of those people that find it hard to understand new systems without step-by-step guidance, then maybe Asana would be a better fit for you. But I have to say that recently they’ve made significant progress and added a library of tutorials and webinars. I used it for a bit to test out the complaint, and find the onboarding process quite reasonable.

Time tracking is another area where it’s lackluster. Time trackers can be glitchy at times, and they don’t always track time properly. Sometimes they need to be refreshed multiple times to display the correct time. In my experience, time tracking is non-negotiable. So, if time tracking is more important than your color-coded system, and you need time reports and invoicing to get paid, then Paymo is a better Monday alternative.

You need to know that the pricing system is another area for major complaints—especially for low-end users, such as small companies or businesses. Not only is the price too steep for small teams, but it’s also inflexible. For example, you might have a set number of seats available. If you need to add a new team member, you would have to double the number of seats for that upgrade. Monday.com is not the best option if the pricing is a key decision factor for you. In this case, a better option would be Podio.

Founded almost a decade ago, Monday.com (formerly daPulse) set out to create an inclusive and transparent workflow with customizable building blocks. It launched its mobile app five years ago and evolved to a 2.0 version just last year. As for product updates, Monday.com releases updates in bulk every couple of months.

WRIKE

Wrike is a project management tool for creative teams with proofing features.

wrike

Wrike’s interface is not necessarily the most intuitive one.

It is one of the most popular online project management tools that are complex and balanced, providing a bit of everything. It’s a good option for creative teams who are looking for varied functionalities and working with collaborators. Their top feature remains Wrike Proof, in which designers can offer visual feedback through multiple review cycles and even invite external reviewers. 

A good example of how Wrike is better than its competitors would be in the case of a design agency. That’s if you have to communicate with many clients and get constant feedback, but you don’t want to train each one in the use of a complex and bloated project management tool. The Wrike Proof is the best thing for you. Like in the picture below, with just a few clicks, you can invite a guest reviewer, decide on what s/he is allowed to do, and set an access expiration date.

wrike guest

Add Guest in Wrike

Guests can easily highlight exactly what they want to be changed, and over time you can compare the original with the updated versions. But this is nothing new in the industry, even among top project management tools. Other software—Wrike alternatives like Paymo or ActiveCollab—have proofing capabilities. Just that Wrike’s is more robust if you compare it with others. But before you decide on giving Wrike a try, let’s cover some of the parts about which users complain the most.

Looking also to get paid? Not with Wrike. You need to know that there are no financial indicators, invoicing, budgeting, or billing features, so Wrike can only help you take your project to delivery but not beyond it.

Due to its complexity, the interface isn’t intuitive for first-time users, and the onboarding and setup process is frequently seen as lacking by current users. The search function does the job to help you find a task you’re working on even when you’ve had it with the interface — Monday.com seems to be on the same level of complexity.

In contrast, Basecamp is way more straightforward and praised because it’s way easier to use, but what users complain about Basecamp is the lack of features and functions, which is a significant drawback.

There’s also Asana, which is way easier to get into with good tutorials and user onboarding, but again, lacking some of the advanced features Wrike has. You should choose the one that matches your experience and needs.

Another reason for which Wrike gets a lot of complaints is the notifications. Users complain that email alerts are overwhelming, that they get many pointless notification emails, and they aren’t really useful. Notifications are only available via email or desktop and you’ll have to edit your email notification settings to prevent it from spamming your inbox with every tiny change. So, it would be best to select the time of day when you want to get your daily emails.

Pricing is another serious cause of concern. A lot of users complain about it being expensive, and about the fact you have to purchase at least 5 licenses (or seats). When you check their pricing page you see the price is $9.80/user/month. But this is very misleading because you have to pay for a minimum of 5 users. So this should be written as a minimum of 49 USD/month.

Even worse, if you want to buy it for 6 users/month you have to actually pay for 10 users. Their plans go in increments of 5 or 10. Why is this enforced, you ask me? Because they are really expensive, they just don’t want you to know upfront.

They let you invest time and energy in using their product, and then when you want to upgrade, it is almost impossible for you to refuse the deal because you’ve already invested so much time. This is really important to be known upfront. Who would trust their money to companies that employ such shady tactics? Who knows what else they are cooking up?

However, if you still want to go for it, make sure you do it first over a shorter period of time, and only after you’ve tested it thoroughly. If pricing is a key decision-making factor in choosing a project management tool, then Freedcamp would be a better alternative for you.

If we compare Wrike to Monday.com, they are similar in many aspects. For example, both are very complex and hard to get into. They get similar types of complaints: notification issues, time tracking is basic or has issues, both are very expensive. While Monday.com is better in terms of its visual appeal, Wrike would be better for working with external collaborators and has a proofing feature for creatives.

Both are weak at time tracking, and if you need financial indicators, budgeting, billing and to get paid, Paymo would be a better alternative, and more affordable. If you need something easier to use, then Asana might be a better choice.

Founded 15 years ago, Wrike was the first to market Gantt charts and launched its first mobile app 8 years ago. As for product updates, Wrike has weekly release notes. Speaking of Gantt chart makers, read this article for an in-depth review of the top 8 Gantt chart software—Wrike is also featured.

BASECAMP

Basecamp is a tool that removes the need for intermediary communication software.

basecamp

Even if the interface looks outdated, Basecamp is easy-to-use software.

Two things set Basecamp apart from its competitors. First, there are the improved communication features, and second, the simplicity and ease of use. Because of these two aspects, Basecamp is one of the most popular project management tools that are better suited for teams and not managers. This is pretty rare because, for other tools like Monday or Wrike, one of the frequent complaints concerns the chat and team communication.

