Project management software can make or break your projects.
There are a ton of options on the market, and as with most things related to project management, tailoring your software choices to your project needs is the way to go. Not the other way around.
I’m often asked about the project management software, tools and methods I use to get and stay organized while managing project tasks and people and stacks of moving parts.
It’s a topic I love to diving into, so in this article I’m going to highlight my top project management software options and why you should consider using them.
I also place a lot of value on keeping notes, tasks and other day-to-day list items organized and top of mind, so I wrote a separate article that highlights organization solutions for project managers and focuses on ways to stay on top of everything.
In the meantime, here’s a rundown of my go-to software solutions:
Slack and Slackbot as Project Management Tools
Slack was a game-changer when I first started using it in 2015, to the extent that I can’t remember how I was ever successful at any job without it.
If you’ve never used Slack, check it out. Odds are the free version will suit your needs, at least at first.
For many teams I work with on Slack, we are able to use the free options without needing to upgrade. I also have a paid account, and among the premium options I’ve found useful are group calls through Slack and integrating users from other Slack instances.
With every Slack instance I set up, I include some basic guidelines for how the channels should be used, and then — this part is important — enforce those guidelines along the way.
Among the basic ground rules: Use channels whenever possible, rather than direct messages, because a major benefit of Slack is fostering transparency for the whole team.
I also use Slackbot heavily to set reminders for action items.
The key to success with Slackbot is to either act on the reminder right away when it pops up or push it back to a time when I might be able to act on it — 20 minutes from now, tomorrow, next week, whatever.
If you don’t act on the Slackbot alert, and let them pile up, you’ll became desensitized to the little red circle and Slackbot will cease being a useful reminder tool.
JIRA: Tickets, Epics, Sprint Boards and Backlogs
JIRA is my go-to for organizing and assigning project tasks when working with teams.
If your clients and other stakeholders want this level of access, JIRA can also be extremely useful for keeping them looped in on work that’s in play and allow them to interact with your project team.
I’ve had numerous clients request access to JIRA projects and then engage with the project team in ticket comments, answering questions and offering input. It has always led to positive outcomes on my projects, so now I encourage it whenever possible.
JIRA’s backlog and sprint boards are fantastic for defining workloads over specific periods of time and for ensuring everyone on the team has a window into everything that’s in play.
Similar to Slack channels, this creates a level of transparency among the team that can really lead to better collaboration, empathy and a general sense of togetherness, all of which can ultimately lead to happier individuals and more successful projects.
I use Epics to organize individual tickets into themed buckets, and custom priority designations and workflow statuses to communicate urgency and track where things stand.
As with any other productivity tool, it’s important to stay on top of whatever workflow guidelines you put in place, so make sure to actively manage how your team is using these items and offer a gentle reminder when needed.
I’m not advocating you micro-manage every aspect of your project team’s life, but the reality is, these tools are only really useful if everyone is on the same page about how to use them.
Hubstaff and Toggle for Time Tracking
For larger team projects, I like Hubstaff for logging and tracking time and creating reports for clients.
It is a particularly powerful tool if you and your team are working for multiple clients on multiple projects, and if you need to be able to generate in-depth reports on time spent or provide screenshots of in-progress work.
Hubstaff also connects nicely to JIRA so you can track time spent on individual tickets, which has been useful for me on multiple occassions.
If I’m just tracking my own time for a smaller project that I’m working on by myself, I prefer Toggl.
It’s a simple timer that can be set up to track multiple clients and projects, and it has a handy desktop app that I keep in the corner of my screen.
It’s possible to use Toggl for team tracking, but I find it most useful when it’s just me.
Trello for Tracking and Managing Projects
For projects or tasks with lots of moving parts, I like Trello.
The Kanban Board concept is something I find very useful, and Trello is nice for collaborating with others and tracking the flow of tasks.
It’s highly customizable, as well; I’ve used Trello for projects and I’ve also used it for planning vacations … all just a matter of how you set up your board, columns and cards.
Sometimes I’ll use Trello along with JIRA for a specific project, if I’m having trouble keeping something organized or if I just need a different view of things. It’s great for quickly identifying action items, tracking their progress through a specific workflow and referencing what was already accomplished.
I’m hopeful you found these suggestions useful.
At the very least, check out the free versions of each of these project management software options and see what you think.
Perhaps some of them will become part of your regular rotation.
Got any suggestions or favorite software solutions for project management? Or general tips on staying organized while managing projects? I’d love to hear what works for you. Please share in the comments below.