The Best Project Management Software Programs
The best project management software accommodates every kind of project, from ongoing day-to-day work to big-picture initiatives. We looked for the software that can help any project thrive, with a wealth of reporting and scheduling features and an intuitive design. We spent a week testing 10 of the most popular options and found five top picks that can work with any team.
How We Chose the Best Project Management Software Programs
Ease of use
Project management software is only helpful if your team can actually use it. Of the 10 we tested, many boasted an impressive list of features and capabilities — but it felt like you needed a computer science degree to utilize them. The worst offenders had interfaces that were so packed with intricate filters and time tracking tools that it was hard to figure out how to perform basic functions like adding tasks and projects. While experienced project managers might love this kind of functionality, cluttered screens and an over-abundance of features make it harder for the whole team to learn.
For most teams, project management software is one of many products they depend on every day. With that in mind, it makes sense that the best project management software plays nicely with other programs.
For cloud storage, we preferred software with plenty of integrations with popular options like Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive. Integration with messaging apps like Slack and Hipchat was also key, allowing you to get notifications and send updates in the places you’re already frequenting. All of our top picks include integrations with Google Drive, Dropbox, and Slack, with two exceptions: Basecamp lacks storage integrations, and Slack is missing from Casual’s lineup.
After the essential functions of managing tasks and calendars, one of the most important tools for project managers is the ability to easily report out on the data that’s being collected by their software. Reporting tools facilitate tracking expenses or analyzing the time allocation of tasks. The best project management software takes the work out of visualizing information for managers — all without bogging down the user experience for the rest of the team. Software like Asana and monday.com fared especially well here, with options to export a project’s data into Google Sheets or Excel.
While file storage and reporting tools are boons for managers, keeping work on schedule is likely the reason you’re purchasing project management software in the first place. The best project scheduling software lets you break down projects into trackable tasks; this helps each team member stay up to date with the parts of the project they’re responsible for while showing the bigger picture of the entire team’s workload. With so many tasks to keep track of, managers need tools to assign roles and permissions to their teams.
Surprisingly, not every software we looked at offered these types of features. In our search for the best, we gave credit to products like Asana and monday.com, which made assigning and viewing tasks a breeze. In both cases, a user’s photo and initials are attached to every task, so you can instantly see who is responsible for what. Freedcamp, on the other hand, forces you to click on each specific task (which frustratingly opens a new browser tab) to see the user assigned to it.
We love anything that declutters our email inbox. And while project management programs probably won’t be your team’s go-to method of communicating — messaging apps like Slack and Hipchat will always have the edge here — we wanted to find the software that gave us the best of both worlds. Having access to a built-in live chat feature not only cuts down on endless email chains, but it also enables the team to make decisions on the fly in the context of a project or task. The best software has both one-on-one chat for private conversations and group chat for brainstorming sessions, project-related chatter, and even the occasional gif or two.
The 5 Best Project Management Software Programs
- Asana – Best Task Management Tool
- Basecamp – Best Communication Tool
- monday.com – Best for Beginners
- Casual – Best for Visual Thinkers
- Trello – Best Free Project Management Software
- Simple task management
- Comprehensive reporting tools
- Third-party integrations
- Intuitive mobile app
- Steeper learning curve
- No direct messaging
Why we chose it
Simple task management
For a project management software’s most essential function — keeping your team on track and in step through every phase of a project — Asana did the best job of any product we tested. We appreciated how it balanced an individual’s workload with the bigger picture of the entire team. Your personal deadlines and tasks are always in view, but it’s also just as easy for managers to track the entire team’s progress with features like automated progress charts and team-wide task calendars. The way Asana breaks down huge projects into manageable and easy-to-follow pieces makes it the most intuitive task management system of the bunch.
Comprehensive reporting tools
Asana also has a number of tools that make it simple for managers to capture a bird’s-eye view of their team’s progress. One of the ones we liked the most was the ability to automatically export a project’s data into Google Sheets. Once there, the spreadsheet is already organized into practical sections like the number of overdue, completed, or in-progress tasks for all of your projects. Your report comes pre-loaded with two tools depending on what’s in your Dashboard — ours had two graphs showing the number of overdue, assigned, and incomplete tasks by project — but we found it simple to tailor to our specific needs.
One of the biggest talking points in reviews of Asana is how seamlessly it fits with other programs. We saw that clearly in our testing: Asana has the best collection of third-party integrations of any software out there. You can set up notifications or create new tasks in messaging apps like Slack and Hipchat, attach files from storage programs like Google Drive and OneDrive, and automatically create Asana tasks in development services like Jira and GitHub. It was the only software in our tests that offered integrations with all six of those popular apps. We also loved the Chrome extension, which allows you to create a task from any page with only a couple of clicks.