This is where Basecamp fills in the gap. With Basecamp, missing out on a piece of information or deadline is nearly impossible with features such as comments on all files and tasks, the Campfire chat room for non-work topics, message boards for announcements, and automatic check-ins to replace your daily scrums.

And we’re not done yet. Pair all this with team workspaces, pings (private chats), real-time notifications, and file versioning, and you’ve got a reliable tool for team collaboration. And on the other side, in contrast to other more popular tools like Monday or Wrike, Basecamp is consistently praised by its users for how easy it is to learn and use. This means that if you don’t like tools with a steep learning curve, this one might have a chance.

But this is not the end of the story. You should know that while many users love and praise the tool, there are a bunch of people who disagree. After having looked over hundreds and hundreds of reviews, I came up with a ratio of 2:1—for every two people who praise it, there is one who disagrees. It’s still a pretty impressive achievement, considering that nobody praises other competitors like Wrike or Monday, with loads of people thinking they are way too complicated and cumbersome.

I would recommend Basecamp in three cases, which I try to illustrate here. The first example is when your team is missing a project manager, and the team members are treated as having similar authority. In this case, they will probably need to communicate a lot. This is because communication options set Basecamp apart from its competitors and where it shines the most.

The second example is when your team has trouble getting used to other tools or is simply too overwhelmed by their complexity or lots of features and buttons. Then this might be just the right project management tool for them.

The third example is for teams where communication between team members is crucial to success and where using another external tool like Slack is not an option. These are the pros of Basecamp. Now, let’s have a look at some of the cons.

One of the most important complaints is that the product feels abandoned. Some users say that they have not seen any updates in over a year. This, summed up with the fact that the design looks a bit obsolete, gives the feeling that it does not belong to the present day.

basecamp to do

To Do list in Basecamp

This gets even worse if we take into consideration the lack of useful modern features. It seems like Basecamp may have been a good tool in its current state a decade ago. Basecamp 3 was released in 2015 but it seemed like its previous version.

They are still working on Basecamp 4, which looks like it might be live by the end of 2022. There were some improvements along the way, and they promised a facelift, but this looks pretty bad compared to Wrike’s weekly updates.

Now let’s get back to the lack of features, and try to grasp the magnitude of the problem by looking at a real example of a user complaining:

“It seems like Basecamp may have been a good tool in its current state about ten years ago. However, since every company developing software already uses some form of git, the features of GitHub, GitLab, etc., and they have almost all the features as Basecamp, there’s no reason to use Basecamp. Your Git platform of choice + Slack is going to have more features, and odds are you’re already using them.”

Plus, many users ask for time tracking features, which are available only with integrations (many complaints voice how they are poorly done),  a resource scheduler, invoicing, and budgeting. If time tracking and invoicing are crucial for your business, you should consider Paymo as a Basecamp alternative. Basecamp also has limited reporting, which might be to the detriment of most companies.

Basecamp is 17 years old and has gone through multiple stages of development. The next generation, Basecamp 2, was developed nine years ago. Then followed Basecamp 3, which was launched six years ago. The latest version, Basecamp 4, is scheduled to be finalized sometime in the future. What do I mean by ‘finalized’ – Basecamp 3 will keep releasing main product features every two months or so until it eventually evolves into Basecamp 4.

ACTIVECOLLAB

ActiveCollab is a project management tool that does a little bit of everything.

ActiveCollab

ActiveCollab’s interface is pretty clean compared to other tools.

This project management platform can take your team through each step of the project management process. Still, it lacks specialized features that could compete with others like file versioning, proofing, issue tracker, or even a CRM option. Also, if you require a work management tool to integrate with your current tech stack, keep in mind there aren’t that many alternatives to ActiveCollab.

ActiveCollab used to have a very outdated look, but they’ve recently updated their interface, which was dragging them down compared to their competition. This makes it much more enjoyable to use for regular users and a decent choice for project managers.

While missing project portfolios can keep larger teams from accurately looking at all projects, ActiveCollab has strong task management features complete with Kanban boards and Gantt Charts. You might already be accustomed to using these since they have a similar setup to the views in other top project management tools, like Paymo. If you’re interested in other task management software, read this review of 13 tools ranked by category. 

This means that it might be a good fit for users that want to switch from another project management tool that does not deliver—to help do this, projects can be easily imported from Basecamp or MS Project.

To have an overall look at how it compares to other tools, I’ll give you a few examples. Compared to Monday.com, it has extra time tracking features, but it’s missing resource scheduling features. Compared to Wrike, it has additional invoicing features, but it also lacks resource scheduling functions. In terms of essential features, it’s similar to Paymo. And when compared to Paymo, it only lacks resource scheduling functions.

OK, so we talked a bit about the benefits; let’s cover some of the drawbacks as well. One of the most important things when talking about disadvantages is the low number of reviews. It looks like ActiveCollab is way less popular than other tools like Monday.com or Wrike. The number of reviews it gets is a few magnitudes lower than what its competition gets.

I wanted to make sure that the popularity is not connected to the actual functionality of the tool. In other words, to make sure it’s not unpopular because it is terrible. And at a closer look, a few interesting things popped out.

First, the team of people who built ActiveCollab is way smaller than more popular competitors—similar to Paymo’s, even smaller. And it looks like they don’t have millions of dollars from rounds and rounds of investment funneled into aggressive marketing and ads.

