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The Best Project Management Tool

Last Updated November 18, 2020
Reading Times:
Summary only: 1 minute
Full guide: 6 minutes

Ratings Matrix

project management tools
Ease of Use
Setup Costs
Portability
How Far Can You Get For Free
Affordability
Basecamp
Our take: For teams that want their project management in TODOs first, but also want a mature tool that has a decade of thinking into automation and engagement, Basecamp is a good choice. Pricing is disadvantageous for very small teams that only want to use it for project management, and we'd like easier integrations with engineering and customer support workflows that don't require a separate layer of SAAS integration.
ClickUp
Our take: Clickup is a versatile workspace for your company that focuses on maximalist access to features and integrations. The attention to onboarding and to first-time project managers were nice touches. That said, the onslaught of sample content, test projects, template options, and integrations make it overwhelming to the point that some teams might just opt for a written to-do or at least an interface like Monday's where some of the power and flexibility feels more optional.
Asana
Our take: In spite of a few recommendations from teams we spoke to Asana wasn't more than competitive with most of the other tested tools and weird pricing kinks, including no data export unless you pay for enterprise, make us shy away from a recommendation.
Monday
Our take: Our runner-up for a general project management tool. Monday strikes a good balance between a smart checklist and structure that most startups will need to plan thornier projects. It also trades money for convenience — you'll likely land in the Pro tier once you start making use of the integrations and automation tools — in a way that might not be for everyone. The integrations it provides are considerate and well-bundled, and the workflow is uncluttered when compared to ClickUp. However, Clubhouse still wins out for providing what the necessary components for a good project management tool with less complexity and cost.
Clubhouse
Our take: Our choice for a general project management tool, Clubhouse was also our second-place pick for an [issue tracker](/issue-tracker). It's more focused on project management than Monday, at the expense of being more bound to an agile-esque organization. The price is even more competitive when benchmarked to project management tools. Its almost-native tracking of engineering teams' workflows is a big plus.

Our recommendation: Clubhouse

Clubhouse was our favorite general project management tool. It provides structure to help you track your goals, and not too many knobs that folks coming from a checklist might be overwhelmed by it. Clubhouse's stories-and-epics schema will be heavy-handed for the earliest startups, but for small-to-medium-sized teams that need to manage bigger projects it's a flexible solution that will neatly organize your team's work. The offering of an opinionated pattern — agile-esque — for project organization is an excellent choice in a startup context. Since it provides a template for tracking work, Clubhouse avoids an entire stage of decision making about planning that, except for Basecamp, was required in all the other tools we reviewed.

Where Clubhouse shines though, is in keeping the pre-baked structure as a guide for managing work rather than dogma. Workflows with intuitively editable stages, a complete-but-not-overwhelming onboarding process, and rich dashboard views all reduce the overhead needed by startups that are ready to graduate from a checklist. We think Clubhouse's approach will be the best fit for companies handling an explosion of product development or operational complexity.

Should I be using a general project management tool?

At some point, most startup teams will want a way to organize their work that isn't email or a TODO. We've spoken to plenty of teams that use checklists, digital or otherwise, to manage their priorities week-to-week and beyond so startups can certainly scale with this approach. That said, as teams start to get a bit larger, or projects become more ambitious, a system to track progress comes to be a convenience if not a requirement.

Chunking into small tasks is something that often comes about early for software engineering. If this is a problem just for that subset of your team, then you might want to check out our article on issue trackers that provides context and a more focused pick for this subset of users. However, if you find yourself tasked with broader operations challenges with multiple steps, non-software related obstacles, and that require collaboration over time from different stakeholders, then it might be time to consider a dedicated project management tool.

More flexible but less preferred options

We also found ClickUp and Monday to be effective tools, but ones that chose trade-offs that are a coarser fit for most startups' needs than Clubhouse. ClickUp was the most affordable of all the services we reviewed. It offers an interface that can replicate the default project views seen in Basecamp, Clubhouse, and Monday[Dashboard, board, and checklist respectively] at a click. The adaptability will be appreciated, but we suspect that the choices will just seem overwhelming for many startup teams. At a glance, much of the UI is clickable and editable, but as you start to build out your work tracking flow and digging through menus, it becomes evident just how much ClickUp has available. Beyond the different views, the integrations, and some IFTTT-style automation for your tasks ClickUp still has plenty of features. There's at least a screen recorder, a time tracker, and a pluggable Dashboard lurking in the ClickApps section at the time of this review.

Monday provides a similarly full-featured experience, but it also works to hide some of its features behind an array of menus and buttons. Much like ClickUp it's all clickable, but Monday starts with a gentler setup of blank task lists, or templates, for teams to buildout their workflows. Curiously, it also features a pluggable dashboard,Well-aligned with Monday's price cliffs around integrations, data transfer, and automation and a similar set of trigger-based automation features. All-in-all Monday feels more mature than ClickUp thanks to its more modest design. However, if you're picking between the two, we still suggest ClickUp for comparable ease of use, a lower price, and more potential upside on its near-future product roadmap. At the end of the day, we still prefer Clubhouse to both tools because although it can feel less flexible, the choices that support that impression — a pre-established workflow and levels of project complexity — reduce the amount of thought needed to plan and track work.

Basecamp

Basecamp is a project management tool, knowledgebase, chat app, and writing-focused company hub rolled into one. The webapp feels more humane than the other tools we've reviewed with an emphasis on the centralization of resources — with a spotlight on people and interactions — needed to make a project successful. This perspective percolates from the feature bundle to the project/team views that highlight stakeholders, schedules, and discussions in ways that would require some clicks, filtering, or view configuration to achieve in the more atomized and work-stream focused UXes of the other tools we reviewed.

We think that some startups, in particular those just getting started, might really appreciate Basecamp. Its TODO-first approach will feel natural for small teams transitioning still working with checklists, and the emphasis on writing makes it beneficial to those who haven't yet compiled a collection of company documents and processes.For what it's worth, we'd still recommend a dedicated knowledge base Despite all this, we can't recommend Basecamp over Clubhouse. The latter is more inclusive of engineering teams with its direct issue tracker integrations, has a price tag that is more amenable to early startup needs, and provides a view of work that supports — with minimal adjustment — the more complex workflows that companies need when they reach for a project management tool.We also suspect that as Clubhouse continues to integrate its documentation hosting product, Basecamp's relative writing-and-organization advantages might fade.

Deals

Clubhouse offers 12 months of free use if you sign up through their startup program. ClickUp offers occasional 15% off discountsGoogle it, and can also be purchased through OneTool, which provides six-months off a business-tier plan for YC companies.

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