Project managers are responsible for executing the plans handed off from product management. This hand-off means delivering on schedule and obligatory herding of cats required to pull it all off.

They must track timelines, resource allocations, budgets, issues, and more. On top of that, project managers must continually communicate status to stakeholders. Project managers ensure everyone involved in implementation and delivery is on the same page and has the information they need to perform their assigned tasks.

There’s no way to manage all those details in their head. Whiteboards and sticky notes are seldom up to the job. While Excel and Google Sheets might suffice, it’s not their purpose. That’s why project managers rely on purpose-built tools.

So what are the go-to products project managers want in their toolbox before starting a new project? Let’s take a look at four surefire winners they love.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Project Management Tool

Savvy shoppers always evaluate many factors before throwing down their credit card (or purchase order) and pulling the trigger on a purchase. When assessing the choices for project management tools, buyers should think about the following:

Price

Almost every product has free trials, low introductory rates, or per-seat pricing. That makes it easy to click the buy button, but project managers should think about the long-term costs of owning and heavily using each product. Pay particular attention to variable pricing that might shoot up if the tool becomes a core part of the product development process.

Carefully consider any per-seat pricing, storage-based plans, or other models that increase the monthly or annual nut significantly with increased usage. No one wants the CFO to pull the plug if there are widespread adoption, and the costs skyrocket.

At the same time, if you do need the functionality a particular tool offers, don’t cheap out! Make the business case that it’s worth the investment.

Usability

If the tool is worth buying, you’re probably going to use it a lot. And depending on its nature, there might be a lot of other coworkers using it heavily as well. The last thing you want is something clunky, hard to understand, or easily broken.

Make sure the product is intuitive, so you’re not continually providing training and support. People should “get” it easily, understand its value, and find using it pleasurable (or at least not unpleasant).

If it makes people’s lives harder, they’re unlikely to embrace it. This likelihood diminishes its value to the organization and limits its benefits to you.

Integrations

You want tools that work well together and with things the organization already uses. Tools that require duplicating work or don’t automatically stay in sync with the rest of the process might become more trouble than it’s worth.

Think about the entire stack of tools used in the whole product lifecycle and not just your individual favorites. Will it play nice with CRM and support tools? Is it simpatico with engineering’s code and release management solution?

Read the agile product manager's guide to building better products ➜

Features and Function of Project Management Tools

While this might seem obvious, you’ll want to figure out exactly what each tool can and can’t do and see if it’s the right fit for your needs. There’s plenty of marketing hype and fans for many of these tools, but you only care about your personal use case.

Decide what you want out of a tool and see how well it can meet those needs. Where it falls short, can you live with it long-term, or will it eventually cause you to get frustrated and move on?

Comparison shopping is the responsible thing to do. You’re not only talking about the cost of the tool itself but the time and energy it requires to set it up, train folks and migrate data to the platform. No one wants to change tools more than necessary.

4 Project Management Tools to Consider

To help narrow down your search for fan-favorite project management tools, here are five that consistently rank highly with professional project managers.

Jira

Jira is Atlassian’s issue and project tracking software. It has become the “default” for many Agile teams over the years for a good reason. While some may only think of it as a bug or issue tracker, it boasts a rich and extensive set of features honed and polished over time.

It tracks everything you enter, whether it’s one of the bugs or a task, customer service ticket, or feature request. Jira assigns every item to an owner and can be placed within Epics, Stories, Sprints, and so forth. It also includes scrum boards, kanban boards, and agile reporting.

It’s also extremely customizable, and there is a vast marketplace of add-ons, some of which create automatic integrations with other tools and systems. Jira is also well-loved because it works for organizations of any size, be they a small team or a vast enterprise.

For small teams, the startup price is also attractive at $10/month for up to 10 users. After that, for cloud-based instances, you’re looking at either $7/month/user or $14/month/user depending on the plan selected. There’s a free seven-day trial to kick the tires, plus enterprises can also install it locally on their server or at their preferred data center.

GitHub

GitHub initially made a splash for its coding collaboration and version control capabilities. But it also boasts a robust set of project management features. GitHub users can create an issue (such as a bug or new idea) and then create related tasks and assign them to team members.

From there, project managers can keep things organized with project kanban boards to prioritize and create workflows. As work progresses, project managers can see each issue’s current state and get notified whenever there are comments, or its state has changed.

GitHub’s version control and storage functionality can also come in handy when it comes to documentation, ensuring everyone is working off the latest-and-greatest copy.

Since developers need version control tools, GitHub can be an inexpensive way to manage projects, and do so in a familiar environment for developers. $25/month gets you five users for the “Team” option, and then $9/user/month after that.

Trello

Trello is all about keeping things organized. Track everything onto a card in the kanban style. The card’s status is updated as it traverses the various stages of each organization’s process. You can add multiple people to a card (who will then automatically notify them of any changes). Comments can also be added to the card.

Beyond the dead-simple basic functionality above, Trello offers several of automation options. These can save time for frequent, repetitive tasks and integrate with other platforms such as Slack, Jira, or Zendesk. There are also “Power-Ups” add-ons for everything from requesting approvals to automating stand-up updates to tracking hours spent on a particular card.

Trello is also extremely flexible, and you can set up as few or as many steps as you’d like in your process. Not into micromanaging? No problem. Want to break things down into more granular stages? It can do that, too.

Trello’s entry point is its free version, which is pretty robust and supports up to 10 team boards. That could very well be enough for your team, but if not you can upgrade to Business Class for $9.99/month/user or check out the Enterprise version.

Asana

Asana is another kanban-based project management tool. The solution lets you start from scratch or leverage a template to create your projects. Put tasks in different sections or columns to organize the tasks required to get the job done. Then assign them with due dates to the folks responsible.

If you’re curious to see how things are going, there’s a Timeline and Gantt-style view displaying task durations and deadlines. Asana allows you to rearrange workflows or reassign items. Dependencies can also be noted, with individuals getting alerted when those tasks are completed.

Asana injects plenty of fun and flair into the experience, including unicorns and whales, and prides itself on being easy to use and crafted for quick starts. While it isn’t grounded in Agile terminology, there are corresponding ways to utilize every Agile concept (Epics, Sprints, Backlog, etc.) in Asana. It also features automation options, including a custom rules builder and a library of pre-made rules to leverage.

Asana’s free version supports up to 15 people collaborating and using limited functionality. The Premium version is probably required for a sophisticated operation. It runs $10.99/user/month, although there’s a free trial available to give those features a spin.

Takeaways

We’re living in the golden age of project management tools. There are many well-crafted, visually stunning solutions out there boasting a ton of features and integrations.

We’re also lucky to live in the age of free trials, video demos, and no shortage of opinions. Before committing serious dollars to any particular tool you’ve got a number of ways to explore them and see if they’re the right fit for your organization and personal preferences.

But one thing’s for sure— there’s no excuse to keep managing projects in spreadsheets when there are so many superior options available. And while you’re in tool shopping mode, don’t forget to explore how ProductPlan can help you create stunning visual project roadmaps.

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