Project management software has come a long way in the last few years. I thought it was about time for a detailed review of the modern software and tools designed to support how you plan, track, and monitor your projects.
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 how they want to, and have a user experience that isn’t horrible, especially if you’re working remotely.
Most of the tools that made this list are suited for small and medium businesses, and there are trade-offs here and there.
Before you read on, put together a list of your top needs. Then, go through all the options to pick your top 3 to run for a trial based on your requirements (most offer a free trial), budget, team type, and pain points you want to solve.
Remember that I only focused my research on tools with complete project management features, especially those offering solid planning and tracking tools. 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 insufficient compared to established PM tools.
Top project management software and tools
After conducting an in-depth review of the most used project management software, here’s my pick of the top 13 best project management software. These are the first options you should consider due to their winning combo of features, usability, and reliability, along with overwhelmingly positive reviews from their users as posted on review sites like G2, Capterra, GetApp, Trustradius, SoftwareAdvice, or Crozdesk.
- Paymo – the best project management software with time tracking and invoicing features
- Asana – a good project management software for non-technical teams
- Monday – the go-to project management software boasting a highly visual collaborative experience
- Teamwork – one of the most exhaustive project management software on the market
- ProjectManager – a complex PM software geared towards business excellence
- Wrike – a heavy project management tool for creative teams with proofing features
- Airtable – project management software for those who like to work with tables and custom fields
- Basecamp – a tool that removes the need for intermediary communication software
- Smartsheet – a PM software for those who like Excel-style project management
- Zoho Projects – project management software for huge companies and enterprises
- Freedcamp – the cheapest project management software, suitable for freelancers
- ActiveCollab – project management software that does a little bit of everything
- Podio – a PM software with CRM features, better suited for teams with multiple clients
the best project management software with time tracking and invoicing
native time tracking features, both automatic and manual
comprehensive set of project management features, e.g., Gantt charts, resource scheduling
invoicing and expense management
some PM features may lack some personalization
the dashboard looks outdated
some users want the ability to import data from other systems
a good project management software for non-technical teams
a collaboration-focused tool
robust task management tools
strong on visualization, e.g., Timelines, Portfolios, and unicorns for completed tasks
integrations with most PM-related apps
some users find the interface crowded
lack of reporting
no invoicing, billing, or financial widgets
assignee limitation at a task level
the go-to PM tool boasting a highly visual collaborative experience
visual and colorful interface that users find intuitive and fun
advanced project management features
flat task structure that is easy to navigate
customizable building blocks for transparent workflows
difficult to track time and expenses
limited task dependencies
costly and inflexible pricing system
lackluster and glitchy time tracking feature
one of the most exhaustive project management software on the market
strong project management features, e.g., time tracking, budgeting, and resource allocation
neat and unified file and task organization
file versioning, multi-user assignment for tasks, bulk edit
helpful notifications and customization
little room for personalization
frequent glitches, login problems, and downtime
steep learning curve
a complex PM software geared towards business excellence
multiple project views (Gantt charts, Kanban, List, Sheet, Calendar)
powerful Gantt chart with task dependencies, filter for critical path, and baseline setting
time and cost tracking with real-time dashboards, customizable reports, and secure timesheets
cloud-based for better team collaboration and notifications
workflow automation and task approval settings for quality control
more features with higher tier subscription
tags could be more customizable by color
a heavy PM tool for creative teams with proofing features
advanced project management features like Gantt charts
robust proofing feature
complex and unintuitive interface for first-time users
it lacks financial indicators, invoicing, budgeting, or billing features
notifications can be repetitive and overwhelming
very expensive compared to competitors
project management software for those who like tables & custom fields
a wide array of templates for project management use cases
advanced databases for users to connect tables and collaborate on items
import feature to bring external data into Airtable
visually appealing interface
steep learning curve since it’s different from standard spreadsheets
weak reporting features
limited automation capabilities
can be glitchy and confusing for new users
a tool that removes the need for intermediary communication software
basic task management
improved communication features, e.g., Campfire chat room, Pings, Discussion boards, etc.
