The Best Services & Tools for Project Managers

When I started as a project manager, there were just a few project management tools available, and assets were stored on a hosted server that required FTP access. If you worked in Windows, you created your project plan in MS Project. If you were a Mac person, Merlin was its equivalent. Both were secure, robust tools, but they were slow and inconvenient.

Then, in 2008, a whole slew of new project management tools begun hitting the market — from the robust, mimicking MS Project with many features and benefits, to the stripped down and slick, resembling a cleanly designed, intuitive consumer app. Over all, things became simpler and more streamlined. But with all the new tools available, it was hard to decide which were best.

Over the last few years, I’ve tested out a number of project management tools with the goal of constructing the best workflow strategy for our team. The following is where we’ve landed for a comprehensive suite of project management tools.

Planning

For planning projects and building schedules, TeamGantt is a good-looking, user-friendly projectrsz_3teamgantt-shot planner. Mapping out tasks and milestones is easy, as is adding resources and exporting into calendars with drag and drop functionality. It’s a good tool for marketing and design projects with fairly straightforward milestones, but for large-scale development projects — which are usually very detailed and require lots of sub-tasks — it would probably be too light. It’s primarily a Gantt-based planner, but recently they’ve added a list view, which some people will find helpful.

Organization

Dropbox is a great tool for project organization and storage. You’re probably already familiar with how Dropbox works: private folders can be created for management, shared folders for assets, and reviews and restrictions can be implemented for client and contractor designated folders. Its UI is intuitive, tidy and has functionality that most users will recognize. It’s accessible from your desktop or via the web. It’s secure, and sure beats depending on FTP access.

Collaboration

Face-to-face collaboration is hard to beat, but sometimes that’s just not an option. When remote collaboration is required, GoToMeeting is our favorite conference call tool with screen sharing. It provides an easy dial-in number, web link and sensible interface. The picture and sound quality is high. It also helps that most of our collaborators have experience using it, making them familiar with the functionality.

For more conversational collaboration sessions — ones where no screen sharing required — Google Hangouts is perfect. It feels more inclusive than a conference call, but just as easy to initiate.

Google Docs is also a collaboration favorite. Its word-processing features and spreadsheets — which let multiple parties make revisions simultaneously — are a revelation for any fast-moving creative team. It’s a simple solution to version control, and very easy to share.

rsz_pinterest-boardSharing visuals and/or creating mood boards is often part of our strategy; Pinterest is a clever way we like to get the job done. Multiple users can pin to the same board and it can be collaboratively edited and reviewed easily. It is smart, communicative tool when a picture is worth a thousand words.

Tracking

Unless you choose a project management tool that has built-in time tracking, a separate tool is rsz_1first-page-of-harvest1needed for this. Harvest is our go-to time tracking program. It’s super easy to use, intuitive, and has nice UI and a simple dashboard. Projects can be set up easily and resourced. Hours can be logged and reported effortlessly. It also ties into invoicing, estimating and expenses. We love it.

These are the tools that currently works best for our agency. By piecing together an à la carte collection, we’ve been able to create a well-rounded, high-functioning project management system at glassCanopy… Although, I’m always on the lookout for new tools gaining momentum and buzz.

Honorable mention

The following were also strong contenders in my search, and are tools worth mentioning:

Clarizen is an incredibly robust tool that covers pretty much every project management and administrative need. It’s a project planner, has collaboration capabilities, and tracks and incorporates basic HR admin tools. It would be a great resource for large companies, massive development projects, and projects with many remote contributors.

Tom’s Planner is approachable and intuitive. It’s a friendlier version of MS Project; so, many project managers feel at home with it. Tom’s Planner’s varied collection of templates is also impressive. The templates have the main structure, stages and tasks of different types of projects, pre-set by specialists in the field, so that all you need to do is customize them to your exact needs.

Basecamp is not a project planning tool, but more of a project collaboration tool. It’s been around since 1999, and is very well established. It’s a good tool for teams who need to collaborate remotely or companies that work with contractors. It offers decent file sharing and commenting functionalities, and it’s easy to use.

rsz_11screen_shot_2014-05-04_at_125302_pmThere’s been (and still is) a lot of buzz around Trello. I initially wrote it off as a good looking task manager best suited for tracking personal to do’s. But with the continued rave reviews, I want to give it deeper consideration. It’s very visual and built around the concept of boards (projects) and cards (grouping of things you need to do). It looks fun and quite different from other collaboration tools, which seems to resonate with many users.

The search for the perfect project management tool will probably never end. New and improved products will continue to hit the market and process junkies like me will continue to explore and evaluate — good luck to us all!

Melanie Barter

Melanie is an executive producer with a creative background in film, digital and marketing. She is originally from Toronto and has worked in Hong Kong, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. She has been in San Francisco since 2004.

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