Taking a vacation is often a catalytic event. It jump-starts your work processes so you get more done in less time — all so you can get out of town on that much-needed holiday. Of all the challenges I hear from entrepreneurs and business owners, “having more time to get the important stuff done” ranks at the top of a short list.
This list is dedicated to getting more done. Hopefully, you’ll complete tasks in less time, more effectively, and more efficiently with one or more of these 20 online project management tools. In the process, we hope you achieve greater profitability, too!
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Microsoft Project is perhaps the best known project management software application on the market. While many argue that it is not for small businesses due to its complexity and learning curve, I can’t leave it off a big list of tools you might consider. They offer a 60-day fully functional free trial here.
Smartsheet is a market leader in online project management because they chose a familiar, comfortable format for their interface: a spreadsheet. Most business owners can get around in a spreadsheet, and therein lies the charm of Smartsheet. It is accessible and offers things spreadsheets don’t – file sharing, Gantt charts and row-level discussions. If you’ve used Excel or Open Office Calc or used the basics of Project, you can use this tool. It is also a top-rated app in the Google App Marketplace. Free 30-day trial. Plans start at $9.95/mo.
5pmWeb came to me via Twitter, so I give them a big thumbs-up for tracking social media around the industry. I mention that because it tells me they take customer service seriously. Their site quickly spells out what they offer: Task management, interactive time-line charts, a time tracker and mobile apps. I like that they have a cool e-mail integration that lets you manage the project (to some degree) from your inbox. 14-day free trial. Plans start at $18/month.
Huddle is one of the first collaborative tools that moved into social media. They created Huddle Spaces on LinkedIn and garnered many kudos for making document sharing and collaboration easy among a network of people not necessarily in the same company. They integrate with all the popular social media platforms and with the iPhone, iPad and Blackberry. There is a free level. Plans start at $8/mo.
Wrike quickly presents the benefits for different audiences instead of talking about features. They have a specific page highlighting how the tool works for small business owners. You can create tasks from e-mails and the e-mails are turned into nifty Gantt charts. Wrike has strong reporting capabilities that help you to see how each member of your team is delivering against various project tasks. 15-day free trial. Pricing is $9.95/user/month with an additional fee for viewers only.
Liquid Planner has all the bells and whistles of the others, but a huge differentiator is what they call Realistic Estimation. I didn’t find others talking about this and I want to quote Liquid Planner directly: “Traditional project management software relies on single-point estimates that hide the uncertainty that is inherent in today’s projects. That means that risk in your projects can be hidden until it’s too late. Liquid Planner solves this problem with ranged estimates and statistically correct calculation for realistic schedules you can trust.” That’s pretty cool. 30-day free trial. Plans start at $35/mo. with discount for annual prepay.
Zoho Project is a Web-based project management app, but also has a useful issue tracking component that allows teams to report and track bugs. Like many project tools, collaboration helps improve the communication within the team and keep everyone focused on the necessary items. Zoho offers real-time chat tools as well as time tracking. They have an “always free” account. Plans start at $99/year.
Insightly is an intriguing project management tool. It does more than PM work, but the part that caught my eye was the Address Book function. They add new contacts from your e-mail. They even hit the Web to find out more about contacts and organizations for their profiles within Insightly. But what’s really cool is this: They use advanced e-mail analytics to discover the hidden associations between your contacts by analyzing the From, To and CC fields in e-mails to build up a knowledge of who knows who. Now I think that would be huge in helping you (and me) get a project done by the right people. Free with Google Apps, but no additional pricing info available.
Manymoon is built on a social networking model. What immediately caught my attention was that I could tag a task and Manymoon would then suggest people in my network who could help me get it done. They call this “social productivity” and I have to say, it’s compelling. Manymoon integrates with Google Docs and Calendar. A bulletin feature lets you see what each team member is doing or has completed. No training required. Free plan. Monthly plans start at $19/mo.
AtTask is the closest to Microsoft Project of any Web-based project management solution I’ve found so far. It seems to have a bit more of a learning curve than others here, but also has more robust features. Every user can put their schedule into @task and the app uses this information to enhance the project timelines. Essentially, AtTask evaluates each team member’s schedule and the people doing the work, so that the project is evenly tasked and completion estimates are made. No pricing info available.
