This will help you quickly compare and evaluate the best project management software for designers, marketing agencies, branding studios, and other teams who can benefit from creative software.
Quickly Compare & Evaluate The 10 Best Project Management Software For Creative Agencies
If you have ever been the Project Manager at the helm of a creative project or managing a creative agency or team then you know that this position comes with a unique set of challenges. If this is your first time addressing project management for creative teams, then buckle up.
In-house creative agencies are on the rise, which may mean that you may be either (1) Fighting for clients in an increasingly competitive job market or (2) Having to integrate a creative agency team within your current on-site space. No matter your situation, it’s important to be prepared.
Project management software for creative teams can foster collaboration, keep dates and deadlines organized, inspire people to share their ideas and build on them, and foster innovation. It’s a way to balance practical, tangible, administrative needs with the imagination, freedom, and creativity needed to stand out.
In this post I’ll share with you the best project management software for creative agency use; explain how creative collaboration software can help you inspire your team, prevent oversights, and better meet deadlines; and answer some FAQs about creative project management. And so that you know how we came to our decisions, I will also go over what you should look for in design project management software and our evaluation criteria.
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Project Management Applications Comparison Criteria
How do I evaluate project management for creative teams? Here’s a breakdown of some on my considerations when evaluating PM software:
- User Interface (UI): Does it offer clear displays and intuitive navigation that your design-centric creative team would like using?
- Usability: Is this easy to learn and use? For creative agencies, choosing a software with good tech and user support is important because not everyone on your team will be very familiar with the technical aspects of the software. Additionally, to be easy to use, it should offer a way to manage files efficiently and access team members easily through built-in communication features. The ability to use pre-made templates (and create your own) for recurring projects can also make the tool more useful from day one.
- Features & Functionality: How many of the key creative management software features and functions does it provide, and how powerful are they? Specifically, I looked for:
- Briefs & Intake Forms: this simplifies the intake process with dynamic forms that allow your teams to set specific question flows for incoming requests, storing all these details in a central location.
- Visual, Customizable Workload Management: this includes project planning and task tracking features that help everyone manage their workloads. They should be able to see projects, tasks, deadlines, dependencies, and scheduling conflicts in a timeline, and track their progress on visual dashboards. And because each creative team works in its own unique way, custom approval workflows is a useful feature for defining and monitoring your work.
- Collaborative Feedback: feedback, revision, and collaboration is a major part of the creative process. The best project management software for creative teams should facilitate this process with real-time collaborative editing, visual markups, feedback consolidation, and version control that clearly shows the item’s changes and approval history.
- Reporting Features: because of the nature of creative work, justifying the cost of creative teams can present a challenge—the best software includes beautiful, simple reports that illustrate your team’s progress and value to stakeholders.
- Budget Management: includes estimation, invoice management, billing, time-tracking, and financial reporting features that capitalize on project data already in your system, saving you from administrative headache.
- Integrations: Pre-built integrations with Adobe’s Creative Suite (Photoshop, Premiere Pro, InDesign, Illustrator, etc) is ideal for many teams. And if there aren’t pre-built integrations for popular tools that creatives use, I look at how easy and affordable it is to set them up.
- Value for $: How appropriate is the price for its features, capabilities, and use case? Is pricing clear, transparent and flexible?
10 Best Creative Project Management Software Overviews
Get an idea of what each of the 10 best software suites that made it to my top list has to offer.
1. monday.com – Award-winning, visually intuitive tool for planning, tracking, and collaborating on work, fully stocked with customizable templates.
Monday offers a range of tools that creative professionals will benefit from, including monthly and annual expense tracking, a recruitment tracker for HR, easy editorial and blogging planning, competitor analysis, the management of marketing projects, onboarding processes, creative requests and more. Easy, visual and intuitive, Monday is an award-winning PM software used by over 70,000 teams.
In our evaluation criteria, I specify that we are looking for customizable workload management and collaborative feedback, which is something that Monday handles particularly well. Monday allows you to easily collaborate with freelancers and third parties by sharing the same project “boards” and has many options for interface customizability to help navigate the uniques ins and outs of your workload.
Optional integrations include DropBox, Excel, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Integromat, Slack, Trello, Pipedrive, Jira, Mailchimp, and even more through Zapier.
If you are looking for web software that has seamless mobile integration, this may not be it. The tutorial and training options available through the site are also lacking, which leaves users scrounging on the depths of YouTube for unauthorized user-generated content in order to address the steep learning curve.
Monday starts at $17/month for 2 users and has a free 14-day trial.
