In this article you’ll find an expert review of project management tools so you can choose the best project management software for your projects.
What is project management software?
Project management software helps project managers, or PMs, manage projects. PM software can installed on premise, but many new tools are offered online as a Saas. They offer features to make charts and reports, share documents, track budgets, allocate resources, manage tasks, plan projects, and communicate with teams.
Often, project management software includes additional portfolio management tools or program management tools in addition to features for project management. However, if you’re looking for higher-level PMO tools you’ll have better luck here: A Complete List Of The Best PPM Tools
Quickly Compare & Evaluate The 10 Best Project Management Software
In fast-moving digital agencies, the average project manager is likely using a dozen different project management apps to stay on top of that ever-changing to-do list. This article will help you narrow down the options for selecting the right PM software by answering some common questions and offering a comparison of project management tools along with the criteria used to evaluate them.
Project management is a broad industry involving many different methods and environments—in our project management tools review we’ve selected platforms that are the best for agency environments. Of course, some of these can adapt to different environments (IT, healthcare, finance), but we’re focused on how they work for digital teams at agencies. These include:
- Software development projects
- Web agencies
- Creative agencies
- Digital marketing agencies (although you might have better luck with our review specifically on marketing agency project manager tools)
Read on for the best project management software for agencies and studios:
The 10 Best Project Management Tools Reviews
In this post, we’ve tried to cover a broad spectrum in our list of software, considering complexity, price points and functionality of various PM tools. But it’ll come down to your workflow and what specific functionality you need to make that function better. Have a look around, take advantage of the free trials in order to really find the best project management tools for your agency or studio.
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1. monday.com – Award-winning, intuitive planning tool with kanban boards, project tracker, collaboration features, and workflow automation.
monday.com is a great project management software because of the way the tool has done away with a lot of the trimmings of typical management tools and focused on simple, visually intuitive layouts that help clarify the sequence of work.
monday.com features for managing projects include resource and project management, time tracking, collaboration, and reporting features. For example, users can upload and attach files to cards, make comments, mention teammates, and more. It also offers a great project reporting dashboard that can collect data from multiple boards, allowing better tracking abilities of progress. And while monday.com doesn’t offer a complete set of tools for project accounting and invoicing solution as other tools, you can use monday.com to track hours, timelines, and invoices.
Overall, it’s a highly customizable tool that lets you work in whatever methodology—kanban or otherwise—that fits your project and team. You’ll also find some useful workflow tools for automating parts of your process.
monday.com’s integrations include project management apps like Slack, Google Drive, Gmail, Google Calendar, Jira, GitHub, Trello, Dropbox, Typeform and many more, accessible via Zapier.
monday.com costs from $17/month for two users.
2. Celoxis – Popular, widely used web-based tool with comprehensive project and portfolio management features.
Celoxis is a comprehensive and web-based all-in-one platform for project portfolio management and work collaboration. One of the world’s most adopted tools in PM, Celoxis is the software of choice for brands like HBO, Rolex, Virgin Care, KPMG, Singapore Post, Del Monte, LG and Deloitte for streamlining their projects, processes and people.
Celoxis’ real world project schedules and powerful interactive Gantt Charts packs all of the team and work dynamicities including geographically distributed project teams working in different timezones, part-time resources, unavoidable absences, interim resource swaps, and even inter-project dependencies.
Task management within Celoxis is strong and unique. Teams get an edge over other tools by eliminating multiple software they’d use otherwise. Celoxis lets them see their tasks and to dos, report bugs, manage tickets, or fill time all from a single tool. They also get relevant notifications to their inbox and can send updates directly even without logging in. Collaboration is powerful with project discussions, @mention comments, file sharing, document version control, and activity stream. 80% of their typical actions such as starting a timer, attaching a file or updating status can be done straight from their dashboards.
Celoxis provides a single source of truth for executives with a real-time project tracker, resource availabilities and utilization, timesheets, project finances, risks, issues and to-dos.
Celoxis comes with powerful analytical capabilities and their rich and interactive charts breathe new life into your project data. Organizations can leverage their built-in best practice reports and dashboards to gather 360-degree real-time insights around project health, tracking actuals vs estimates, team utilization and profit margins. With their exhaustive custom field library including formula fields, you can easily track all of your financial KPIs such as NPV.
Celoxis is extremely customizable and flexible when it comes to different organizations and industries. With their unique custom apps, you have the power to create and configure intuitive project and business processes within the project management system.