notifications can be muted with ‘Focus Mode’
lacks advanced project management features
no invoicing, budgeting, or financial indicators
little to no workflow customization
a PM software for those who like Excel-style project management
aimed at enterprises and large organizations
great for Excel fans as it comes with its own formulas
one of the most challenging tools for non-Excel users
unfriendly user interface causing it to be overwhelming for new users
steep learning curve
it has frequent glitches, login problems, and downtime
limited reporting features
10. Zoho Projects
project management software for huge companies and enterprises
seamless integration with its sibling tools, e.g., Zoho CRM and Zoho People
robust task management features
handy chat feature
a not-so-friendly user interface
it lacks specialized features, e.g., file versioning, issue tracker, proofing
a steep learning curve
unresponsive and slow load times
it has hidden fees
the cheapest project management software, suitable for freelancers
low-cost project management tools
unlimited tasks, projects, and storage for all plans
it lacks robust project management features
no onboarding materials
clunky and slow to load
it lacks integrations with popular communication tools like Slack
a project management software that does a little bit of everything
strong task management features, e.g., Kanban boards and Gantt charts
easy import from Basecamp and MS Project
lacks specialized PM features, e.g., file versioning, proofing, issue tracker
no dashboard for project overviews
its overall design is lacking, both from a UX and architecture point of view
has hidden fees
a PM software with CRM features suited for teams with multiple clients
a CRM tool with project management features
best for teams juggling multiple clients and databases
unfriendly user experience and unappealing interface
slow loading times
steep learning curve for newcomers
lacks good customer support
How to choose the best project management software
If you own a small project-based business, you know by now that it’s almost impossible to manage projects with only pen & paper or spreadsheets – if you can, feel free to share your methodology with us. It might work for straightforward projects or in some isolated cases.
Still, as soon as the project gets complicated and several people are involved, you’ll need software or a combination of several apps (keep reading to see precisely why).
Before we move forward, though, I have to debunk a myth — no matter how hard you try, you won’t find the “perfect” solution. You have to get used to making compromises, waiting for missing features to be implemented, or negotiating a better price for your subscription. You must be wise and balance what you need and what’s offered.
One more thing— choosing the right PM software is not easy. That’s why many companies or individuals use apps they don’t find helpful and have to replace them after a few months or weeks. In this article, though, I’ll show how you can simplify this process… a lot!
Create a list of problems and needs
The first question you’ll ask is, “Where do I begin?”. No matter how funny it sounds, you’ll need a plan to choose the right project management software. The plan doesn’t have to be too complicated but is mandatory.
You’ll start by writing down your problems and needs. The better you understand them, the bigger the chances to make a better choice.
What projects are you dealing with? Are they short-term simple projects or more complex long-term ones? How many people will take part? Where are the bottlenecks?
The complexity of your projects is an essential factor because, most of the time, it’s correlated with the complexity of the software you will use. And trust me, it’s very frustrating to use complex software for simple projects or vice versa.
After you list everything you can think of, sort the elements by how important they are (do not miss this step!).
“Translate” problems and needs into features
The next logical step is considering the features that will solve the problems and meet your needs. You can’t solve all the problems with software (e.g., a stubborn employee), so make sure you drop those off first (and think about other solutions).
You now have the list of features. Depending on the problems they solve, you know which are mandatory, good to have, and which are nice to have or bonuses (that might be useful at some point). Your team might need a robust time-tracking module, timesheets, and invoicing first and foremost, and maybe team scheduling would be a nice-to-have feature. Make sure the software you want is accessible on various platforms. Many users like to review Mac and Windows project management and invoicing software and ensure no product differences.
Speaking of which, you don’t need experience in accounting to create your invoice. Opt for an invoice builder if you’re a freelancer and need a simple invoice generator.
This is what a list could look like:
Create a list of 20 project management apps
The feature list is ready, so you must now look for project management apps. The good news is that there are hundreds of apps out there. The bad news is that you have to sort them out and develop a list of, at most, 20 apps that offer the mandatory features (and all or some of the “good to have” features).
Take them individually (sort them by popularity/number of reviews), check the features pages, and see which one could fit. Stay away from obscure apps and the ones that have many negative reviews.
