There are seemingly countless creative agency project management software solutions available, so figuring out which is best for you is tough. You want to plan, manage, and control your projects better, but need to figure out which tool is the best fit. I've got you! In this post I make things simple, leveraging my experience managing creative projects, and using dozens of different PM tools to bring you this shortlist of the best creative agency project management software.
What Is Creative Agency Project Management Software?
Creative agency project management software is a tool that helps creative agencies organize, plan, and execute their projects effectively. It combines tools for task management, scheduling, resource allocation, and collaboration, all tailored to the unique needs of creative workflows. This software typically includes features for file sharing, feedback collection, and project tracking, making it suitable for handling the dynamic and often non-linear processes of creative work.
Project management software streamlines project delivery by keeping all project-related information in one place. It also provides a clear overview of project timelines, budgets, and resource utilization, helping in making informed decisions.
Productive is an all-in-one agency management software with project management, resource planning, time tracking, budgeting, and collaboration features.
Why I picked Productive: Creative agencies can use this tool to not just plan their projects, but manage their resources, budgets, and time. The software offers a comprehensive task management system that allows users to assign tasks to individual team members, keep track of progress on each task, and set deadlines. Users can also set up recurring tasks so they don’t have to worry about manually creating them each time.
The software's time tracker tool allows users to log their hours for each task or client project, supporting accurate billing and budgeting down the line. Users can upload documents in the platform or link them from other cloud storage services, and connect them with specific projects or tasks. The resource management features allow teams to keep track of who is working on which tasks and assign tasks in the context of everyone's workload.
Productive Standout Features & Integrations
Features include list, table, calendar, timeline, and board views; recurring tasks; time estimations; time tracking; budgeting; document management; resource planning; upcoming work placeholders; and client billing.
Integrations include Dropbox, Exact, Google Workplace, Jira, Harvest Economic, Outlook, Microsoft Calendar, Slack, QuickBooks, and Xero. A Zapier integration is also available, which can unlock more integrations with a paid account.
Kantata is a SaaS product that's been designed to make project management a whole lot easier for creative agencies. It's got a clean, intuitive interface that makes it easy to get a handle on what's going on with your projects, and it's got plenty of features that are specifically designed for creative agencies.
Why I picked Kantata: First off, there's the project dashboard. It gives you a bird's eye view of all your projects, so you can see at a glance what's on track, what's behind schedule, and what needs your attention. Then there's the time tracking feature. This is a game-changer for creative agencies, where time really is money. Kantata makes it easy to track how much time you're spending on each project, so you can make sure you're billing accurately and staying profitable. And let's not forget about the resource management feature. This lets you see who's working on what, so you can make sure everyone's pulling their weight and no one's getting overloaded.
Kantata Standout Features & Integrations
Features include resource management, workload and allocation views, skills database, skill gap, projected demand, and projected profitability.
Integrations. As part of their “API-first strategy”, they’ve built a solution that doesn’t require a third party in order to integrate with any apps. They provide an integration platform (called M-Bridge) that’s designed to simplify integration between Kantata and other business apps like CRM, HCM, and financial software. On top of the M-Bridge platform, Kantata provides several pre-built integrations with these tools: Expensify, G Suite, Xero, Salesforce, Netsuite, Jira, Hubspot, Slack, Concur, Dynamics 365, Qualtrics, Quickbooks, and Sage Intacct.
ClickUp is a creative project management tool software that offers built-in creative features for every step in the design process.
Why I picked ClickUp: Users can collaborate with their teams on any design project with features for proofing, threaded comments, chat, and easy file sharing. Share files and deliverables with clients and control what they can access with permissions. Collect approval, feedback, or customer information with custom-branded forms. ClickUp also offers multiple views and templates for building and managing your creative workflow or getting projects started.
Task management features include task checklists, subtasks, and task templates, as well as the ability to filter, sort, search for, easily reorder, and view tasks in the manner most convenient for the team. Users can also create Gantt charts, calendars, and timelines to visualize tasks.