Celoxis is one of the few project manager software programs to be available both in SaaS and On-Premise flavors. SaaS costs $25/user/month and On-Premise costs $450/user one-time. Both require a minimum 5-user sign-up and come with 30-day free trial.
3. Clarizen – Fully-featured, enterprise-grade project management software with additional portfolio, resource, and workflow management tools.
Clarizen is an enterprise-grade professional service automation software solution, designed to speed up the way you do business – integrating work, content, and process tightly together to enable more efficient working. Clarizen’s real focus is making projects happen faster with timesaving workflows. Clarizen is a great project management tool if you have lots of repeatable projects that require repeatable processes as workflow automation is pretty flexible and powerful.
It covers off the PPM basics of task lists, schedules, docs and files, communications and reporting without breaking a sweat. Clarizen’s project planning tools are a powerful mix of functionality across the planning, executing and controlling of a project. Within planning project workflows and full-featured resource, schedule and task planning tools. It also offers project and portfolio optimization so that you can easily and quickly align projects to business objectives.
For project execution, Clarizen enables everyone on the team to be aligned with a dashboard that enables teams to see how their contribution fits into the bigger picture. They can view the project timeline and milestones, budget, discussions, and shared documents.
Instead of being obligated to make educated guesses, project managers can make accurate data-based decisions that align project selection and investment with big picture priorities. Changing tasks and schedules takes a few clicks. Project managers can run hypothetical scenarios to see the impact of changes before they go live. They can also alert end users via their personal dashboard of any changes to their workload. Because resource scheduling is built-in, Clarizen delivers real-time insights into all available resources, schedules, and tasks.
Clarizen has some really powerful integration options out the box that is worth considering if you have other business-critical systems already in place. You can combine the power of Clarizen with other enterprise tools including Jira, SharePoint, Tableau, Salesforce and Intact with a subscription to an App integration. This means you won’t have to play around with the APIs yourself. On top of integrations, Clarizen has an App marketplace to add additional functionality to the system. These include helpful add-ons like active directory sync, Excel reporting integration, and priority automation, many of which are free.
Clarizen offers a free trial and costs from $60/user/month.
4. Smartsheet – A work execution platform with integration with your favorite project management software and apps, custom branding options, collaboration tools, charts and graphs and more.
Smartsheet is a spreadsheet-like project management tool. It has won a few awards for quickly becoming a favorite business app. It’s a nice project management software if you’re comfortable working in Excel but wants a break from complicated formulas—Smartsheet performs all the calculations for you across multiple sheets. You can also add customized brand logos and set color themes for individual projects.
Smartsheet has useful project management features such as workflow automation and visualization of tasks in Gantt, calendar and card views. Team members get notified of critical changes in real-time, and the tool provides shared views, detail history, activity logs, automated alerts, reminders, and status reports to keep everyone aligned and informed. The Critical Path feature highlights all the tasks which directly impact your project completion date to keep an eye on important milestones. Reporting is a strong feature of this tool, with editable summary reports that you can easily export to Excel.
Smartsheet integrations include Microsoft and Google apps, as well as development essentials like Jira, and useful business apps like Salesforce, ServiceNow, Slack, Box, and Tableau. The platform is extensible through a REST API and webhooks.
Smartsheet costs from $14/user/month and offers a 30-day trial.
5. Zoho Projects – Comprehensive project management tool to plan, track and collaborate effectively all on one platform.
Zoho Projects is an award-winning collaboration and project management software from Zoho. It offers flexibility and customizations to suit the needs of traditional project managers as well as agile teams.
With an easy Gantt chart generator, Kanban style task management, coupled with high-level features such as resource utilization charts, critical path, baseline and automation features, Zoho Projects offers a complete and unique experience for teams of all sizes.
All aspects of the UI from theme colors to arrangement and visibility of the various modules can be changed to suit a user’s preferences. By converting projects into templates, users can reuse previously created timelines and assignees for future projects. Zoho projects also offer free onboarding for its customers, free support and a comprehensive online help guide for all users.
Zoho Projects stands out in cases where there are multiple hand-offs involved. It is especially popular among IT companies, consultants and education organizations. With Blueprints, users can create and automate workflows, notifications, and escalations. The tool is used by over three million users and hundreds of big brands across the globe.
Being part of the Zoho’s ecosystem allows Projects to connect to several of Zoho’s own services such as Zoho Books, Zoho CRM, and Zoho’s finance suite. The new Zoho marketplace allows 3rd party integrations as well.
Starts from $18 for 6 users. Free 10-day trial available. No credit card information required.