Since I recently tested many project management tools, I am now bombarded with aggressive ads on Youtube and whatever websites I navigate. I saw a lot of ads for Monday, ClickUp, Wrike, but not for ActiveCollab. It looks like their lack of popularity is because they don’t invest a lot in advertising. So, I won’t count this as a drawback or weakness. However, we have to rely on way fewer reviews to get a good overall opinion.

There is one important thing I found out about their pricing system. Compared to other tools like Wrike, it is not so bad, but it’s still a major problem — it has hidden fees. Yes, it’s sad that this is still a practice, but it’s real.

When you load the pricing page, you see $7.5 for the Plus plan meant “For smaller teams that need a platform for collaboration and managing projects. Limited to the three seats included in the plan. Get started”. A pretty good deal for a small team; “let’s do it!” you might think.

But when you end up using it, you find out that a boatload of features is not included in this plan. No expense tracking, no time reporting, no invoicing, no budgeting, and no cost tracking. What? Why didn’t they mention this at the beginning? They mentioned “seats” and “let’s start”. Nothing about minimal functionality—and now you have to pay $3 extra for invoicing. How is this affordable?

This tactic significantly chips away at ActiveCollab being one of the cheapest options on the project management tools market. It’s clearly not. I wanted you to know this from the beginning and avoid falling for this kind of trap. OK, so let’s cover a few more drawbacks when compared to other similar tools.

On the list of most prevalent complaints, there are slow loading times and annoying bugs. The tool can be slow, especially with a high volume of projects. It’s lightning-fast for small to medium, but it can take a while to load everything on larger projects.

And the frequent bugs complaints are probably a result of having such a small team, and people surely can’t handle everything, at least when compared to other popular tools like Monday.com. I tested it and did not find something major or dealbreaking. If you can deal with workarounds and minor annoyances from time to time, this should not be a huge problem.

The mobile app seems to be a common reason for complaints and dissatisfaction. And this can be a major drawback if you rely on o a mobile device to do your job. The app is slow, and many people complain that it’s not what they expected. It has a 3.9 rating on Google Play Store. So make sure you give it a thorough test and confirm that it does the job for your specific needs before committing to ActiveCollab for the long term.

Launched 14 years ago, ActiveCollab was once an open-source project that has become a commercial app for over 50,000 teams (well, at least this is what they say). It’s pretty praiseworthy that despite the small developing team, their roadmap is clear. Their mobile app was released earlier this year in June. They release product updates every month.

ZOHO PROJECTS

Zoho Projects is a project management tool for huge companies and enterprises.

Zoho Projects

The interface is not so friendly, although it has been improved lately.

It is another one of the all-in-one project management tools that come with all features a team would appreciate. This, however, paired with a not-so-friendly interface, makes it an unwise choice for smaller teams looking for a tool that’s fun to use, not just chock-full of functionalities.

Add in one of the most expensive pricing options available in the industry, and you’re facing a tool that’s probably more suited for huge companies and enterprises. Zoho Projects comes at about $10 per user/month, which is for the standalone product. But Zoho comes in bundles, meaning you’ll have to pay $2-3 for every extra product, plus $3 for every client user you bring on.

Even so, you’ll still have to weigh the pros and cons as the portfolio management features are weak compared to other functionalities such as the resource utilization chart and Gantt Chart view.

One of the advantages that Zoho Projects has compared to other project management tools is the seamless integration with their other tools, including Zoho CRM and Zoho People, along with a few other third-party tools like Google Tasks and Box. Many people who use project management software complain about the lack of CRM functionality, and the truth is that it’s constrained across the board.

For example, Paymo has limited CRM functionality, and some of its users complained about it lacking. In contrast, other tools like ActiveCollab have a CRM system to manage customers (and prospects) more efficiently, without integrating it with other apps. Let’s be clear, Zoho Projects does not have CRM features, like ActiveCollab. It has instead a very good integration with Zoho CRM developed by the same company. But you have to pay extra for it.

Zoho Projects has robust features when it comes to managing tasks, resources, and issues, making it an ideal tool for project managers, but other team members might not enjoy using the app as much besides the handy chat feature, which can help members of an organization get in touch with each other in real-time.

Although packed with all features you might need, Zoho is pretty expensive and difficult to use. Its complexity makes it a better option when you need to ensure you’ve got all features in your stack. So why does a seemingly complete tool have slightly lower reviews than its competitors? It’s simply time-consuming.

Let’s just set this straight—Zoho Projects is not the most intuitive project management tool out there, and you’ll definitely need to go through all the learning materials beforehand. You’ll have to click on tasks and edit a bunch to change something, and the shortcuts are limited too. There is little to no automation and there are no templates available.

Yes, there are other features, even some that other project tools don’t have, like an issue tracker, but you first need to find them. The search function will become your best friend at this point, and by the time you get the hang of the rest of the app, you’ll be a “power searcher”.

In some ways, among such project tools, Zoho Projects is similar to Basecamp. Although it’s complex/convoluted and many people complain about usability, some users praise it as user-friendly—after repeated use, it gets much more straightforward. So I will put both Basecamp and Zoho projects in a special group of project management tools that might be easy to use and intuitive for some users but not everybody. If you feel like you can handle complexity, give them a try.

Or Freedcamp, another noteworthy mention among user-friendly project tools. Users often review it as a more intuitive app, but it does not have the training materials Asana has. But if you can be bothered to make a bit of exploration and trial and error, Feedcamp would be a decent alternative.

A group of people complain about the Zoho Projects interface being too “stale” and even asking for rebranding for a more eye-catching look. If the design and feel of the app are vital for you, then Monday.com would be a better pick owing to its visual and colorful interface.