ClickUp Standout Features & Integrations
Features include the creation, sharing, and editing of documents and files. Also, users can comment on documents and tasks, assign comments, and chat with other team members for increased communication and collaboration. Reporting features include the ability to create custom dashboards, as well as six built-in report types for team reporting.
Integrations include Slack, G Suite, Dropbox, and many more tools, as well as 1,000+ integrations through Zapier.
ClickUp's free plan is robust and includes all primary features so you can properly test it and discover if it suits your needs.
Resource Guru is an employee management software for agencies that has time, project, and resource management in a single platform.
Why I picked Resource Guru: In addition to building project plans, the software also has resource management features like an employee directory with information like skill sets, location, and availability. Within the platform, you can set up custom schedules for each of your team members, assign projects and tasks, and track their progress. Schedules and capacity planning inform how projects are scheduled and managed.
Equipment can also be managed with the software, creating an overview of all resources needed for projects. Everything is managed in a single calendar, helping create a high-level picture of how work will get done, by who, when, and with what tools. The software can also produce forecasts for employee capacities and resource utilization.
Resource Guru Standout Features & Integrations
Features include employee scheduling, employee and resource calendar, billable and non-billable time tracking, reporting and analytics, project management, resource allocation, and a mobile app.
Integrations include Apple Calendar, Calendly, Google Calendar, and Outlook Calendar. A paid Zapier account can be used to configure additional integrations.
Hub Planner software is a resource management tool that helps organizations schedule and allocate personnel, track time, and manage project workflows more efficiently.
Why I Picked Hub Planner: Hub Planner can be used for creative agency project management by providing tools to help manage and schedule resources, track project progress, and collaborate with team members. With the ability to allocate team members to specific projects and tasks, managers can ensure that resources are being used efficiently and that workloads are balanced across the team. The software's intuitive drag-and-drop interface makes it easy to schedule projects and tasks, while its advanced reporting and forecasting tools help managers to monitor project budgets and timelines. With features such as time tracking and custom reporting, Hub Planner enables creative agencies to measure project performance and identify areas for improvement, helping to ensure that projects are delivered on time, within budget, and to the highest possible standard.
Hub Planner Standout Features & Integrations
Features include resource management, PTO planning, timesheets, reporting, skills matching, task management, templates, drag and drop scheduler, project budgets, approval flow, smart scheduler, and third-party integrations/add-ons.
Integrations include DIY options via their Hub Planner API and webhook. Or, open an account with Zapier for more options (may incur an additional cost).
Project.co is a cloud-based project management and team collaboration platform that is equipped with a variety of features that are tailored to facilitate various aspects of the project development process, including task management, time tracking, scheduling, payments, and people management.
Why I picked Project.co: The online project management software provides you with the ability to generate automated invoices and process payments from clients electronically through credit cards, all within the same platform. This offers a huge advantage for medium to large creative agencies that manage multiple projects for a large number of clients.
Project.co helps you organize and view multiple tasks in different formats, including a list view, a calendar view, a task scheduler view, and a Kanban board view. Both project management and communications aspects of the platform are centralized, giving your team the ability to collaborate and communicate with other team members, clients, and stakeholders. This approach helps streamline communication across the entire agency.
Moreover, Project.co also allows you to embed videos into comments and sort through them by filtering the attached files either by name or by date to find what you were looking for quickly.
Project.co Standout Features & Integrations
Features include multiple ways to view information, real-time conversations, reactions and comment threads, a file repository, and slash command menus.
Integrations are available only through Zapier. Therefore, you will need a paid subscription with them to start connecting your tool stack to Project.co.
FigJam is an online whiteboard solution that's versatile and user-friendly. It's created by Figma, and connects easily with the company's design platform, making it a good choice for creative teams already using Figma.
Why I picked FigJam: This software can be used for project management but also brainstorming, ideation, workflow mapping, and more. Your team can either start from a blank canvas or select from one of many pre-built templates available. Templates include timelines, roadmaps, brainstorm frameworks, flowcharts, and more.
