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Best project management software of 2021

Best project management software
(Image credit: Image Credit: Pixabay / Pexels)
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

The best project management software makes it simple and easy to enable teams to organize projects and tasks.

With the pandemic still consigning a large percentage of employees to the home office, project management software is more important that ever, giving remote teams an easy way to organize projects and tasks.

Whereas it used to be the case that paper or spreadsheets would be required, these days project management software is usually able to provide a range of tools to help improve productivity and make the management of tasks easier.

Features might normally include the ability to set up a team and allow communication between them, assignment of specific subtasks with dates for completion, as well as goals, interactive calendar, progress reports, and analytics to provide data on workflows.

On top of all this, a number of project management platforms can also integrate with other software applications, such as for storing documents in the cloud, sales reporting software, and customer relations management (CRM) software.

Best project management software: How did we choose?

Best project management software: How did we choose?

Project management tools have developed markedly in recent years, adding a host of features, from Gannt charts to file sharing solutions. For this independent review, we’ve analyzed some of the best-known project management solutions on the market, evaluating them for their usability, features, and integration with other software. How they stand up to the new rigours enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic has also been considered. In terms of what you should look for in a project management tool, scalability, reliability and security are also important. These are factors that we carefully assessed before choosing our best project management software solutions. 

Manage your project with monday.com

When it comes to project management, monday.com makes it simple through use of easy-to-use drag-and-drop dashboards and automation. Numerous integrations are available, and pricing starts from just $8 a month per employee.

You can sign up to monday.com here.View Deal

1. Asana project management: Best for teams

(Image credit: Asana)

Has an emphasis on teams and tracking

Reasons to buy
+Handy tracking functions+Cloud-based+Team-oriented

Asana is a project management solution you may have heard of – even if you haven’t used the service in the past. While it offers a ton of handy features to boost productivity, there’s a bigger emphasis placed on tracking.

The app lets you create to-do lists and reminders so you always meet deadlines, plus you can add due dates, colleagues, instructions to tasks, and comment on items. You can even share images from other apps (like Google Drive) directly to Asana. And more importantly, you can actually track everything you and your colleagues work on in a bid to ensure the project is running smoothly and to schedule.

If you’re concerned with who is working on certain projects, then you can bring up a list of teams and individuals, and there’s also a search functionality so you can find completed tasks easily.

Asana offers a free Basic tier, with limited functionality and dashboards. Step up to the Premium tier, Business, or Enterprise tiers and you unlocked additional features, as well as administration and management options.

2. Trello: Best for cross-platform users

(Image credit: Trello)

A well-known cross-platform project management solution

Reasons to buy
+Cross-platform support+Cloud-based+Team supported

Over the last few years, Trello has emerged as one of the most popular project management applications. It lets you organize all of your work-based and personal projects through a computer, tablet or smartphone. Trello is notably used by the likes of Fender, Google and Kickstarter.  

You’re able to set up boards to organize everything you’re working on, delegate tasks among colleagues, get customized workflows, add to-do lists within task cards, attach files and comment on items. The idea is that you manage all aspects of a project within the app, regardless of whether it’s team-based or individual.

Both Windows and Mac desktops are supported, with mobile apps available on Android and iOS devices; there’s even a version that’s been optimized specifically for the iPad Pro. The latter sports a larger canvas and a variety of handy email shortcuts to speed up projects. It’s free to download to give it a spin, and can be used on the free tier, although there is a limit on the size of file attachments.

Upgrade to Business Class and you get additional features, including one day email support, and integration with other services such as from Google and Slack, as well as higher attachment limits.

3. Zoho Projects: Best for small groups

(Image credit: Zoho)

Good features for small teams

Reasons to buy
+Easy visualizations+Document storage options+Integration options

Zoho Projects is another project management tool that allows users to plan, organize, and collaborate on projects, while using Gantt charts for detailed visualization of progress and schedules. 

There are also options for document management, time keeping, as well as tracking and fixing errors. A range of integrations are available, such as Slack, Google, Dropbox, as well as the numerous other Zoho suites.

Pricing is dependent on both the number of users, number of projects, and the depth of features required, with higher plans offering unlimited projects and higher limits according to the plan subscribed to. There is a free plan available to explore the software's features.

4. LiquidPlanner: Best for users with tight deadlines

(Image credit: LiquidPlanner)

Eliminate any danger of missed deadlines

Reasons to buy
+Smart schedules to prioritize work+Enterprise-grade feature set+14-day free trial
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive

LiquidPlanner has a robust feature set for enterprise-grade project management, boasting corporate customers which are leading Fortune 500 firms including Bayer, Cisco and Daimler.

Features include the Smart Schedule that can assist in prioritizing work, assigning people resources, and then estimating the hours needed for completion, which then allows the project to be tracked given the hours devoted to it by the assigned workforce.

Conversely, the Resource Management feature can show the hours put in by each worker, and track who is available to assign to the next project. All of this data feeds into easy-to-read dashboards that can integrate in financials and trends.