Basecamp is the 800-pound gorilla in the project management space. Some might argue they created the Web-based collaboration space to begin with. Their application is focused on project management; if you need more than that, you can bolt on other products for CRM and chat as well as integrations with many other Web-based providers. 30-day free trial with credit card required. Plans start at $24/mo.
Teambox is another socially savvy project management tool. They allow you to sign up and log in with your Facebook, Twitter and Github logins. Smart. They realize that not everyone wants to work in the cloud, so they have “lite” desktop apps for the Mac and PC (Firefox) platforms. You can choose to make your project public and put it out there for the community or your network to participate in. Free plan. Monthly pricing starts at $12/mo.
Central Desktop wins the “great case studies page” award. They have all the standard and premium features you want in your online project management tool (like you see in these other listings), but they win because they offer a focused SMB section. It is filled with short excerpts from case study after case study of consultants, virtual assistants, software developers, and many others who are using Central Desktop and love it. They offer a free plan. Pricing starts at $25/mo for a small team.
AgileZen offers a lean and mean project management approach. Mean isn’t really the right word: Focused is a better fit. This is one of the nicest visual project tools I’ve seen. Elegant. They want you to “see the big picture.” Their idea comes from lean manufacturing, called kanban in Japanese – a word that means visual card. In an AgileZen project, work is organized on a kanban board, which has a number of columns that represent the phases that work has to go through in order to be considered complete. If you’re looking for a refreshing way to approach your project management, AgileZen may be what you’re looking for. Free plan. Pricing starts at $9/mo.
WebCollaboration offers a very clean interface for project management. What I liked about this product was its powerful search options. You don’t always remember what a project was named or who was in it, but with a robust search tool, you can easily find it. It is one of the things I love about Google’s Gmail app — there’s no need for tons of filters and tags and categories. Just hit search. WebCollaboration took this feature right out of Google’s playbook, I’m guessing. Makes it easier on the user and that’s important. Free plan. Pricing starts at $19/mo.
Project Spaces keeps the boundaries extremely clear, so that even unsophisticated users can easily determine where they are. Not every collaboration and project management tool can say that. They have thought about the normal workflow process that people go through. For example, document versioning doesn’t work if you don’t know which team member is actively working on a document. ProjectSpaces offers check in/check out functionality so you know when others are working on the file. 30-day free trial. Pricing starts at $29/mo.
Comindwork is pretty confident that you need options in your project management, so they list 250-plus features on their feature page. Each feature has its own detailed page, too. They want you to know you have control with their application. Each project can have its own wiki and blog. You can see other team members’ status and “mood.” There is a forever free plan. Pricing starts at roughly $30/mo.
HyperOffice is another heavy-duty app. From my limited view, it appears to start from an intranet focus, which allow you to store and manage documents very easily. You can do everything from project management to business e-mail to using it as a Sharepoint or Exchange alternative. 30-day free trial. Plans start at $44.99 for 5 users.
DeskAway makes it instantly clear that they care about customer support. They use GetSatisfaction as one of their support tools, which is a popular service that makes it easier for the customer and the company to connect. They have a free plan. Pricing starts at $25/mo.
OfficeMedium points out in several places on their site that e-mail is often the biggest challenge in managing a project. It can be frustrating to keep up with the iteration of a document by e-mail. In OfficeMedium, with each project task, event and e-mail interaction, you are automatically creating an organized archive of what’s happened on the project. You can then search and filter these to find that certain employee or which files were used to complete that financial report in March. Your data, combined with built-in, intelligent tagging, trackingand organization features, becomes an invaluable resource. 30-day free trial. Plans cost $6/user/month and $1/month for each gigabyte of storage.
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All information is believed to be correct as of the date of publishing. Always check the application website for up-to-date information, as offerings and prices can change.
Let us know in the comments if we missed any, and which online project management or collaboration tool you’re using. We hope this list helps you find the right application to boost your small business productivity and profitability.More in: Small Business Growth