There’s another downside to high complexity and numerous features, namely the slow load time. Precisely like in Basecamp’s case, people are complaining about the slow loading time. It’s practically inevitable — if you have more stuff to load, it will take more time. Keep this in mind when choosing a project management tool because if you don’t use most of the features, you will waste a lot of time waiting for them to load each time you use the app, similar to Monday.com.

Formerly AdventNet, Zoho boasts 25 years on the market. The first Zoho product to have been released was Zoho CRM 20 years ago. Since then, Zoho expanded into offering many tools used in project management, two of which being Zoho Projects and Zoho Sprints. Zoho Projects has monthly updates and enhancements. 

FREEDCAMP

Freedcamp is one of the cheapest project management tools, suitable for individuals and small teams.

Freedcamp

With an outdated but friendly interface, Friedcamp doesn’t offer a smooth learning curve.

It is the cheaper version of Basecamp [they built it as a free alternative] if you’re looking for a low-cost project management tool that relies heavily on collaboration. The Pro plan is cheaper than a cup of coffee, $2.50/user/month, and even cheaper when paying for the annual subscription. However, their most popular choice—their Business plan—starts at $8.99/user/month. 

If you’re looking for a tool with solid communication features, like Basecamp, but want additional functionalities like time tracking or invoicing, try Freedcamp, or something similar to time tracking software. This project management software was first created as a free alternative to Basecamp. Their pricing plans are much on the lower end so that anyone can afford its features. 

Also, all plans, including the free one, come with unlimited tasks, projects, and storage. Surprising or not, Freedcamp’s core apps and additional features make it a good choice for individual users, small and medium teams.

The tool is surprisingly easier to use than it might seem at first, but a lack of onboarding materials makes for one of the slowest learning curves in the industry despite the friendly UI.

I particularly enjoyed their drag-and-drop function when I tested it, which made creating and editing tasks a breeze. However, if you don’t like the process of exploration and discovery by trial and error, and if reliable training materials and tutorials are vital for you, then Asana would be better.

Besides this, the pricing is by far the most important thing that sets apart Freedcamp when I compare it to its competition. In contrast, there’s Wrike and Zoho Projects, for which users frequently complain about absurd price points and shady pricing tactics.

This is not the case for Freedcamp. Here we have one of the cheapest solutions for teams or individuals. Even more, the 14-day business level trial seems to be an ideal amount of time required to test and see if it is worth purchasing.

The biggest issue with Freedcamp is that there’s no onboarding process to take you through the app or present the workspace’s elements. Your only choice is to turn to their knowledge base, YouTube channel, or customer support to save some time.

However, this project setup process is straightforward and will help you start work without an entirely blank canvas. No ready-made project templates, though, but you can import data from an XLS file.

The second most crucial issue is related to their mobile app. It’s simple. So simple, you can’t even order tasks. If using a mobile app is vital for your type of business, you are better off using another project management tool. But most project management solutions in the industry have issues with their mobile apps. However, Monday.com and Wrike seem to be the ones with the lowest number of complaints.

The tool is also not the most visually appealing when compared to its competitors. Some users don’t specifically like the dashboard, but they stick with it because of the low price. If you need something that looks good, then Monday would be a better alternative.

Some people also complain about the lack of features available in other tools used in project management, but let’s be realistic — the price point is somewhat connected to the sheer number of features. It would be ideal to be the cheapest and also the one with the most features. Feature development requires a lot of work, and the more complicated a tool gets, the more work has to be put in to fix all the problems that might appear.

The lack of features is just a drawback you have to live with if you want one of the cheapest project management tools on the market. If you want a full feature stack, you should try Wrike or Teamwork.

It’s also among the easiest to use project management tools, although the integration area seems to be lacking when compared to other project management apps. You can’t connect the tool with popular communication tools like Slack.

Plus, the time tracking features are not the best. For example, time tracking doesn’t have a sum up for today or the entire week. In Paymo, you can check this up in a few seconds (as seen in the picture below).

Paymo time tracking

Another example would be to get a report showing the total hours spent working on all projects split by groups with a subtotal listed for each project within the group. 

Freedcamp was launched 11 years ago setting out to offer essential features free of charge. It’s been most used by students, teachers, and NGO employees, and volunteers. The mobile app was released four years ago, and they are making efforts to improve it every couple of months — the same goes for their Business and Enterprise plans.

ASANA

Asana is a project management tool for non-technical teams.

asana

Asana’s interface is a bit crowded, but fun and filled with unicorns.

Need a fun interface complete with unicorns? You’re likely to get accustomed to the interface from the very first minutes of using Asana. Its workspace is among the most used, as it is easy to get accustomed to by all kinds of team members, from creatives to analytical types.

Asana is a common choice for small teams and creatives looking for a colorful and fun interface—yes, they have unicorns (I know I mentioned that already). Out of all the best project management tools, this tool is better suited for non-complex projects that need to unite tasks, conversations, and files bundled up in one workspace.

With its simple-to-understand interface, Asana can be used from day one for team collaboration and task management. It’s also a solution to those pesky meetings you’d otherwise have in-person to check on the task status or briefly update your team.

If the simplicity and ease of use are of paramount importance for you, you could try Asana, as it has one of the lowest learning curves in the industry. To help you get started, you’ll see a welcome video on signing up. There’s a knowledge base – the Asana Guide – split into three parts so that you can go straight to the topics relevant to your getting familiar with the app.