2. Hive – Highly adaptable project management and collaboration software used by small teams of 10 up to Fortune 500s.
Hive is a creative project management and collaboration platform that powers companies like Starbucks, Uber, WeWork and IBM. With AI-based analytics, thousands of integrations, flexible project views, and more, Hive streamlines your work in one centralized platform. Used by teams of varying sizes, from 10 people to 1,000, Hive is a great option for a diverse range of companies and work styles including creative teams.
Hive’s time-tracking, analytics and flexible view capabilities allow for transparent understanding of other team members work and upcoming projects. You can organize your projects in a Gantt chart, Kanban board, calendar and easily switch between each layout. Custom designed automated workflows are also possible, along with resource tracking and team communication and collaboration.
Hive has a proofing and approval feature which simplifies feedback loops and approval cycles with the ability to assign approvals, share proofs and provide feedback. Forms can also be sent outside your organization to gather information about clients and customers.
Hive also has one of the first full email integrations in any project management tool, which allows you to send and receive Gmail and Outlook messages from the app.
Hive costs $12 per user per month when billed annually.
3. Wrike – Best For Scaling Organizations.
Wrike is an award-winning creative project management software suitable for teams of five or more. Users can customize their workflows, dashboards, reports, and request forms with this highly configurable software. You can switch between Kanban boards, interactive drag-and-drop Gantt charts, and traditional workload views to visualize priorities. Wrike features customizable briefs and request forms, visual and customizable workload management, space for team members to provide feedback, and reporting and analytics.
Wrike has an easy-to-use interface and navigation with distinct spaces, folders, and tasks. You can switch between the home screen and timesheets, dashboards, calendars, reports, and a stream for notifications and messages. Users also have access to a variety of templates for common organizational processes.
The tool has over 400 integrations, including the most popular file management software from Microsoft, Google, and Dropbox, along with sales and marketing software from Salesforce and Marketo.
Wrike costs $9.80/user/month and offers four different price points, including a free version and plans which allow users to invite free external collaborators to a paid account.
4. Paymo – Paymo is a work management tool for creative and digital agencies, designed to help with planning work and projects, tracking time and invoicing clients.
The main goal of Paymo is to help creative agencies streamline the process of managing their projects from start to finish while offering a frictionless experience. This means that both project managers and team members will know exactly what they need to do, when, and also collaborate better.
A dedicated account manager will make sure the onboarding process is smooth for everyone, therefore the learning curve being reduced.
Paymo’s features cover the whole process, from creating the initial project estimate to adding and assigning tasks, setting up budgets, tracking work time, and generating reports and invoices for clients.
To keep everyone informed and on the same page, Paymo allows real-time commenting at the task and project level along with in-app and email notifications. The interface is modern and easy to navigate through. It looks pretty crowded but you can hide the modules you don’t plan to use.
Paymo integrates natively with apps like Slack, Adobe Creative Cloud, Google Drive, QuickBooks Online, Xero, JotForm, Shift, to name a few. Other integrations are available through Zapier or by syncing with their fully-documented API.
Paymo starts at $11.95/user/month and offers a 14-day free trial. It also comes with a Free plan (limited to 1 user though).
5. Smartsheet – A work execution platform with useful content collaboration features and project dashboards to keep creative teams in sync.
Smartsheet’s online project management tool checks off a lot of the boxes I’ve laid out in the criteria for a creative project management software. For briefs and intake forms, you can use the “Forms” feature which offers the ability to create and customize forms to collect essentially any data from anyone in a structured format—you could use it for collecting information, including images and files, from clients in order to make briefs, for example.
Team collaboration features are great—members get notified of critical changes in real-time, and the tool provides shared views, detail history, activity logs, automated alerts, reminder, and status reports to keep everyone aligned and informed. There are content collaboration features like pinned feedback, approvals, and annotations that make it easier to collaborate on creative work.
Creative teams can then manage their tasks with visual workload management tools that offer real-time visualizations of live data, charts, and key metrics, which you can customize in drag-and-drop dashboards.
Finally, 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.
6. FunctionFox – Simple online PM tools created by an ad agency for ad agencies, creative teams, and PR, digital, and marketing firms.
FunctionFox helps streamline time and expense tracking, estimates and budgeting, running reports, schedules and calendars, task and action assignment, internal communication, as well as other administrative busywork that can bog down your creative team. They also offer a dedicated account rep with paid plans so it is a good option for those unfamiliar with PM software.
Affordable and easy to use, FunctionFox speaks to our evaluation component that digs into usability and value for your money. The comparably low cost is complemented by a generous feature set, making it a great option for small teams.
FunctionFox offers add-ons that allow for mobile app access (Android and iPhone), Flink (file exchange), and Invoicing. Reports can save as Excel, CSV, PDF and HTML. Unfortunately, integrations beyond internal ones and files type options are nil.
