The best project planning software gives managers the means to build a plan, manage a team, control costs and stay on schedule. Along the way, it should track progress and assess whether you’re meeting your planned goals.
Yes, project planning software is massive. It’s an umbrella under which a number of foundational tools reside, such as Gantt charts, task lists, kanban boards, reports and more. If you’re looking for a project planning software that meets these criteria, prepare to compare options because it’s a crowded field and getting denser every day.
To get the best project planning software, you need to understand what project planning is and how that project planning software can help you achieve your project goals. Before we get into looking at products, let’s learn the project planning basics.
What Is Project Planning?
Project planning is how project work is organized and completed within a specific timeframe and for a determined cost. In project management that plan is broken up into phases that are made up of smaller tasks and the resources needed to execute them.
Generally speaking, project planning is divided into four steps.
- Set Goals: Set up measurable objectives for more successful project planning. Use criteria such as the SMART acronym. It stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound, which helps to define realistic objectives for the project.
- Identify Deliverables: What are any goods or services that can be quantified and provided at the end of the project or at points throughout the project? This can include reports, too.
- Make a Schedule: A schedule takes all the tasks that are required to produce the project deliverables and places them on a timeline. This step includes all the resources needed to execute the project, such as your team, equipment, materials, etc., that fit within your approved budget.
- Expand Your Plan: There are other plans that will support the overall project plan. These include a communications plan, a risk management plan and anything else that’s required to keep the project moving forward on time, without overspending or sacrificing quality.
The Benefits of Project Planning Software
That’s a lot of responsibility to place on the shoulders of project planning. But it can carry that weight and even excel at the job when supported by project planning software. Project planning software is designed to facilitate the planning, scheduling, resource allocation and change management of a project.
Project planning software is used by managers and stakeholders to chart the project’s path from start to finish and organize tasks and activities to have them all completed by the project deadline within the agreed-upon costs detailed in the project budget.
With all that in mind, below are some of the best project planning tools available today, with their pros and cons.
2021 Best Project Planning Software Rankings
ProjectManager is a cloud-based project management software that offers a full suite of project planning software features. With Gantt charts, sheet and list views, calendars and kanban boards, users can choose how they want to plan their project, depending on its scope and complexity.
ProjectManager even has templates to help you set up your project plan, or you can import a spreadsheet with your task list to create a new project instantly.
Interactive Gantt Charts
A successful project plan demands intelligent task organization. Almost any Gantt chart can organize tasks, link dependencies, set milestones and make assignments. ProjectManager goes further. ProjectManager’s Gantt chart can find the critical path in your schedule, allowing you to see what tasks must be done and which you can skip. When you’ve made your project plan, create a baseline to compare your actual progress vs. your planned effort. Because you need to know if you’re keeping to your project plan.
To keep projects running smoothly during the execution phase, you have the flexibility to pivot quickly as projects change. Simply drag-and-drop start and end dates on the Gantt to their new time, and reassign resources as necessary. It’s that easy. The budget is added when you create the project and then the Gantt will manage the resource and general costs. And there’s a sheet view, which removes the timeline so you can see more columns on one page.
A Gantt might be enough for smaller projects but as you scale bigger you need to manage resources and keep your team productive. ProjectManager lets you set the team’s availability and manage your resources. When you’re making your project plan, see who is working, who is on PTO and when there is a holiday.
Once the team has started working on their tasks, use the workload chart to monitor how many assignments they have. It’s color-coded so you can see at a glance who is over- or under-allocated. Then you can balance their workload right from the workload chart. This helps them keep to your project plan while boosting morale.
Multiple Project Views
Perhaps best of all, ProjectManager has multiple project views that allow users to choose the tool they prefer for project planning. Whether you’re planning on a Gantt, sheet or list view, kanban board or calendar, the data is shared and updated together.
Managers can be in the office while the team is out in the field but everyone is looking at the same live data, no matter which project view they are working with. All of that data automatically feeds into the project dashboard, which gives you a window into your project progress as it happens. It’s an easy, yet powerful way to track your project plan.
The project plan is a living document and ProjectManager makes it easily adaptable to real-life working conditions. See how ProjectManager helps you from planning through the successful closure of your project by taking a free 30-day trial.