Intuitive mobile app
If you want to double-check your calendar or the status of your tasks while you’re away from your computer, a functional mobile app can eliminate a lot of headaches. Asana’s is one of the most well-received in the industry, earning a 4.8 rating on over 2,000 reviews in the App Store and a 4.3 on over 20,000 reviews in Google Play. That’s just about even with Basecamp and Trello, and well above monday.com and Casual.
It’s easy to see why. Asana’s interface translates incredibly well to a mobile screen; all of your tasks, messages, and projects are accessible with one click from anywhere in the app, so you never have to spend much time probing around. You won’t want to use it for everything — exporting data would be pretty cumbersome, for example — but it’s nice to have around for more basic functions.
Points to consider
Steeper learning curve
Because of Asana’s considerable project management capabilities, it can take a little more time to learn than other software, especially if your team is used to something more limited. It’s unclear at first how you should be using your Dashboard, for example: You must add projects in order to take advantage of its functions, meaning you’re initially presented with a blank screen.
Still, even if tools like these aren’t totally intuitive when you first start using Asana, the crucial aspects for most team members — task and calendar management — are front and center. Asana also has an enormous library of resources and tutorials for using the software, so most issues can be addressed without too much trouble.
No direct messaging
While having a conversation with your entire team in Asana is incredibly simple, we couldn’t find any easy way to directly message our team members, something that was pretty standard on other software we tested. While there is a workaround — you can create a private project for messaging and invite each individual into separate conversations within the project — it’s enough of a hassle that most people will probably just stick with Slack or email.
- Great for group discussions
- Flat monthly price
- Stellar apps
- Sub-par task management
- Lacks reporting tools
Why we chose it
Great for group discussions
Basecamp’s biggest draw is that it’s a one-stop shop for all of your team’s communications, eliminating lengthy email threads. It functions like a message board — you can post a topic to your team’s page, and everyone with access can add to the conversation for as long as they want. You can also set up recurring prompts each week or month to spur conversations within your team. Questions like “What was a successful project you worked on this month?” might be cumbersome or awkward to to send in an email or Slack, but they work perfectly with Basecamp’s format. We also loved the ability to add email notifications to important topics, so team members won’t miss out on anything.
Flat monthly price
Basecamp has one of the simplest pricing structures of any project management software on the market at $99 per month, no strings attached. Granted, that’s a lot for smaller teams, but for anyone with more than a dozen users, Basecamp is an absolute steal. You can have as many users as you want, and you don’t have to commit to anything longer than a month.
Because Basecamp excels as a communication tool, we appreciated that it has dedicated apps for any kind of device. Instead of getting an email for every new message (or being forced to check a browser periodically), you can set up Basecamp notifications on your phone or desktop for exactly what you need to know about — for instance, if you’re mentioned in a conversation or if a thread you’re following has a new comment.
We found both the desktop and mobile apps to be well-designed and intuitive, which was backed up by user reviews. Both apps are unanimously well-received, earning a 4.7 rating on over 15,000 reviews in the App Store and a 4.4 on over 2,500 reviews in Google Play. Along with Asana and Trello, that was the loudest endorsement we heard for any project management software out there.
Points to consider
Sub-par task management
It’s hard to imagine using Basecamp as your team’s primary task management system. Each user has a list of assignments, but they’re little more than a to-do list. We found it difficult to track all of the moving parts of a project at once, let alone several overlapping ones. When you open the calendar, you can’t see at a glance what everyone is working on and how much progress is being made on each project; it just shows you how many tasks are due each day. This works fine as a basic to-do list for your team, but we found it to be one of the more limited task management interfaces.
Lacks reporting tools
Basecamp also doesn’t include any tools to help you visualize what’s going on with your team. Unlike Asana, which automatically turns calendar and task data into useful visuals, Basecamp leaves that work to you. If you’re looking for advanced project management tools beyond team communication, you’ll be better suited to one of our other picks.
- Personalized design
- Customizable templates
- Shareable with outside clients
- Limited tools
- Expensive for small teams
Why we chose it
Out of all of the project management programs we tested, monday.com was the one that allowed us to really hit the ground running. Everything about this software is intuitive. The sidebar menu is divided into “Talks” and “Boards.” Within these, you can track ongoing “pulses”: specific tasks, entire projects, or even potential clients. We like how monday.com doesn’t force you into any one approach for tracking your tasks and projects; however you would naturally think about your work, it accommodates you.
