In Small But Mighty, Gary Romano emphasizes the need to keep up with all your to do items. This becomes even more complicated as you add others to your firm and need to manage your assignments and theirs.
Many of you in the Small But Mighty community have asked about the advantages of different systems. To answer that question, I’ve explored 5 project management solutions that can help you keep track of it all—Wunderlist, Asana, Basecamp, Trello, and—for you Office365 users—Microsoft Planner. These were selected based on word-of-mouth referrals.
Before we dive in—Each of these systems uses its own language for their product features. So to simplify, I’ve tried to keep to the following:
“Project” = the overall category; for example—the client’s name (ABCXYZ Nonprofit Inc.)
“List” = a grouping within a project; for example—for ABCXYZ Nonprofit Inc. we are asked to help boost social media, and also assist with a major federal grant application
“Tasks” = the individual to-do items; for example, at ABCXYZ Nonprofit Inc., to help boost social media, we need to review their Facebook data analytics.
First Things First—What Do They ALL Do?
Each of these products offers a number of similar capabilities. Let’s get this list out of the way, and then dig into what makes each of these systems unique. Each system offers the ability to:
Integrate between computers and mobile devices (apps).
Assign tasks to yourself or other members of your team.
Set due dates for each task.
Add comments and notes to projects and tasks.
See all tasks assigned to you in a separate view (regardless of project, versus tasks assigned to others).
Create multiple lists within a project.
Create private, some-team, and all-team visible.
Upload files to the system (sizes vary for free and paid versions of each system).
Follow or unfollow projects (you can still see what’s going on, but won’t get notifications).
What Sets Them Apart?
The table below highlights some key features (certainly not exhaustive) that differ between the systems, and why these are important features when considering a project management system. Please note that many of these systems have integration capabilities with other products. For example, Wunderlist doesn’t offer its own built-in chat feature, but does allow for integration with Slack. Trello has a lot of what it calls “Power Ups” to add many additional features. For simplicity’s sake, I’ve kept the following table to just the built-in functionality.
The Big Question—The Cost?
So how much is each of these systems going to cost you? Well, it varies. But you have some affordable options here. And the systems all either have a free version with limited features or a free trial of the entire system.
About Each System—Including My Personal Opinions and Pros and Cons.
Asana is an excellent mid-priced option if you prefer a task- or list-based system. Meaning, Asana acts as a series of to-do lists, versus breaking tasks up into cards (like Trello or Planner). The list-view is my personal preference, as I like to see as many lists and tasks as simply as possible.
Asana, like Wunderlist, is a checklist system that allows you to easily click between projects and tasks. Under each project, you can also create lists, or sub-categories to keep each project more organized. Asana also has a few built-in reports to keep on top of your team’s upcoming tasks due and overdue tasks.
I first gravitated to Asana because I wanted a system with a calendar feature. But, Asana includes every task in the team’s calendar, making it difficult to use once you have a lot of tasks in the system. (Check out the screenshots for Basecamp’s Schedule— they do this better, though in a list vs. calendar view.)
If, in addition to tasks, you also need to keep a constant update on messages and posts about the project, status updates from your team, and quick access to documents, this is the system for you. If you have remote staff, or teams in different buildings, Campfire and the message boards are great for team congruence—formally and informally.
Basecamp’s built-in reports are also impressively thorough—they let you see what's overdue, what's due soon, what new tasks have been added lately, what tasks have been completed. Also, Basecamp’s interface offers different views (list vs. card, as described in the table above). For those who like checklists—use list view! For those who like cards—use card view!
Finally, Basecamp is one of the systems that allows you to set a span of dates for a project, versus one due date. (Think: mailing Thanksgiving cards—they need to be done before Thanksgiving, but also won’t get done in one afternoon.)
So what doesn’t work for me—the setup. I generally am just trying to click through my team’s tasks. With Basecamp, I have to switch between projects to see all of our tasks. Let's say I'm in my "Marketing" project task list. To switch to "Finance", I have to click Home, Finance, To-dos…Versus the other systems, where you just single click between projects. That's a lot of extra clicking! It adds up!
Also, there’s the expense! Basecamp is by far the most expensive of the options in this post. But, there’s a 30-day free trial. So you can tell quickly if the paid product is right for you.
Microsoft Planner is the newest of all the systems that I tested. The system only became available on June 6, 2016, according to Microsoft’s blog. The features work well enough, and the interface offers both simple views and visual representations of tasks that are useful.
But as you can see from the above table of features, Planner lacks a lot compared to its competitors. A quick look at Planner’s Feedback Forum shows that users are finding a lot to be desired with the system. But—as many Microsoft product fans would argue—the product will continue to evolve. Keep an eye out for Planner 2.0…or Planner 10…or Planner 2017. Whatever Microsoft decides to call it.
What does work about Planner is that it’s automatically integrated into your Office and Outlook products that you likely already use. Also, like Basecamp, Planner lets you set a range versus just a due date for tasks (the Thanksgiving card scenario I mentioned for Basecamp).
Two other things working against Planner—you have to be a paid user of one of Microsoft’s plans to use it. Also, help is more difficult to come by. For any of the other systems, you can easily Google for questions and troubleshooting. Planner has its Feedback Forum, but offers few answers to your questions. Also—the name “Planner” brings up a variety of products when searching, versus any of the other systems we discussed today.
If you like the card system, Trello is a great mid-priced option for you. By the card system, I mean Trello breaks its “tasks” up into “cards”. This is very similar to a checklist, but allows for comments, attachments, etc. for each task.
I personally prefer list view to card view. I found Trello to be bulky. I need to be able to see as many of my lists as simply as possible.
Similar to Asana, I was excited to test out the calendar feature. But also like Asana, Trello puts every task in the calendar, making it difficult to use. (Check out the screenshots for Basecamp’s Schedule—they do this better, though in a list vs. calendar view.)
Wunderlist, which in June of 2015 joined Microsoft, is your go-to if you want a simple checklist system for yourself or your team. It is also the least expensive of the options detailed in this post.
A con for Wunderlist is that it’s so simple, it can feel cluttered. Let’s use my example in the introduction to this blog post—I prefer that my project management system allow me to create Projects, Lists, and Tasks. Under each project, I prefer to have multiple lists. With Wunderlist, you don’t have that option. All of your “Tasks” are under one “Project”.
Also, while Wunderlist doesn’t currently have alternative views or a calendar feature, you can take all your tasks and put them into your calendar (iCal, Outlook, etc.) as an all-day task. (What? Why would you want that? But you can if you want!)
These five project management systems aren’t the only ones on the market—far from it. I urge you—if one system doesn’t work for you, do not abandon all hope! If one system doesn’t have a feature you need, Google it! See if there is a system that offers that feature.
Do not go back to sticky notes and scribbles! Try another! That’s what free and trial versions are for! You can do this!
We want to hear from you. What have been your experiences with these systems? What keeps you from implementing one?
Stacia Silvia, Associate, designs public-serving programs and connects them with public and private investors. In addition to being an Associate with Civitas Strategies, she is Manager of Strategic Philanthropy and Corporate Engagement for Housing Families Inc., a community organization that serves homeless families. Prior to her time with Housing Families, Stacia was a Development Associate for College Bound Dorchester, an education agency that helps prepare at-risk children and youth for college success, particularly youth who were off-track and disengaged in school. Stacia also worked in development and relationship management for the University of New England in Portland, ME. Stacia holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, with a marketing concentration, from Stonehill College. Stacia is an active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and Women in Development of Greater Boston.