Or, you can try a simpler alternative. You already know what you need, so why don’t you send the list and ask for feedback? You don’t need to personalize the email; you can send a bulk email (you’ll need all the contact email addresses).
Here’s a template you can use:
My name is [X] and I’m looking for a project management app for my company [Y]. I’ve attached a document where we listed what features we need and their importance. Please let me know what features from our list your solution offers.
Strip down the list even more and start testing
After you get responses from at least 20 companies, compare the results and pick 4-5 “winners.” In theory, these are the apps that could be the best fit.
The “availability” of a feature comes in 3 shapes: native, integration, and workaround. Native is best, and the “workaround” should be the last resort (usually, it implies additional steps to get the job done).
And now, the fun part begins! Most of these apps offer a free trial, so it’s time to get your hands dirty and see their capabilities.
*If an app on your list doesn’t offer a free trial, it’s up to you to decide if you replace it with the next on your list or pay for it during the testing period.
While the trial period differs from app to app (from 10 to 30 days or even more), I advise limiting the testing to the shortest trial period offered. This is good because it helps you stay focused and get a result faster without asking for trial extensions.
The best practice is to simultaneously test all the apps with the same project. It can’t be an actual project because you don’t have the time to complete it, but you can emulate one and put it on fast-forward. Even if it’s not easy, it has many benefits. First, you and those involved in the project can compare the apps in parallel, test the speed with less or more data, check usability, the level of support you receive, etc.
Create a spreadsheet, share it with everyone using the app, and encourage them to leave feedback. Picking the “winner” together with your team is much better than choosing it yourself.
What about the pricing?
I believe pricing should be the last deciding factor (unless you have a strict budget that you can’t exceed or if there’s a huge pricing difference between 2 apps that offer the same core features). Sometimes, there are hidden costs, so you need to be aware of them.
But what if you’re out of time?
If this is the case, stop. Postpone the research. You shouldn’t choose an app only to get rid of it in 3-4 months and go back to base #1. However, if this is an urgent task that can no longer be postponed, check out a comparison chart like this one from Unito. This allows you to filter top project management apps by feature and pricing, depending on your team size, workflow, and most essential features.
Note: If you plan on honing your project management skills and qualifications, check out a roadmap and examples of how to be a project manager.
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 your team’s 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 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 for 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 must 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 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 possible to simulate real-life projects as closely as possible. You should be able to do this during the trial period, as most tools offer 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, and Software Advice. Pay special attention to people who have reviewed the product and work in the same industry 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 benefits of using online project management software
You might have a general idea of how these solutions work, but if you’re not using project management software yet, it’s time to consider how it could help your business. Here are the top advantages of project management tools:
- Organize your project activities. Practical work on multiple projects without structured task lists just can’t be done correctly. 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 to 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 more challenging to monitor, specific project management systems offer 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 without 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 to get better visibility of 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. Please read this article to understand employee time-tracking software and its benefits better.
- Know where your time is going. Even a simple web timer can help you become more accountable. Do you want to know how to increase productivity with less hustling? Pair this with timesheets and time reports to grasp your efforts and give accurate time estimates. Plenty of timesheet software you can choose from—we’ve narrowed the list to the top 6 for 2023.
What to do next
And… that’s it, congratulations! You made it through my in-depth tour of the top 13 modern project management software and tools.
Ultimately, choosing a project management software is a uniquely personal experience. The right tool will best meet your business requirements, deliver what you need to complete your work, and be accessible to everyone on your team. Maybe you work in a niche industry, so your project management solution catering to the needs of architects, for example, is more important than getting the hottest PM tool on the market that’s generic.
Plus, it’s essential to know what project management methodologies you adhere to and the projects you take on.
I recommend using this deep dive list to create your shortlist of products that 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 proper workspace you want to investigate further.
Choosing a project planning 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.
Andrei Țiț is a product marketer at Ahrefs. He has been involved in product marketing at various SaaS companies for over six years, specializing in content marketing and short-form video. In his free time, he enjoys cooking and traveling.
Laurențiu started his marketing journey over 18 years ago and now leads a marketing team. He has extensive experience in work and project management, and content strategy. When not working, he’s probably playing board games or binge-watching mini-series.