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If you do need a little help getting started (or just don’t want to manually input all relevant labels for your projects), monday.com comes pre-loaded with 44 different templates, broken up into sectors like marketing, HR, and software development. This structured approach makes the setup process a little less painful, especially for people who aren’t used to working with project management software.
Once you do get used to the platform, there are still options to customize according to your team’s needs. Want to break down “task date” into a start date and a due date in the Team Tasks template? Just click the plus sign next to the task and choose “Date” for the new column type. No matter how we wanted to customize the template, it never took more than a few clicks to achieve.
Shareable with outside clients
If you want to keep people outside of your organization up to date on specific projects and timelines, monday.com was the only software in our tests that provided a “shareable boards” feature. This is especially useful for clients who want to monitor the status of their project, or for freelancers who would benefit from seeing an individual project’s calendar without necessarily needing access to the team’s entire workload.
Points to consider
The same thing that makes monday.com a great place for beginners might make it feel limiting for more detail-oriented users. Part of the reason it’s so easy to use is that it doesn’t have as extensive a collection of features and tools as software like Asana. Instead, it focuses on organizing your tasks and projects in the most intuitive way possible — something it does really well. It won’t automatically visualize data for you, it doesn’t have many financial management tools, and project managers raised on Gantt charts might miss that tool (although monday.com makes a pretty compelling case on its blog for abandoning them).
Expensive for small teams
If your team only consists of a few people, monday.com probably isn’t worth the price of admission. While most companies charge per user, monday.com uses eight different tiers of pricing depending on your company size. The smallest one is for five users at $39 per month for the Standard plan. For comparison, Asana costs $6.25 per user for teams with fewer than 15 users. For three-person teams, that’s about half the price of monday.com.
- Visual project maps
- Storage compatibility
- Affordable pricing for small teams
- Lacks tools for bigger teams
- Subpar mobile app
Why we chose it
Visual project maps
Casual has one of the most visually pleasing and intuitive interfaces of any project management software we saw. It works like a mindmap: The main page is an infinite grid that you can populate with tasks and arrange in whatever manner makes sense for your project. Within those tasks, you can assign multiple team members and a due date, plus upload any relevant files. And if a task requires multiple smaller steps to complete, you can convert it to a group, which creates a mini-project inside the task. We’ll be honest, most project management programs feel like work. Casual was the only one we tested that was actually fun to mess around with, taking us back to afternoons in computer class doodling in MS Paint.
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For a smaller and more affordable project management system, Casual has storage integrations that rival much bigger names. You can import files from every conceivable cloud-based service: Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, and Box are all built right into the system, allowing you to attach relevant documents, spreadsheets, or images to any task or project. Of our five top picks, Asana was the only other program to include integrations with these four main storage services.
Affordable pricing for small teams
Casual has one of the friendliest pricing structures for smaller teams that we saw. Companies usually charge one of two ways: per user (usually around $10 per month, with prices decreasing for more users) or a flat rate every month (anywhere from $45 to $99 per month). With both of these options, teams with only a few people end up paying more. Casual charges $7 for up to two users and $21 for up to five, ensuring you’ll never pay more than $7 per user no matter what size your team is.
Points to consider
Lacks tools for bigger teams
Casual’s intuitive layout and small team pricing does come with some drawbacks: It doesn’t have nearly the same level of functionality as an all-around tool like Asana. It’s a fairly bare-bones task management system, focusing on helping you get your projects done on time and in the simplest way possible. We missed the ability to communicate with our team members within the program, which would get especially problematic if you have a larger team trying to navigate one project. It also doesn’t come with a ton of third-party integrations. While the essential storage options are all there, Casual lacks support for communication apps like Slack and development products like Jira.
Subpar mobile app
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While it wasn’t the worst that we tried (that distinction would go to Aha!), Casual’s appealing layout doesn’t translate well to its mobile app. Instead of the limitless grid we loved so much on our desktop, the mobile app gives you a basic list of tasks. It’s also worth noting that you can’t create a new account through the app; you can only log into an existing one. This was a big reason for Casual’s mediocre three-star rating on Google Play.
- Generous free version
- Easy to learn
- Highly rated desktop and mobile apps
- No calendar view
- 10 MB file size limit
- Limited integrations
*Price goes down for teams with 300+ users
Why we chose it
Generous free version
While a lot of free project management software limits you to a certain number of users, projects, and tasks, Trello’s free version is completely unlimited in all of these areas. You can create as many boards as you need, assign tasks throughout your team, and take full advantage of Trello’s desktop and mobile app functionality. You also have access to the huge collection of templates and sample boards that are tailored to specific types of projects, a nice add-on that we didn’t see in any other free software.