Instead of adding all activities manually, you can import tasks directly from a CSV file, spreadsheet, or email. While Asana’s lack of reporting might put off managers when it comes to opting for this PM tool, the rest of your non-technical team is likely to get accustomed to the interface from the very first minutes of using it.

Yet, Asana doesn’t leave out all features for project managers, providing a Timeline view—their version of a light Gantt Chart—and Portfolios to get a general overview of everything going on within the company.

The UI remains colorful and fun, something you’ll probably remember about Asana. See for yourself—once you hit the Tab+B command, it will fill your screen with cats—I’m not joking.

Surf their customer use cases page or head to the community to see how others use Asana. The community area covers integrations – including your developers and API tips and tricks – helpful hints, team onboarding, feedback, and announcements.

Compared to other cloud-based project management tools, Asana is often praised by its users for its intuitive task management system. The task list is modern, practical, and visually appealing. If you have a team of non-technical people who just need a basic, reliable, and easy-to-use task management system, then Asana should be the first thing you try.

However, on review websites, I noticed Asana users complaining that it’s missing basic task management features like multiple assignees per task. Having the ability to add a collaborator or a stakeholder from another department who needs to sign off or help in some way would clearly be beneficial.

But it will complicate things a lot in terms of user experience. Granted, the development team has to consider many factors and variables to add a simple feature like multiple assignees per task. And then, the tool will get more complicated, and then it won’t be so easy to use anymore. That is why they stand firm behind the decision to have only an assignee per task.

Asana invoicing? Sadly, no. Suppose you need something more technical, like time tracking on each task, or invoicing your client after completing your assigned tasks, then it would be better to try more specialized tools used in project management, there are great Asana alternatives, such as Paymo or Teamwork.

Similarly, regarding task management issues, you can only see the first line of the tasks and can’t see the remaining ones until you complete the first one. Many users complain about this, saying that it doesn’t even make sense. But it does. If you add more visible descriptions, the interface would feel crowded, and then it wouldn’t be so simple anymore.

In the military, there’s a technical term for this called “commander’s intent”, meaning the desired outcome of a military operation. It must be clear and simple, and easily understood by all subordinates below the commander. I’ll give you an example—an airline company. Let’s say that the commander’s intent of your airline company is to be the lowest-cost airline. So, when employees have to decide whether to add better quality food for longer flights, they just have to check the commander’s intent.

If adding better food increases the ticket price, then they won’t do it. All these small decisions will add up and, eventually, end up with the cheapest flight tickets. Even if the food is the worst and your airline company gets bad reviews, you’d still be the cheapest on the market.

So, in our case with the best project management tools, the commander’s intent when developing Asana was probably to be the easiest to use project management tool. So, developers had to filter by this intent when adding new features. Will the tool be more complicated to use if we add more assignees to tasks? Yes! So they did not add multiple assignees. It’s not because they cannot do it; it’s because they want to keep it simple.

The same goes for recurring tasks. Adding a complex recurring task system can complicate the interface and experience for new users. The solution is to either keep it simple or have you find a workaround. If you do have more specific needs, try another tool specifically designed to handle them.

Another major and frequent complaint about Asana is the pricing system. The pricing is hugely deceptive. This reminds me of Wrike’s pricing scheme. You have to purchase a bundle of seats (in increments of 10) when you need to expand. You can’t add them one by one as your team grows. And you guessed it—they don’t make this clear before you pay. They let you invest time and energy, and then it will be way harder to say no. Here is the summarized story of a user complaint:

“We worked with an account rep before signing a 2-year contract for Asana Business. We told the account rep that we needed 60 users, but we might need to add more in the future. A month later, when we went to add five more users, she said, “No, sorry, you can only add in blocks of 10 users.” This is mentioned nowhere in our contract. It’s mentioned nowhere on Asana’s pricing page. The Asana T&Cs made vague references to “pricing tiers,” but they also say tiers will be shown on the order form—which they weren’t.

When it takes a few clicks and less than 30 seconds to add a new user to a software program, there’s no logical reason why Asana would force you to add users in blocks of 10—or they told us the blocks increase to 25 users once you get beyond 100 total users! It’s downright deceptive that they don’t disclose this during the sales process or anywhere on the contract or pricing page.”

This is similar to what Wrike does, and, sadly, this is still happening. If you still decide on using them despite all these issues, make sure you do it first for a shorter period, and only after you have tested it thoroughly decide to use it for the long term. And keep an eye on price because it can easily reach crazy numbers.

Asana was founded 13 years ago but was launched commercially nine years ago, along with its mobile app a year after. If diversity and inclusion matter deeply, Asana makes strides in this respect, like Wrike. As for updates, Asana releases product enhancements on a monthly basis.

PODIO

Podio is a pm tool with CRM features, better suited for teams with multiple clients.

podio

Podio is a very highly customizable app, but not the most fun and easy-to-use.

It offers a balanced mix of project management and CRM capabilities that, although not easy to use, can help you manage all of the business aspects you need to monitor regularly.

The pm tool differentiates itself from other user-friendly project management tools by providing a complete CRM system. Its strong points rely on the multitude of apps you can add to your workspace, from contacts and leads to content planners, staff meetings, events, appointments, design approval, expenses, etc. Even a bunch of apps to help lawyers with settlements and incidents. You name it; they’ve got it. So if you’re looking for an easy-to-use, fun, and user-friendly option, Podio is not the right platform to consider.

While Podio is not exactly the most fun tool you can use, it is certainly not suited for a designer or a more creative person. It’s safe to say it’s not one of the project managing tools employees will enjoy using daily. It’s not even a project management platform as it is a CRM solution that’s better suited for teams who juggle multiple clients—we’re talking hundreds—and databases.