What makes this tool stand out is not just its versatility but also its connectivity with Figma. For creative design teams, this is super helpful because you can ideate, plan, track, and execute your work all in the same environment. FigJam assets can be turned into prototypes in Figma, helping your team reduce app-switching and keep things cohesive.
FigJam Standout Features & Integrations
Features include pre-built project management templates, audio and live chat, stamp and emoji reacts, external collaborator access, calendar and timeline widgets, bitmoji avatars, music player, and mobile app.
Integrations include Figma, Microsoft Teams, Asana, Jira, Mixpanel, and Github.
Paymo is a project management, time tracking, and invoicing software that helps creative agencies streamline the process of managing their projects from start to finish while offering a frictionless experience.
Why I picked Paymo: 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.
Lastly, a dedicated account manager will make sure the onboarding process is smooth for everyone. Therefore, it makes learning the tool easier.
Paymo Standout Features & Integrations
Features include time tracking, team scheduling, several ways to view your tasks, file upload to tasks, file proofing, professional estimates, and leave planning.
Integrations include 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.
Freedcamp is a free project management tool that helps streamline projects, processes, workflows, track time and issues.
Why I picked Freedcamp: Freedcamp has invoicing tools, project templates, CRM tools, widget and task boards, Gantt charts, Kanban boards, white-label capabilities to use your own URL and logo, file storage, file editing, a social hub (“Wall”), issue tracker, and more. They have iOS, Android, and Desktop applications available.
As far as my evaluation criteria that chart value for cost, Freedcamp is a standout. That makes it perfect for smaller creative teams that do not have the resources for an expensive suite of PM software on top of everything they already use.
Freedcamp Standout Features & Integrations
Features include FileEdit for automatic upload of document changes, tags, mentions, smart quotes, templates, flexible permissions, and email notifications.
Integrations include Google Calendar, Google Drive, Dropbox, and more through Zapier.
While the UX is a bit clunky, you’ll find it perfectly usable. The clutter of items on-screen at any given time can be a distraction but is not a deal-breaker by any means.
Filestage is a review and approval platform used by agencies and in-house creative teams around the world. From sharing files to collecting feedback, it speeds up every step of your creative review process.
Why I picked Filestage: Filestage centralizes your approval workflow into a single dashboard. From there, you can see every review step, file format, version, and reviewer in your project, with status indicators to show who’s approved what. So at any stage in your creative review process, you can see exactly where things are at a glance.
However, feedback management is where Filestage really shines. You can invite reviewers to add comments and discuss ideas right alongside your content and create review steps to group feedback from different types of stakeholders, like Creative, Account management, and Client. Add in automated timecodes, version comparisons, annotations, and attachments, and Filestage is a great feedback platform.
Filestage Standout Features & Integrations
Features include one-click approvals, unlimited reviewers for your files, annotations on any comment, file attachments, file versioning, and a folder structure so you can organize your different projects.
Integrations include native connections to Slack, Microsoft Teams, Adobe Creative Cloud, and Asana – plus thousands more apps through their integration partners, like Pabbly.
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How I Picked The Best Creative Project Management Software
To decide which tools to feature in this list, I evaluated and compared the details for a number of popular creative PM tools. I weighed a variety of key factors and functions that would be top of mind for businesses of all sizes.
This is the set of criteria I considered to determine the best and most useful software:
At the baseline, this is the functionality required for a project management solution to make it onto my list:
- Work management: You need basic project planning and task management features, like timelines, task lists, dependencies, and milestones.
- Workflow automation: The ability to automate certain aspects of your process, like sending a notification for unchecked items on a to-do list.
- Project progress tracking: Whether with a Gantt chart, Kanban board, or calendar, a visual project management software gives you a real-time update on project status.
Beyond the basic functionality I’d expect to see in any project management platform, here are some specific project management features I looked for in a creative agency solution:
- Resource management: Creative agencies don’t always have set teams, and being able to handle your resource allocation based on skills and availability is a plus.