6. Wrike – Cloud-based collaboration and project management software that’s easy to scale
Wrike is an enterprise grade all-in-one and real-time collaboration tool. Wrike’s toolkit functions across project planning, collaborating, reporting, workflow automation and 3<sup>rd</sup> party integrations. Wrike is a good tool if you’re looking to create efficiency with workflow management.
It connects tasks, discussions, and emails to your project plan to provide a big picture of project progress with real-time updates and cross-project reports and newsfeed. Wrike helps accelerate project delivery by helping your resources to prioritize their tasks and connects the tasks with discussions, files, and emails to your project plan.
Task management within Wrike is strong, as tasks are handed off, new contributors get the complete context, access to previous decision-making discussions (including proofing), and relevant files are already attached, so they have all the info they need.
Project schedules are pretty powerful within Wrike – they’re live and dynamic so that the whole team can see make changes and update their part of the workload at any time and see any changes in real-time. Helpfully, their Dynamic timelines can show cross-project charts, so you can see the whole picture and avoid any clashes between projects. Best of all, people are automatically notified whenever changes to the schedule are made.
Project communication with Wrike is powerful with real-time team collaboration with discussions, files attached to tasks, and a built-in live document editor which enables real-time collaborative text editing right in your workspace.
Wrike helps you see the tasks, projects and project portfolio – with multiple teams and multiple projects running concurrently, Wrike’s real-time dashboard keeps you on top of your team’s work without extra email and status meetings. There’s a handy resourcing overview to show you at a glance, who’s working on what, the dependencies and duration for the task, and when it should be completed. It helps you build repeatable processes, streamline operations, and get real-time visibility into the status of specific clients, projects, and key milestones.
Wrike has some pretty powerful project and business reporting built in to give insights with some pretty, and interactive infographics. The reports and helpfully automatically updated with the most recent data every 15 minutes, so you don’t have to worry about recreating reports or pulling new information. There are endless options – you can use their reporting tool to get valuable business insights and project snapshots to create highly customizable, detailed, real-time reports very easily.
Wrike costs from $49/5 users/month. It’s one of the best free project management software programs out there, offering a pretty fully-featured “freemium” plan for 10 users or less.
7. Nutcache – http://www.nutcache.com/
Nutcache is a very affordable project management software tool with some great functionality across project management, project dashboards, collaboration, expense management, time tracking, and billing and invoicing. If you’re looking for a complete agency project management solution, that’s cheap (or free if your team is less than 20 people), it’s a good place to start.
Nutcache enables you to flexibly manage projects with boards, lists or cards to reflect your preferred project workflow – it’s here that you can add tasks, subtasks, checklists, set deadlines and upload relevant files as well as invite team members and clients to collaborate and comment on different tasks. You can get notified each time a card or list is modified or browse through a card’s activity, using notes and comments for updates. The project dashboard overview provides low-level reporting by providing a summary of project information – with task tracking and budget and deadline information you can easily review a project’s status.
Timesheet reporting and expense tracking is built in, with the ability to run multiple timers on projects as you work so your time logging can be done for you. Online invoicing, and payment is possible through online payments through Paypal, Stripe, Authorize.net or 2Checkout so you can invoice and track payment easily.
Nutcache has a free version of their project management software tool for up to 20 users; thereafter it costs from $6/user/month.
8. Backlog – Specialized project management software packed with useful collaboration and tracking features for software development teams.
Backlog is a cloud-based project management tool perfect for developers and the teams they collaborate with. Backlog provides a range of useful collaboration features including task management software (including subtasks, checklists, and custom fields), milestones, file management, wikis, and more. But Backlog is more than a project management app, it’s also a bug tracker and version control system in one.
For collaborating on code, Backlog provides SVN and Git repositories, a differences viewer and inline comments, plus pull requests, merge requests, and branches. Visually, the app provides burndown charts, Git graphs, Kanban boards, and Gantt charts, so project managers and users alike can quickly assess projects at a glance.
Backlog works for a range of team sizes. They have a free account available to teams of up to 10, while also offering a self-hosted Enterprise option for larger companies. They also provide a mobile app on both iOS and Android for collaborating on-the-go. It integrates with Nulab’s other apps and provides both Redmine and Jira importers.
Backlog allows you to assign, track, and release work, right in one app while ensuring transparency and accountability across teams. If you’re looking for a tool to help manage development projects or working closely with a team of developers, this is the app for you.
Backlog is free for up to 10 users with some feature limitations or $35/month for up to 30 users. For $100/month, your team gets unlimited users, i.e. their Standard Plan.