This being said, its CRM function is spot on, allowing you to manage all kinds of data related to your clients and projects, even helping you close a sales deal. The word that sets it apart from its competitors is customization. There are so many things you can do with this system! In other words, you can build, edit, maintain, integrate, and code however and whatever you want.

So this will be one of the best solutions for anybody who needs a custom solution that the standard project management tools can’t deliver on the market. But, if you want something that is very customizable, it will surely cost you more! And it has some bid disadvantages as well. We’ll try to cover them in the next section.

This project management tool provides endless customization opportunities in terms of functionality. At the same time, it seriously lacks when it comes to the colorful personalization options that other tools like Asana or Monday have. Many users complain that the application doesn’t have themes; you can’t change the colors or do much “fun” stuff. Honestly, it’s considered an ugly interface by many users.

However, Podio is currently developing a new look that will be released sometime in the future. Granted, this might not even be a major problem for you, so we’ll proceed to other issues.

In general, the more customization cloud-based project management tools have, the steeper their learning curve. Podio has a lot of customization features, and at the same time, many users complain about how hard it is to use and understand. Especially for newcomers.

If you think you have the skills to handle it, the next issue would be the loading time. The more complex a system is, the longer its loading time. You can create something that matches all your needs, but you should not expect it to load as quickly as the simple interfaces that most people use. If none of these problems are of particular concern to you, and you want that customization goodness, then you should go for it.

Founded 12 years ago, Podio joined a cloud computing system–Citrix Systems—three years later to keep on developing a tool that reinforces transparency, minimal hierarchy, and peer recognition. Podio released its mobile app ten years ago. As for updates, there are daily bug fixes and platform enhancements every month.

SMARTSHEET

Smartsheet is a pm tool for those who like Excel-style project management.

smartsheet

The good ol’ Excel has just received a facelift.

Excel fans and experts, rejoice! Smartsheet is a tool for enterprises and large organizations, but that doesn’t mean small or medium businesses can’t use it. It even comes with its own formulas — as you might already know if you’re an avid spreadsheet user. Their top feature remains the automated workflows that save time you’d otherwise spend doing everything manually.

It’s a good solution for large organizations looking to easily connect their ERP or CRM data to their projects through simple imports. So if you need a tool where you can see all tasks, details, and even a Gantt Chart in one single screen, Smartsheet could be an option for you but be prepared to do some training beforehand.

Smartsheet helps connect your ERP or CRM data to new projects, acting in many ways like a spreadsheet—hence its name—or database complete with Excel-like formulas. Since this tool is table-based, you can import new data from a spreadsheet, Microsoft Project project, or Trello board.

The premium Data Uploader add-on lets you bring in data from your own ERP, CRM, or database. You can also choose from multiple pre-made templates to get started. So, if you worked a lot with Excel (or tables) in the past and you liked doing it, this tool would be a good match because Smartsheet is like Excel or Google Sheets on steroids!

Smartsheet is ideal for someone who tracks a lot of information in Excel and has multiple random files cluttering their desktop. When things become too hard to manage, then Smartsheet would be the solution.

I’ll be honest and tell you that Smartsheet is probably one of the most challenging tools on this list to get accustomed to using, especially if you’re not a spreadsheet user. The word ‘expert’ is not an overstatement. In Smartsheet, instead of projects, you’ve got sheets. I highly recommend you get this project tracking template (or a similar one) before you get started to lower the time you’d spend on setting everything up. UI-wise, I’d place Smartsheet above Zoho but slightly below Airtable, which brings in a pop of color to your tables.

For these reasons, Smartsheet remains a tool for larger organizations that will probably only come in handy for managers who handle multiple databases (similar to Airtable) and even collect data through custom Smartsheet forms. Stakeholder communication is made easy through various sharing options, even when sending access to someone outside your organization.

The resource management feature is quite decent (and similar to MS Project if you ask me), allowing managers to see over and under-allocated team members, of course, all from a spreadsheet. All allocations can be adjusted from the same table. Should you want other options for resource management software, read our extensive review of the top 7 tools.

Smartsheet was founded 16 years ago, boasting many awards and recognitions for diversity, work-life balance, and women in leadership. The company vision is to drive people to excel (pun intended). Their mobile app was released nine years ago. As for product updates, Smartsheet releases monthly enhancements and updates.

AIRTABLE

Airtable is a project management tool for those who like to work with tables.

airtable

Just like in Smartsheet’s case, Airtable’s interface looks similar to a spreadsheet.

Are you a spreadsheet lover who can’t imagine doing project management without a table? Airtable might just be right for you. This app is very different from other online project management tools. Instead of task lists, you’ve got advanced databases where you can connect tables, drag-and-drop files, filter them to your liking, collaborate on items, and so much more. The best part? You can embed all this on your website or blog post if you want to share the data.

If you can’t work without tables and spreadsheets, Airtable could be the right choice for your projects, allowing you to create advanced databases that you can share publicly. I can safely say they have the most templates available among all the cloud project management software—they send you emails to remind you of their templates.

Plus, you can reach out to their Universe creator’s community to see how other clients use the tool. And since we’re talking about a database tool above all, their strong import feature will help you bring all your external data into Airtable.

If you’re expecting to get a simple database-like tool, you’re wrong. You can customize and add your own text, number, and rich fields. And if you get bored of the table view, you can always switch to the Calendar view, Kanban board, or as a visual gallery and just drag-and-drop tasks to reorganize them according to priority or deadline.

