What is the best task and project tracking tool for small teams?

I’m someone who manages a lot of projects and activities, both for clients, and for myself personally.  I also have a real interest in small project management, and believe that what gets measured gets managed – if you don’t know where you are, you won’t make true progress.

So I seem to have spent an excessive amount of time reviewing the various project management and to-do list management software tools aimed at small teams.

This post summarises my current thoughts.

Requirements

There are a few things I think are required, or at least highly desirable in a to-do list or basic project management tool.  These tend to be what guides my thinking when reviewing tools.

Task Start and Due dates

Seems pretty obvious, right?  You need to know when a task needs to be done by.  That is the ‘Due Date’.  When is the task due?  Without that, you can’t see what’s late.  Simple.  Nearly all tools have this.

The one that’s less well implemented is the ‘Start Date’.  The start date is the point where you need to start thinking about actually beginning work on a task.  Often they can be the same as the due dates, if the tasks are so short that they are going to be done in one sitting.  But often they aren’t.  Sometimes a task will spread out over several days, or maybe it doesn’t matter exactly when it gets done, but can be done at any point between two dates.  Here you need the ability to set start dates.

The think I love about start dates is that, when implemented properly, you can choose to view your list of tasks without looking at anything where the start date is in the future.  In this way you can effectively hide complexity.  We’ve all had to-do lists with loads of tasks on them.  By using start dates, we can make sense of this – setting the start date in the future for anything we’re not working on now.  In this way we can just focus on what we’re doing now.

Costs that don’t spiral, and that are fair for small teams

We’re talking a small team here.  But if we’re going to put all our stuff into a tool, we mustn’t get to a point where we can’t afford to use the tool.

Tools are typically priced in 2 ways.  Either they charge an amount per user (typically with different plans for access to different features) or they charge an amount for a certain amount of projects.

My word of caution would be that you need to be comfortable you’re not going to exceed the limits – whether that’s users, collaborators or projects.

Also, watch out for systems that charge in blocks of users.  If they take this approach, you’ll end up paying way over the odds if you have a team that’s on the wrong side of a boundary.

Different views on project life

All tools do task lists.  Great.  You’d expect nothing less.  But some tools do other views.

Kanban boards are popular, due partly to their simplicity.  You set up various columns like Backlog, In Progress, For Review, Complete, Archived etc, and you then drag your tasks from one column to the next, depending on where in life they are.  Nice.

Gantt charts are another common view on life.  Here we see all the tasks set out graphically, showing their start and due dates.  It is easy to visualise what is being done when.

Tools often give you the option to see all three views.  You might prefer one or other.  So might your team.  Helps if people can choose what they want.

Setting task order

Often people overly complicate getting stuff done.  My simple approach to remaining focused on one thing rather than many is to use the human ability to assess relative importance.  You often don’t need complex systems of priority and importance. Just do two things:

  • Put the list in order of importance
  • Do the thing at the top of the list

Periodically review the list to make sure it’s in the right order, then keep bashing away at the top.  Easy!

I like a task tool to allow me to work this way.

Soooo…  On to the contenders:

Under review here:

  1. Wrike
  2. Teamwork

 

Wrike

Great system, very powerful.  The major issue here is that unless you want the most basic of versions, it’s going to cost you.

They have a free version, which is fantastic, but it doesn’t have subtasks, so you’re going to out-grow it very quickly.  In reality you’re going to want at least Professional, and more probably Business.  Professional is going to set you back a minimum of $50 a month, because you have to buy 5 users.  In my experience, some products are flexible about this, but not Wrike…

Ellen:
Hello, thank you for visiting. Can I help you in any way?

Me: Hi. You don’t seem to have a solution for teams of 1? I work with my clients, and am looking for a proper solution, but just for one person.

Ellen:
Wrike is a collaborative tool, so we only offer user purchases for 5+

Me: As I said. I collaborate, but with clients.

Ellen: I understand, but the minimum purchase is 5 users, unfortunately

Me: Any reason why?
What if there were four of us?

Ellen: You would still have to buy 5 user seats, we deal with teams so they are always a little under or hugely above 5 people
The tool works best for collaborative teams

They also try hard to tie you into an annual commitment.  Monthly pricing is available for the Professional version, but no others.

Apart from this, Wrike is a pretty powerful solution.  It will scale with you, and you can customise a lot of the tasks so that it becomes the heart of your business processes, which is great if you’re doing the same set of tasks over and over.

Teamwork

Teamwork is by far my favourite of the bunch, if you ignore costs.  I find it very easy to use, and it comes with a good mobile app, and integration with Outlook on Windows (no Mac though 🙁 ).  It used to be charged by project, but now has unlimited projects for the pro version, which is a very reasonable $9 per team member, but they make the same mistake as Wrike and others, by restricting you to 5 team members or up.

It also has a free version which is good, but the free version is next to useless in the real world, because it’s restricted to 2 projects, which just isn’t enough.

So you’re left with a great tool, but if you’ve got a team of 1 person, it’s going to be expensive, at $45 per user.  Not good.  It would be so great if they would just charge the $9 per user from 1 up.  I have no idea why they don’t, as it would allow a small team to pay for pro features, and get embedded with the software before they grow – with this seemingly unfair pricing, some teams will go elsewhere.  Sad, as this is actually a great piece of software, and almost worth it at the full $45 just to have the pleasure of using it.

Me: I’m interested in Pro, but we only have two people at the moment. Is it possible to buy pro for less than 5 people?

Mark McInerney has been assigned to your question

Mark McInerney: Hi Jake.  it’s a minimum of 5 for the Pro Plan.  We do have a free plan for up to 5 users

Me: I know, but it’s limited to 2 projects, which wouldn’t even be enough for one person… Can you not make an exception? I would love to pay you money each month!  I’m also happy to pay annually.

Mark McInerney: unfortunately it’s not possible to sign up for the Pro with less than 5 users.  Sorry I dont have better news on this.  The project limit on the free plan is for active projects only (archived do not count) if thats helps you in anyway

Me:  That’s a real shame. You’re just like Asana – there’s no good reason not to allow us smaller teams to pay for the pro version, but starting with you would cost us over double what a larger team would cost.

Mark McInerney:  To be honest we feel the starting price of $45 per month (Cost for 5 users) is great value for what our product offers

Me:  It is, if you have 5 users. Not so much if you only have one.

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