This article has been updated with current features and images for 2021.
Project management is difficult. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
In the best of times, project management requires tracking down absent deliverables, analyzing data to predict when things will be done, and communicating information to stakeholders so they don’t make your life miserable with aggressive update requests.
How do project managers organize all those moving pieces into one coherent plan? They use the best project management tools.
History provides us with a couple notable examples. Could Henry Ford have delivered the requisite number of Model Ts without the organization of an assembly line? Would Paul Bunyan have been as productive without Babe the Blue Ox acting as a repository for all of his lumber data?
The answer to both questions is no.
Both Paul and Henry knew the kind of tools their work required, but not all of us are so lucky. To help you get started, this article provides a breakdown of six major types of project management tools and some standout solutions in each category. If you’re ready to find the right project management tool for your business, try out our Product Selection Tool, or click the banner below to get started.
To-Do Lists: Asana, monday.com
Whether numbered or bulleted, lists are optimal ways to organize information. That’s why people love them, and that’s why the humble to-do list remains a staple of project management. The most straightforward way to measure your productivity is to look at a to-do list in the morning and then reference it when you leave.
Workflow: Trello, Jira
Workflow tools help you track tasks and projects as they move through various stages of your process. These products often employ a Kanban board (pictured above) and cards as a framework for visualizing work in progress. Like the to-do list, a workflow tool isn’t all that complex, but it can be invaluable over the course of a project.
ALSO READ: Trello vs. Asana
Milestones/Gantt Charts: Aha!, LiquidPlanner
Designed by mechanical engineer Henry Gantt in 1910, the Gantt chart has had a relatively long run as a project management tool. A Gantt chart uses horizontal bars to illustrate project completion dates, progress, and milestones, as well as dependencies. While a Kanban board like Trello is best used at the task level, Gantt charts are better equipped for managing at a zoomed-out, project level.
Wrike certainly pulls its weight with a drag-and-drop dynamic timeline. However, Aha! and LiquidPlanner take the cake.
Time Tracking: Paymo
If you work directly with clients, then time tracking and invoicing are two features you’re going to need in your project management tool — unless you can convince all of your customers to pay you at their own leisure.
Collaboration: Basecamp, ActiveCollab
Improving team collaboration is a perennial goal for all types of organizations. It’s only in the past decade or so that people have begun to realize that email isn’t a reliable collaboration tool and won’t help them achieve their goal of improved team alignment.
ALSO READ: Wrike vs. Basecamp
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Whether you’re managing large projects full of interdependent tasks or simply trying to build a repeatable process for your day-to-day work, life will be much simpler if you use one of the best project management tools. Don’t see what you’re looking for on this list? Use our Product Selection Tool to browse solutions and get a custom recommendation based on your needs.