Be warned, though, team members who strongly dislike spreadsheets will have difficulty using this tool. The search function used to fall short—you had to remember where a file or task was because you could only search for workspaces or bases. They just released advanced filters, so we’ll have to see how that pans out. 

If you need to do reporting, bear in mind this feature is limited to creating charts via their beta Blocks. This offers a set of extra functionalities users can add to their database like a time tracker, map, 3D model explorer, video chat, countdown timer, and others.

There is a definite learning curve to Airtable since it’s different from standard spreadsheet products like Excel. In some ways, it’s similar to Smartsheet; it has a lot of versatility and many ways to view the same data, which, while helpful, is easy to get lost in.

Getting new team members to use it will take a long time, and there is often serious pushback in getting them to use it. It’s better to commit just for a short period, especially if you don’t know your team well enough.

If you have a team that you know is non-technical and can’t handle tables and sheets very well, then it would be better to try some of the tools that are easier to get into, like Asana.

If we compare Airtable with Podio, both can store a lot of essential information in one place, but Airtable has a more visually appealing interface. Because of this, I don’t think Podio will be a good alternative.

The same goes for Monday, which is frequently praised for its looks. Airtable seems pretty good as well, so in my opinion, there is not a big difference between the two. I would say that Airtable is the most useful for those who want to work with tables and need a lot of flexibility when working with them.

Founded eight years ago, Airtable is newish on the market yet boasts an extensive team across seven locations—if you compare it to ActiveCollab, for example. Five years ago, Airtable launched its mobile app, and since then has been developing the app to help teams create their unique software, updating it every month.

TEAMWORK

Teamwork is one of the most exhaustive project management tools out there.

teamwork

Teamwork looks similar to Monday but doesn’t have a lot of room for personalization.

It’s basically a business operating system integrated to drive efficiency. This tool works for all kinds of users, from small and medium teams to enterprises. There are also specific needs that Teamwork caters to through their risk register and file versioning options.

Teamwork is the kind of complex software that won’t be easy to start with. It’s like a sophisticated board game with tons of rules that require a lot of time to learn. But if you manage to get past this—it will take a while, though—the software becomes pretty intuitive to use. If you need everything in one place and are not scared by complexity, then Teamwork would be a good thing to try.

There are a few things worth mentioning that facilitate and improve the overall experience with this product. You can organize projects into folders and add files directly to projects, ensuring that everything related to a project is kept in the same place. There’s file versioning, multi-user assignment for tasks, copy projects feature, bulk edit, and a trash can, which is handy if you’ve deleted something by mistake.

In my experience, with every tool, there’s a trade-off. Teamwork doesn’t have a lot of room for personalization. You get exactly what you see. If you want the interface to look in a specific way, you would be better with other tools like Podio, Airtable, or Smartsheet.

Another consequence that comes out of complexity is that the system is glitchy. Users are complaining about frequent glitches, login problems, or downtime. But there’s not much you can do about this; developers are probably working constantly to fix the issues. If you need a complex system, you just have to get used to this downside. ActiveCollab is built on the same idea—to include as many features as possible—but it has similar problems dealing with glitches. If you want something with fewer problems like these, try Asana — but you will miss some features.

Some users complain about the graphic interface, saying it’s not among the best looking and that the minimalist icons make it harder for users to see if the task is completed. If looks are essential for you, Monday would be a better alternative — but again, you will miss some features.

There’s another critical issue regarding the task view. If most of your work involves task management, you should know that some users have trouble finding some tasks/subtasks and complain that working with tasks is not precisely the way I would like it to be. In contrast, if we compare Teamwork with Asana, Asana gets more praise for the task management system. In this case, it might be better for you.

Founded 14 years ago, Teamwork values profitable and happy work. Its mobile app was launched earlier this year, which could be seen as being a little late in the game, but the UI looks promising. As for updates, Teamwork releases product improvements every month. Plus, Teamwork has a cool roadmap for each product.

How to choose the best project management tool

The process of choosing the best project management tool for you and your team is not a simple one. There are many factors you have to take into consideration: budget, business needs, team needs, ease of use, adoption time frame, integrations with current software, implementation, etc.

Before researching which one of the project managing tools is right for you, think about your needs. Ideally, the final choice should be made by a team member who’s already familiar with the company and all its projects so they’ll be able to spot growth possibilities or issues that need to be addressed.

If this is not possible, just hold a couple of feedback sessions with your team to gather their input and find out the ‘musts’ and ‘nice-to-haves.’ This way, you’re not making a mistake that so many managers have already made, that is, choosing the tool they like without considering the team’s input.

NOTE: Don’t choose a tool based just on what you like. First, make sure you’ve gathered feedback from all the team. This will reduce friction and speed up the adoption process.

Simply follow these three stages to make sure you’ve gone over everything:

  1. List down the team’s likes and dislikes related to the project management process and tools you’re already using.
  2. Highlight the vital aspects that need to be improved. Perhaps you need a faster tool, one that allows you to see who is taking care of which task, or just want to be updated in real-time whenever a change happens.
  3. Think of possible solutions to your problems and what features might be helpful.