9. Workotter – Simple SaaS project, resource, and portfolio management solution.
WorkOtter is easy to set up and use end-to-end project and resource management solution with a standout user experience and a library of “magic dashboards” to get PMOs automated quickly. Ideal for IT, Engineering, Consulting, or small/medium enterprises who value simplicity and a vendor partnering approach. It’s easily configured and fully integrated solutions for today’s PMOs.
The entire interface can be configured with drag and drop simplicity and works across mobile and desktop devices. Resource capacity planning includes portfolio what-if scenario planning and innovative ASK/GIVE interactivity between project and resource managers. Create your own “magic dashboards” or leverage over 100 templates designed and built by actual clients over many years.
WorkOtter syncs bi-directionally with MS Project, JIRA, and Excel. Teams can sync with Outlook and collaborate by email (without logging in). Document management integrated with Sharepoint, Dropbox, Box, and more. Integrates easily with Salesforce, Teams, Slack, QuickBooks, and more through open Swagger APIs. Dashboards and reports can also be emailed or exported in Excel, XML, CSV, Word, or PDF formats.
WorkOtter manager licenses cost $35/user/month and team members cost $20/user/month (billed annually). Implementation, support, and other license types are available. Perspective clients get an interactive demo, PMO best practice suggestions, cost estimates, and a PPM business case.
Best Project Management Software Comparison Chart
Find below a summary of the best project management software tools available in the market.
Other Project Management Software To Consider
Although not included in this review of project management software, below is a list of additional PM tool options. Check them out if you’re looking for the best project management software for your agency or studio:
Want Help Narrowing Down the Options?
This tool is pretty useful. We’ve partnered with Crozdesk to give you access to their “Software Finder”.
If you input some of the details about your project and the features you’re looking for in a project management tool, it will generate a list of tools that match your preferences. You provide your email, and they send over a nice PDF guide with a summary of your best matches.
Best In Breed – The One Trick (Project Software) Ponies
But what is the ‘right project management tool?’ There are lots of tools out there that do a single project related job, really well. These are the specialist one-trick-pony tools for project management planning, scheduling, milestone tracking, communication, task management, reporting, etc. Tools like Slack, Microsoft Project management software, Harvest and Dropbox are examples of these specialist project tools. Specialized tools can be great, especially for a small team, or when working with niche requirements or few clients.
Project Management Tools Enable You To Work Smarter
However, if you’re not careful, you end up with a collection of unrelated SaaS online project management software that doesn’t sync properly. You use one tool for communication, another for file sharing and yet another for task management. And you end up entering the same data into each application.
Maybe there’s a better way? Instead of using dedicated tools and manually tying them together, use a project management tool with shared-data functionality built-in. This facilitates better briefing, contextual communication and more straightforward management of project teams and clients.
What Makes A Good Project Management Tool?
In defining a good digital project management tool we’ve focussed on tools that facilitate the ‘doing’ aspect of a project. That means getting people together to create something amazing for a digital world.
So what does it take to deliver a digital project? We’ve identified five key aspects of functionality that we think makes delivering digital projects easier. You can use them to get rid of your post-its, spreadsheets, and emails, and to run your project more efficiently.
- Task lists – Projects are made up of sub-tasks, and sub-sub-tasks, checklists and to-do’s. Being able to outline what needs to be done, by when, by who, is critical to delivering a project well.
- Schedules – Timelines, calendars and Gantt charts help you know where tasks fit within the broader scheme of a project. This is key to being able to deliver a project on time.
- File sharing – No one likes having to waste timing trying to dig around for random files. The ability to organize and share key project files and assets is important to deliver a project efficiently.
- Communication – Contextual project-specific communication to hash things out quickly and chat with your team and client is vital to keep tasks on track.
- Reporting – As project managers, it’s our job to know whether or not our project is on track. Therefore, it’s essential to know how a project’s tasks are progressing—will it be delivered on time, or not?
But You’re Missing Stuff…
Yes, lots. With any project management software, you have to draw a line between what’s essential, and what’s not. In our criteria for project management programs we’ve focused on the execution of a project. That means we haven’t centred on planning, billing, or other functionality. For that reason, we’ve not focussed on the pre-project estimating, or the post-project aspects of PM software. Check out our article on the best resource scheduling tools, if you’re looking for that. That said, there are many similarities between these tools. We’ve tried to highlight functionality or features that we think make them unique.
What Do You Think?
What do you think we’re missing from this project management tools review? Have different criteria for selecting a PM tool for your agency or studio? We’d love to hear if you’ve got any suggestions, tips or thoughts on using this kind of PM software. Why not share them using the comments below?