Easy to learn
Trello has one of the simplest designs of any project management software that we tested. Like Asana, each project is its own board, with tasks divided into easily scannable phases; once a task is complete, you just drag it into the next phase on your board. It’s extremely intuitive and simple to customize. After a few minutes of playing around with it, we were just as comfortable setting up team projects for work as we were creating private boards for potential vacation spots.
Highly rated desktop and mobile apps
Along with Basecamp, Trello was one of the only project management programs we saw that has desktop apps for both Mac and PC in addition to mobile apps. They were also some of the most well-received, scoring a 4.7 on over 2,000 reviews in the App Store and a 4.5 on over 73,000 in Google Play. The desktop apps aren’t just glorified versions of the browser, either. You can customize your notifications for things like new comments on a task, when something is moved from one phase to another, or if someone uploads an attachment to a task you’re following. It’s a nice middle ground for those of us who don’t necessarily need email notifications for everything but still want to stay up to date without constantly checking browsers.
Points to consider
No calendar view
The biggest obstacle to using Trello’s free software for most project managers is the lack of a calendar view. There’s no way to monitor your entire team’s workload automatically without this — managers have to manually track hours and tasks outside of the app. Calendar view is available through a “Power-Up,” but Trello only allows one of these in its free version.
10 MB file size limit
Another constraint Trello puts on its free version is a 10 MB size limit on files uploaded from your computer. When you upgrade to the cheapest paid plan, that size goes all the way up to 250 MB. 10 MB is roughly the size limit most email services use for their attachments, so if your team is already running into that issue, it might be worth upgrading to a paid plan or considering an alternate file sharing system.
Trello only allows one third-party integration (which it calls a “Power-Up”) in its free version. This doesn’t apply to cloud storage services — Trello lets you attach files from Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and OneDrive for free — but limits more specialized integrations with apps like Jira and Slack. These can be extremely helpful if your team is already relying on other software. If you want to get notifications in Slack when someone adds you to a task, for example, you would have to use a Power-Up. If you upgrade to the paid version of Trello, the number of Power-Ups you have access to is unlimited.
Guide to Project Management Software
How to get the most out of your project management software
Determine who will use the software
The size of your team tells you a lot about the software you need. A smaller team will want a simple system for organizing tasks and schedules, while a manager with dozens of employees will need a full roster of reporting tools and integrations.
Establish your team’s needs
“When you know what your business needs, you can draw up a shortlist of features that will help you narrow down the project management software products that will help your business take the next step,” project management expert Elizabeth Harrin advises. Poll your team and see what they’d like to get out of a new tool and where the current system is falling short.
Evaluate which products fit your budget. Team size also comes into play here: Companies usually charge either a flat monthly rate or a rate per user. In general, teams with more than 10 people will save by choosing a flat rate plan.
Aside from Basecamp, all of our top picks offer a hefty discount for committing to a full year rather than going month-to-month. A 20-person team using Asana’s Premium plan, for instance, would save $480 by paying for an entire year upfront. If you’ve tested out a few options and feel comfortable paying that initial lump-sum bill, you’ll see significant savings in the long run.
Test-drive a few options
Almost every software offers a 30-day free trial, and we recommend taking full advantage of it. Have your team schedule a project with each one and solicit their feedback on which they preferred, what kinds of problems they anticipate, and how it would impact their work. That way, when it comes time to fully rely on a new software, it won’t be completely unfamiliar.
Project Management Software FAQ
Project management software is a broad term for any program that’s dedicated to keeping projects on schedule, on budget, and on target. Most project management software includes features like time tracking, file sharing, communication, task management, and reporting tools.
In general, task management software is designed more for individuals than teams. Products marketed for task management usually don’t have much in the way of communication tools or file sharing, instead focusing on keeping a single person on schedule. These are usually available for free, as they don’t have the breadth of tools you’ll find in most project management software.
We recommend trying out three options. According to research from Capterra, those who demoed three products reported being the most satisfied with their choice. Fewer than that didn’t give them enough information, and more proved to be too much. Every software has a learning curve, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed if you test too many products. Setting clear standards on what features you need and what budget you’re working with will do a lot of the heavy lifting for you.
By the time you’re ready to test project management software, you’ve likely picked a few options that have all of the features and tools you’ll need. Here are some of the things you should look for in testing:
- An interface that’s intuitive to navigate and learn
- Responsive customer service that’s reachable by email, phone, or chat
- Functional mobile and desktop apps
- Integrations with other software that your team uses