Note that there is a free 14-day trial to take LiquidPlanner out for a test drive before you commit.

5. Basecamp: Best for collaboration

(Image credit: Basecampe)

An effective tool for collaborating on projects

Reasons to buy
+The ability to create group chats+A weighty veteran solution
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive for SMBs

Basecamp is one of the oldest project management solutions, having been around for more than ten years, building a reputation which makes it a highly credible tool for businesses that work on big projects.

The latest version of the app offers a variety of helpful features, including the ability to send direct messages for quick discussions, set up a schedule so you only get notifications within work hours, and show your appreciation for colleagues by clicking an applause button. Basecamp avoids a fragmented workflow, and as the firm says, it keeps “discussions, tasks, files, schedules and chat in one place.”

There are some nifty functions for dealing with clients, too. For instance, you can easily save and track client feedback and approvals, and you can also get reports on how projects are going. And when you want to collaborate with others, you can create group chats.

A free version lets you work on up to 3 projects with up to 20 people, to allow you to try out the software. After that there's only a single paid-for plan, which includes all features and an unlimited number of users, making this a great deal for teams but not so much for individual users.

6. Podio: Best for new project ideas

(Image credit: Citrix)

A communication-first app for generating project ideas

Reasons to buy
+The option of in-app purchases+Useful IM function
Reasons to avoid
-Premium plans are expensive

Podio has been designed for professionals who are always working on multiple projects and generating new ideas. More than 400,000 businesses and teams from across the world are using it, including the likes of Sony, Volvo and the NFL. 

With the Podio app, you have the ability to create tasks and customize them based on your workflow, taking into account deadlines and responsibilities. There’s also a built-in instant messaging function which you can use to share ideas and see how others are getting on with delegated tasks. Additionally, there is a handy tool for getting quick feedback without having to send several emails.

There are integrations with third-party services such as Dropbox and Google Drive, meaning you can share content quickly and easily. Podio is available in a number of additional languages, including French, German, Danish, Chinese, Spanish and Russian.

On the web, there is a free tier with a limit of up to five employees. 

More project management software reviews

See the following reviews for more worthy contenders for best project management software:

What is Agile project management?

This section is authored by Cliff Berg, Agile evangelist

Some people claim that Agile does not have a place for the role of the project manager. That is a harsh claim, though, and it is a little like someone who has just turned 18 saying to their parents, “I don’t need a parent anymore”.

The role of a project manager was firmly established before the Agile movement, largely because work on software was usually organized as a project: that is, a chunk of work that was budgeted for, and was scheduled for, and for which requirements were defined up front.

Today, software is best viewed as a living thing: once you create it, you need to keep evolving it. Thus, the view that you create it and then maintain it, and that if you ever need to change it you propose a project - that approach is too slow and cumbersome. Instead, one needs to build the evolution of the product into its process for creating and maintaining it.

It is like for most living things, most creatures are not born and then stay the same, and then at some point undergo a metamorphosis and change to a new state. Some do that, but most are born and then continue to evolve and change continuously throughout their lives. Software is like that today - or needs to be, to keep pace with today’s market demands, let alone stay ahead of the market.

The “project” construct is based on a corporate finance model whereby an organization is in a steady state, and one then proposes a “project” and an accompanying ROI analysis - usually through an annual planning cycle - that will change the organization to a new state. That heavyweight and plodding approach is an obsolete model. Today, change needs to be continuous. The construct of “project” should be reserved for things that need an unusual boost - a “one-off” step change - but most things need continuous change, so most things should not be funded as projects.

A better way to look at automated business systems is as products: things that comprise a capability, that have a life cycle, and that are continuously being enhanced.

If most business initiatives are not funded and managed as projects, then there is less of a need for project managers; but project managers have skills that are still needed.

Unfortunately, the top-heavy methods of the 1990s created a community of project managers who were trained in those top-heavy methods. It is those methods that are largely obsolete for software. They still work for other things, such as building construction, but software is just too dynamic. Software is not like a building: you cannot see it, you cannot assess at a glance how “done” it is, it connects in myriad ways, rather than only in three dimensions. It is different every time,  you never build the same software twice, even though there can be some requirements that are repeated.

That means that the process of building software is not repeatable, and so it cannot be managed as such. It is a highly creative process, and there is a lot of trial and error in it. One cannot fully design software upfront; one has to create a tentative high-level design, build it and alter the design as one discovers some elements don't work right until everything fits and works in the end. This is a craftsmanship of unique products that won’t be the same again.

Such efforts need leadership, and organization, and decision making, and inspiration. The function of management includes all these things, by definition, and thus, there is very much a role for managers; but what does not work is an autocratic manager who tells everyone what to do, or one who sits at their desk checking off documents. Instead, leadership is needed, from the managers and from others, and the kinds of leadership that work are those that encourage thoughtfulness, rational Socratic discussion, and transparent decision making. People need a high degree of autonomy - not complete autonomy, but a lot. They also need a lot of coordination, and those who lead need to be good listeners and always watching for issues that are being overlooked.