For the following steps, here are seven things you need to consider when choosing any project management tool:

  • Features. Top of the list for your decision-making should be the features. Start from the list with what your team needs and match all these to what the tool offers. Think about what they need to do their work, what would be nice to have, and what is extra. In other words, if you’re saying yes to a feature, you are saying no to other possibilities.
  • Cost. What are you really paying for? Many products charge more for additional users, so you’ll need to consider how many people will be logging into the app once you’ve rolled it out to the whole team. Look for transparency around the pricing, especially if you have to sign up to a minimum number of users. Also, consider any initial setup costs and your internal costs — would you need to invest in onboarding new team members, transferring your existing project documentation, and schedules or training the team?
  • Support. However good your team is at picking up new tools, you’re going to need to tap into the support network at some point. How can you access support for the product? How do customers rate the support? If hands-on support is essential to you, consider the vendor’s opening hours, the language in which support is available, and whether you can have a dedicated customer success or account manager. This level of support might only be available with the more expensive plans, so weigh up what’s on offer with what you think your project team will need and what you are prepared to commit to financially.
  • Speed. No one likes waiting around for laggy software. Whatever product you’re going for, test out the speed with as much data as you can to simulate real-life projects as closely as possible. You should be able to do this during the trial period, as most of the tools are offering at least 14 days of a free trial.
  • Reviews. Read what other people say about these tools. Look for recent reviews on independent platforms like Capterra, G2, SoftwareforPM, Software Advice. Pay special attention to people who have reviewed the product and work in the same industry as you or have similar workflows and business models to your organization.
  • Awards. The best products win awards! Look through the project management software’s website and see what accolades they have picked up over the years.
  • Customization. Inevitably, not all tools will fully suit your needs in terms of functionality or even design. But some offer you the possibility of adding integrations, hiding or reordering feature options according to how often they’re used and even creating personalized branding for workspaces. As a heads-up, many people prefer a PM tool that listens to their users’ feature suggestions, so be on the lookout for this when you’re reading the reviews.

The good news is that I’ve gone over these seven steps for you, so you can easily choose a few project management tools you’d like to test yourself. Settling for the first option that catches your eye likely means you might miss out on a handy feature or a better overall deal.

Similarly, don’t just opt for the cheapest version or the tool everyone uses just because you heard it was OK. With so many PM software options out there, I can assure you they all work better or worse for certain kinds of teams and projects. Just in case you’ve ever wondered why there are so many, each has its specific buyer type.

Start with a free trial or ask for a demo tailored to your company’s requirements. As a quick industry secret, remember that many PM software vendors offer a free trial extension if you ask nicely or just if you haven’t visited your account in a while. This is nice extra time for you to decide and give the tool an in-depth or full examination.

Testing similar project management tools can get confusing, so make sure you:

  1. Make a plan. Prepare beforehand what you’re going to test. Maybe you want to add a complete project and work with the tool for two weeks with your team. Or you just want to have your colleagues add in some dummy data to test a specific workflow.
  2. Take each trial at a time. Yes, you’ll have to take just enough time to dedicate time to no more than one (ideally) or two test trials at once. This eliminates confusion and prevents your mind from mixing all features and tools up.
  3. Ask for help even if you don’t need it. If you’re looking for immediate help with potential snags, this is the perfect time for you to see how fast customer support is.
  4. Gather feedback. Again, choosing your next project management tool should be a collective effort for everyone to be happy with their next digital workspace. Many companies skip this part. This is why you’ll see so many looking for a new tool after using another. Have everyone in the team jot down their thoughts, missing features, pros, and cons—anything that might be useful.

The benefits of using online project management tools

You might have a general idea of how these solutions work, but if you’re not using project management software yet, it’s time you started to consider how it could help your business. Here are the top advantages of project management tools:

  • Organize your project activities. Effective work on multiple projects without having structured task lists just can’t be done the right way. To save the day, most project management tools provide advanced task management features to let you sort, prioritize, and monitor every task, so none are ignored or misplaced in the project development process.
  • Track your progress. Most of these online tools help you automatically create reports for all tasks so you can monitor the team’s progress, find potential issues and challenges, and send updates to any of your stakeholders.
  • Get a visual look at your project workflow. While to-do lists are a bit harder to monitor, certain project management systems offer you access to Kanban boards or more complex views (Table, Calendar, Timeline/Gantt, etc.) The Kanban is a method for you to arrange and see all tasks at a glance through your workflow stages of choice.
  • Collaborate effectively. The most significant benefit that is undoubtedly needed for all features to work together is strong collaboration through several projects and duties, from sharing files to leaving feedback on someone’s work so the project can run smoothly and with no delays.
  • Maintain balanced team schedules. In this guide, we’ve put a lot of emphasis on having a resource scheduler because it’s that one feature you must have if you need to get better visibility at your employees’ schedules. The scheduler gives you a quick look at all schedules, so you will know who is overbooked or underbooked and keep workloads in proportion. Read this article for a better understanding of employee time tracking software and its benefits.
  • Know where your time is going. Even a simple web timer can help you become more accountable. How to increase productivity with less hustling? Pair this with timesheets and time reports, and you’ll be able to grasp your efforts and give accurate time estimates entirely. There’s plenty of timesheet software you can choose from—we’ve narrowed the list to the top 5 for 2021. 

What to do next

And… that’s it, congratulations! You made it through my in-depth tour of the top 12 modern project management tools.

Ultimately, choosing a project management tool is a uniquely personal experience. The right tool will best meet your business requirements, deliver what you need to get your work done, and be accessible for everyone in your team to use.

I recommend using this deep dive list to create your own shortlist of products that would serve your purposes and sign up for a few free trials to test them out. You’ll find two or three that make you feel like you’ve found the workspace that is right for you, and those are the ones you want to investigate further.

Choosing a project management tool is a big decision for a team. I hope this article will help you choose wisely, and if you find it useful, share it with your friends and teammates.

 

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