Smartsheet is an online project management software that is used in many industries to track and manage work. It is suitable for large and small teams, whether working in an agile or more traditional methodology. In terms of project planning, there are collaborative tools, due date tracking, Gantt charts and kanban boards. It plots milestones and track tasks.
A shortcoming, however, is that Smartsheet requires an understanding both spreadsheets and project management. It’s divided between these two points, and so it ends up not serving either one fully. In terms of features, its resource management tools are complicated, which makes its dashboard more difficult than it needs to be. There are no timesheets, which is a key feature for tracking teams hours and tasks. This could be a deal-breaker for project managers.
FunctionFox is web-based time and project management software used in industries such as advertising, marketing and public relations companies. It tends to be used more in the creative fields to plan and track projects. It has tools for managing multiple projects, forecasting workloads and communications.
FunctionFox is not ideal for every industry or the teams that work within those fields. For example, there’s no kanban boards, which is a visual planing tool that helps avoid workflow bottlenecks. Task management is only available for more money and even at that payment level you’re just getting a categorizing tool, not something that manages the task details or dependencies.
4. Zoho Projects
Zoho Projects is a cloud-based project planning software tool. It’s used by large and small teams in many industries to plan and track projects. It offers collaborative features and can be used within an agile framework or with more traditional methodologies. It does have a soup-to-nuts menu of features for project planning, such as Gantt charts, kanban boards and milestone tracking.
Some complaints about the software include difficult integration with other apps, and reports are not thorough. There’s also a lack of privacy among users and clients. The interface can sometimes be difficult to maneuver. The Gantt charts are overly complex, and it would be nice if projects could be exported to a spreadsheet to share with clients who are not subscribed to the software.
ClickUp is a cloud-based tool that is mostly good for collaboration but has some project planning that works with businesses of varying size. It has communication, task assignment and status alert features. There are also events and reminders, which help with collaboration. Its project planning tools include Gantt charts, kanban boards and progress tracking. It has multiple project views and is flexible and customizable. It allows for recurring tasks.
The problem with ClickUp is that it’s core offering is strong in collaboration, but weak with project planning. It has a lot of the tools that are essential for project planning, but they’re not robust. If you’re looking to create and control a project plan, you’ll find ClickUp somewhat challenging. Additionally, the overall design is such that it doesn’t make it easy to see all the task data at a glance.
Mavenlink is a project management software that focuses on collaborative tools to enhance business performance. It features time tracking, resource management and budget tools. Its project planning features help track due dates for tasks and can build plans on Gantt charts and manage workflow with kanban boards. It also has reporting to add visibility into a project, program or portfolio.
Project managers have complained that rather than reducing their workload, the software actually makes more work for them. For one, there’s a steep learning curve. You can’t share with clients, either, if they’re not paying for the software. It’s really more of an enterprise software solution—less plug and go and requires time and effort to configure. The reporting isn’t without problems, though, such as naming and categorization of project metrics isn’t clear. There’s no space to add comments when approving or rejecting timesheets without them being published across all entries.
Forecast is a project planning and resource workload visibility software with transparency across multiple projects. It has tools like kanban boards, which make it ideal for scrum teams. Files can be attached to tasks, which are then tracked throughout their life cycle. There’s also project scoping, resource allocation, time tracking and team collaboration. It is flexible enough to be used by startups and enterprise ventures that are looking to boost their productivity.
The trouble with using this is that things don’t always work as they should. This creates road bumps that slow down a project’s progress. Timesheets are also not easy to use. Though it can help scrum teams, those that work within the larger agile framework will find the software frustrating in its rigidity. Even scrum is not fully served as there is no retrospective management.
Final Thoughts When Choosing Project Planning Software
We hope you enjoyed our rankings of the best project planning software of 2021. If you want to expand your search beyond our list, keep in mind that the best planning tools are online. They provide access to real-time data for accurate reporting and live collaboration among team members. Look for a solution that can cover the basics too, such as making assignments, managing budget, monitoring performance and reporting on progress.
And of course, make sure you find a tool with an authentic Gantt chart, as many lightweight options merely provide timelines. No diagram does more for project planning than a Gantt chart.
ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software with all the features project managers want to better plan their projects. Online Gantt charts link task dependencies to avoid bottlenecks. Kanban boards help team members work more productively. Collaborative tools are designed to give team members the autonomy they want to get the plan executed more efficiently. Try it today with this free 30-day trial.