The Best Project Management Software for 2021

What Is Project Management Software?

Let’s say you’re building a house. It’s a complex process in which some tasks must be done in a particular order. You cannot install windows if you haven’t put up the walls yet. You probably have dozens of contractors working on the house, and you have to know which days they are available to pour the foundation, lay the tile, and so forth. Then you have to schedule them based not only on their availability but also on each task happening in the right order. The way to manage a complex project like this one, including all the jobs that need to be done by whom and when, is to use project management software.

Project management software is a type of online collaborative app where everyone who’s working on a project can log in and see what they’re supposed to do and when. They also record their progress on those tasks and add relevant details, such as notes about any changes. People who have the right permission level can see what everyone else is doing or will need to do and when. For the person or people managing the project, the app provides a clear overview of the project and its health. Are all the tasks on track to be completed on time? If one task is late, how does that affect the projected deadlines of other tasks? Is someone available to pick up an urgent task if the person assigned to do it is ill?


Gantt chart view in Zoho ProjectsZoho Projects’ Gantt chart view

How We Choose the Best Apps

For this roundup of the best project management apps, we evaluated and tested more than 25 project management platforms and have included here the products with the highest scores. Inclusion is based on PCMag’s independent testing and evaluation. In determining scores, we consider the needs of a variety of business types, including small business on a budget and large organizations that need to manage many projects, people, and budgets simultaneously.

For the purpose of this category, we stick to traditional project management apps. These apps are specifically created to manage projects, rather than ongoing work. A project is a set of work with a start date, an end date, and a deliverable.

To be included in this roundup, the app must offer Gantt charts, which is a type of timeline view that’s commonly used in project management. All the apps included here also have other standard tools for tracking, organizing, and scheduling project-based work.

There are many other excellent collaboration apps that sometimes get called project management apps, such as Trello, Basecamp, and Airtable. While some collaboration or work-management apps are very capable at managing certain kinds of projects, they aren’t necessarily designed for juggling the complexities of dozens or hundreds of projects and their schedules simultaneously. Therefore, we don’t include them here.

What Can You Do With a Project Management App?

Project management apps let you track and manage nearly any kind of project, such as the creation of a new product, building a house or website, or launching a marketing campaign. Teams that use project management apps are typically tracking more than one project at a time. The software helps them figure out when to schedule work based on when things need to get done and the human resources available to do it.

The very best project management apps detect problems before they happen. By tracking the progress of work, they can sound an alarm when a deadline is in danger of slipping, but before it happens. The most powerful project management apps also offer to automatically reflow the project schedule when tasks do fall off course. They generate reports that give managers insight into which team members have too much or too little work assigned to them. Many let you track project budgets, too, and log billable hours so that you can send invoices to clients for time worked.

TeamGantt full viewTeamGantt’s Gantt chart and workload view

The Best Free Project Management Software

A few of the best project management software systems have free versions. Usually, these free versions are severely limited in some way. For example, you might be allowed to manage only one or two projects or invite only a handful of people to work alongside you. Plus, you usually don’t get all the best features of the app in the free version. Still, if you have a small team and need to only manage one or two projects, it might work.

You can get a free account from Zoho Projects, Teamwork, Wrike, TeamGantt, ProofHub, plus a few others that did not make this list, such as Volerro and AceProject.

Redmine, which did make this list, is a 100-percent free project management app, but you have to install and maintain it yourself. It’s not an off-the-shelf product, but rather an open-source alternative.

Teamwork dashboardTeamwork’s project management dashboard

The Best Project Management Apps for Small Businesses

If your team needs to manage and track a couple of projects, but you’re less concerned with employee scheduling, collecting timesheets to bill clients, and comparing the progress of dozens of projects in development, a low-cost tool such as Zoho Projects (about $3-$6 per person per month) or Teamwork ($12.50 per person per month) is the best bet. We also like GanttPRO and TeamGantt for small teams on a budget.

There’s no need to spend more than about $15 per person per month if you aren’t going to use the tools that are unique to more expensive software, so stick with something low-cost.

The Best Project Management Apps for Large Organizations

Large organizations have starkly different needs than small businesses. Organizations with hundreds or thousands of employees and hundreds of projects use project management apps for scheduling, insights into their resources, budget-tracking, revenue projection, time-tracking for billing purposes, among other reasons.

For a large company, it’s important to be able to manage not just individuals, but also teams. If you have 15 hours of work for a junior designer, and it doesn’t matter which junior designer does it, you want to be able to see how much work each junior designer has assigned to them and whether you can free up one of them for the task.

For the same reason, all the managers and team leads in your company should be able to see what tasks are high priority and which projects are in danger of slipping so that they can triage accordingly.

For large organizations handling complex projects and many team members, our top choice is LiquidPlanner, with Celoxis not far behind it.

Wrike spaces newWrike’s Inbox and Spaces view

The Best Project Management App With Special Features

Teams that aren’t quite small businesses, but also aren’t enormous organizations may have special needs that they want their project management software to address.

For example, for managing both project and non-project work, we recommend Wrike or Celoxis. (LiquidPlanner is a good pick too, but it’s best for large groups.) If your team spends a lot of time discussing and iterating visual assets, ProofHub is a great choice. Volerro has some tools for proofing, too, although it didn’t score high enough to make this roundup. Smartsheet is good for building automations into your project management.

Paymo, another app that didn’t quite score highly enough for this roundup, comes with billing and invoicing software built right into it.

Choosing What’s Best for Your Team

Choosing the right project management software can take time, but it’s worth it to get it right before rolling it out to an entire team. Project management apps typically have a significant setup cost. Even when they are simple to learn to use and let you import data, it still takes time to fine-tune the app to do what you need it to do and then get everyone on board using it.

When making a decision on which app to use, it’s important to consider what kind of work your team does, how many people are in the organization, and how you want to run your business. There are a lot of excellent options to fit every budget.

With a reliable project management app in place, people can collaborate with greater ease on project work. Plus, business owners and team managers can get useful insights into how their teams work, whether projects are on track, and how to guide them back to a successful place when they slip.

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