With a primary focus on time tracking, FunctionFox may not be the big picture app that some teams need. Particularly, a lack of billing software integration slowed overall workflow processes down.
FunctionFox starts at $5/user/month plus first user at $35 and also offers a free demo.
7. Nuvro – Clean, efficient software for project collaboration, planning, and monitoring, with features geared towards distributed teams.
Nuvro’s self-appointed stance is that they are neither too lean of features, nor too complex for the average user. This makes them uniquely oriented to assist creative teams that may not be tech-savvy when it comes to automated project management systems. They offer visual progress monitoring, individual performance reports, collaborative document management, an internal messaging system, workload calendars, file sharing, online notes, and more.
Nuvro ticks a lot of boxes for our general evaluation criteria, including dynamic forms for job onboarding, incoming request organization and sharing, easy feedback, revision, and collaboration, and basic reporting.
That being said, it is missing a few obvious project management must-haves that creative teams could benefit from, such as time and expense tracking, agile methodologies, and resource management functions.
Nuvro can Integrate with Dropbox, Microsoft Office, Slack, and over 1000 other tools through Zapier.
Nuvro starts at from $4/user/month and has a free 30-day trial.
8. ClientFlow – Software for small creative teams with features for client communication, team collaboration, and project tracking.
ClientFlow is a hub for communication networks and workflow tasks with features such as a shared inbox, time tracking, invoicing, advanced email messaging filters, collaborative review and feedback processes, and more. While they have many tools you would expect from project management software for creative teams, they excel in communication organization.
For our evaluation criteria, I give substantial focus to features and functionality that promote collaborative feedback. This is because creative teams often find themselves swamped with back-and-forth communication with clients for planning, approvals, and revisions. This is where ClientFlow stands out from the rest of the list, making communication their unapologetic focus.
ClientFlow integrates with Twitter, Gmail, Google Drive, Facebook, Dropbox and many more through Zapier. By integrating with popular social media platforms, they reinforce a dedication to communication-centric workflows.
While their offerings for collaborative communication features are impressive, this may not be the software for creative teams who need more of a jack-of-all-trades tool. Notably, they are lacking in budget management, cost-to-completion tracking, milestone tracking, portfolio management, and common organizational tools like Gantt charts.
ClientFlow starts at $19/user/month and has a free 7-day trial.
9. Flow – Flexible and visually pleasing PM software geared towards marketing, creative, product, and finance teams.
Flow allows teams to track the progress of company’s initiatives through an intuitive dashboard, establish visual project timelines, map out tasks and deadlines, manage resources with drag and drop flexibility, and more. It offers both mobile (Android and iPhone) and desktop apps.
Flow is incredibly easy to pick up, in fact, on their homepage they boast “No training required.” While I wouldn’t go that far, I would rate them excellently in the evaluation criteria for UI and usability. Creative teams that don’t have the time or interest to adopt a complex software system will appreciate the relative simplicity of Flow.
Flow integrates with the likes of Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, Slack, and Harvest. If you are feeling particularly daring, or have a handy IT team onboard, Flow’s robust Rest API lets you automate, access and edit Flow data and fully integrate with other tools, as well.
Flow is definitely geared towards smaller or moderate-sized teams so large creative departments might find it comes short in certain areas. For example, you can search for projects by tag, keyword and color but there is no way to facilitate an “OR” or “NOT” logic to narrow items down (it’s always “AND”).
Flow starts at $5.95/user/month and has a free 30-day trial.
10. Clarizen – Fully-featured, enterprise-grade software to manage your entire agency process with portfolio, collaboration, resource management, and workflow tools.
Clarizen is a project management software perfect for creative teams, as it supports and facilitates different workstyles and hybrid methodologies in order to appeal to every user. Configurable workflow automation, in-context collaboration, and real-time information sharing take the burden of much administration out of the picture.
In our evaluation criteria, we call for customization and flexibility because we understand how important these elements are to creative teams. Clarizen offers highly configurable UI at every level and workflow processes that can be customized using dynamic rule sets, ensuring that every kind of thinker feels comfortable with the toolset.
Integrations include Clarizen’s own Clarizen Go, as well as Jira, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Salesforce, Box, Google Drive, Netsuite, Tableau and more. They also have an apps marketplace for their own collections of add-ons and tools.
Clarizen could benefit from a more robust solution to issue tracking. There are also some confusing licensing restrictions with cheaper accounts, like not being able to see certain time tracking reports, paid time off, and so on.
Clarizen starts at $29.95/user/month and has a free 30-day trial.
The Best Creative Project Management Software Summary
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What Do You Think About These Top Creative Software Applications?
Creative teams require creative solutions to their project management problems. The above are some suggestions but, as always, not a comprehensive list. What tools or software do you use for creative project management? I’d love to see your suggestions in the comments.