- Collaboration features: Tools that help your team members work together on creative projects or liaise with clients are a big bonus.
- Timesheets: The ability for employees to track time according to projects, tasks, clients, or other factors, especially with billable hours tracking.
- File sharing: The easier it is to share files among team members or with clients, the easier it is to exchange feedback and keep projects moving. Many project management systems have built-in digital asset management.
- Reporting dashboards: You want to be able to show your stakeholders the impact of your work. This includes the profitability of your projects, and the efficacy of your time management and resource planning.
- Budget management: Invoicing, project budget tracking, expense management, and other tools that help you ditch the spreadsheets.
- Customizable workspace: Both for your internal interface and the client-facing interface, the ability to arrange it to your liking and add branding.
Is this easy to learn and use? Usability mostly comes from navigation and overall user experience. The ability to use a pre-made project template and create your own for recurring projects or a hierarchy that makes sense are contributing factors to this category.
Pre-built integrations with Adobe’s Creative Suite (Photoshop, Premiere Pro, InDesign, Illustrator, etc.) are ideal for many creative teams. I also looked for integrations with popular CRMs, asset management tools like Dropbox or Google Drive, and communication tools like Slack and email. Some providers also have APIs that can be used to build custom integrations, and some can export or import data to and from other PM solutions or Excel.
I look at the pricing and if they have it divided into different tier plans. Additionally, I search for information on trial periods and free versions of the software (if available).
What is a creative project?
A creative project is, in most cases, an original imaginative or artistic solution to a client’s problem. These types of projects are commonly handled by digital marketing firms, advertising agencies, branding studios, and other creative business types.
What is creative project management?
Creative project management involves navigating the needs and workflows of a team that has been assigned a creative task. It may also include being the “go-between” for technical, administrative, and creative teams to ensure everyone works seamlessly together.
Additionally, creative project management requires you to be on top of deadlines as most projects require an elevated number of customer interactions. This means you will be chasing people left, right, and center.
Who uses creative project management software?
There are a number of ways to use project management software, and types of teams that use it. When it comes to creative PM software, some specific examples include creative agencies, marketing teams, design studios, and product development teams.
Creative work takes collaboration, feedback, and proofing. So software that has communication and collaboration features is especially well-suited to this type of work. Creative teams may also have extra appreciation for a friendly drag-and-drop interface or interactive checklists.
As for agencies in particular, the ability to track progress — and to allow clients to track progress — is a big plus. Some software even has client portals to facilitate this.
How do you manage a creative project?
There is no single way to manage a creative project. Depending on how your team works you might take an agile or more waterfall approach. In the same sense, building a product might require a different approach from managing a marketing project.
Whatever your context, here are some steps that you can take to get started:
- Go through a careful requirements gathering process.
- Kick-off the project with solid project kickoff meeting.
- Make sure you know how to make and use a robust project plan and budget.
- Manage and control your projects through to delivery by monitoring progress and maintaining frequent communication (mitigate against scope creep!).
- Once you’ve delivered the final product, make sure you get useful feedback from your teams (for example, in a retrospective meeting).
Where to start? Follow blogs about creative workflow management. Our PM how-to guides are a good resource to get you oriented.
What does a project manager at a creative agency do?
So what does the day-to-day of project management look like at a creative agency? Here’s a typical to-do list for a PM working at an agency:
1. Review project timelines and adjust schedules as needed.
2. Conduct team meetings to track progress and address any issues.
3. Coordinate with clients to clarify requirements and provide updates.
4. Allocate resources and assign tasks to team members.
5. Monitor project budgets and ensure cost-effectiveness.
6. Oversee the quality of deliverables and ensure they meet client expectations.
7. Manage risks and implement mitigation strategies.
8. Update project documentation and maintain records.
9. Communicate with stakeholders to manage expectations and report on progress.
10. Facilitate problem-solving and decision-making processes.
As mentioned, creative projects need excellent communication. Therefore, I suggest you read about communication plans and how they work. You'll even have access to a template you can use.
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