The best project management tools do more than track issues, shoot out reports, and keep your team organized. They’re a beacon in stormy seas. Because if you’re here looking for a new project management tool, you know all-too-well how chaotic building products can be.
Programming languages, devices, and user needs are always changing. However, the core elements of how you build great software–from project planning to tracking issues and running sprints–need to stay consistent if you want to stand out.
That’s why every massively successful tech company, from Netflix to Airbnb, has invested in finding the best project management tool for them. And if you’re looking for a new project management tool, this is a pretty damn good place to start.
But it’s not enough to just know what tools are being used. You need to know why they work. That’s why we combed through interviews, success stories, and tweets to find the reasons why top technical teams chose the project management tool they did.
If you’re tired of random product lists with little more than features and prices, this guide will give you deeper insights and then guide you through the process of finding the project management tool that’s actually right for you!
Part 1: The big list of 11 best project management tools used by top tech teams (and why they use them):
Choosing a project management tool shouldn’t feel like you’re reinventing the wheel. While there are hundreds of options available, there’s really only a handful being used by top technical teams.
That’s not to say we should all run out and copy Apple, Facebook, or Amazon. But rather that there’s no shame in taking inspiration from how the greats get through massive projects and launch products to millions of people.
As Ben Mezrich wrote in The Accidental Billionaires–the book on Facebook’s origin story that became the film The Social Network:
“Businesses should follow and learn from others’ successes and failures in order to better understand and predict their own.”
So what project management successes can you learn from the top technical teams out there? Let’s start by looking at what companies like Uber, Netflix, and Airbnb consider to be the best project management tools (and why!)
1. Figma uses Asana
For the unfamiliar, Figma is an online design and prototyping tool used by companies from GitHub to Square to ClassPass. With a recent valuation in the billions and hundreds of employees, Figma has solidified itself as one of the fastest-growing tech tools out there.
To keep their teams on track, Figma uses Asana–a web-based project management tool founded by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.
Asana offers a full suite of project management tools from to-do lists to Kanban boards to calendar views for project tracking.
You can also customize your view based on what is most important to you. There’s a list view to organize tasks and see who’s working on what as well as a project timeline that lets you manage overlapping tasks and properly manage resources.
Should your team use Asana?
Asana’s depth of features and customizable views makes it a great option for larger companies where visibility into project details is key. As Figma product manager Badrul Farooqi explains:
“My role as a PM involves a lot of alignment, a lot of communication, and a lot of connecting groups of people to make sure they have what they need to make each other successful. We needed a lightweight tool that could scale with us for a while.”
However, all of those options also make Asana overwhelming and too expensive for smaller teams or those needing specific features (like time tracking).
- Customizable views help you choose how you want to view projects
- Modern UI and design
- Lots of integrations with popular apps
- Too many features make it overwhelming and bloated for many use cases
- Not overly friendly for new users. Steep learning curve.
- Expensive if you need to move beyond the basic free plan
- Starts at $10.99USD per user per month
2. CNET uses Planio
With over 200 million monthly readers across the globe, CNET is the highest-read technology news source on the web.
Founded in 1994, CNET quickly grew from a handful of tech-themed TV shows into an online empire of review sites, blogs, videos, and podcasts and was acquired by CBS in the late-2000s for a multi-billion dollar deal.
Any major media network relies on a flexible, reliable, and powerful project management tool to keep them moving forward. For CNET, the only choice was Planio.
Planio is built on top of the Redmine open-source framework and optimized for technical teams with integrated Git and SVN repositories, additional security, team chat, help desk, cloud storage, and more.
Not only that, but Planio also provides a lightweight and easy-to-use issue tracking system that supports both Agile and Traditional project management.
Should your team use Planio?
Planio hits the sweet spot between “too many features” and “not powerful enough” making it a perfect choice for teams and companies of all sizes.
As CNET Senior Solutions Consultant Luis Ferrao explains:
“I need to make sure our projects are moving forward, and Planio’s roadmap view gives me an at-a-glance update. Everything our team does is now done in Planio. It’s our main workflow tool. At this stage, we’ve created tens of thousands of issues.”
Features aside, Planio is also the best choice for teams concerned with security as all your data is stored in one of the most secure data facilities in Germany (and backed up to a second physical location).
- Flexible project management and workflow creation. Choose from Agile or Traditional project management and create custom workflows based on your team’s needs.
- Developer friendly features like integrated Git and SVN repos
- Fantastic UI that’s easy to use for both experienced and novice project managers
- Integrated Team Chat and Help Desk for communicating both internally and externally
- Industry-leading data security
- Time tracking, reports, and more!
- Small learning curve if you’re unfamiliar with project management tools
- Limited features in the free plan
- Basic “free” plan
- Premium plans start at $25USD per month (for teams up to 5)
3. Dribbble uses Flow
The original online show-and-tell platform for the design community, Dribbble now hosts close to half a million design portfolios. To service a community as picky as designers, Dribbble uses Flow to keep their projects in order.
Flow describes their product as “a happy middle ground between what you’re doing right now, and an expensive enterprise project management system.” It’s very UX and design-focused, making it a perfect partner for Dribbble.
Should your team use Flow?
As a design-focused tool, Flow keeps its project management features to a minimum. This can be either a huge pro if you’re interested in something lightweight. Or a con if you need more features and flexibility to work exactly for your team.
For Dribbble, the As Dribbble’s former Director of Product, Sarah Kuehnle explains:
“I wanted a tool that did product management well (for my use with our CEO), but more importantly, one that would make the day to day work for individual team members really straight forward.”
- Beautiful design and UX
- Simple to use (as long as your project management style works with their “flow”)
- Not as flexible or customizable as other tools
- Focused you to work within their “workflow”
- The new product (Flow X) is more of a Slack clone than a dedicated project management tool
- Limited “Basic” plan starts at $6USD per user per month
4. Dropbox uses Paper
With over half a billion users, the technical team at Dropbox needs to do everything in their power to keep the service up and running. Their choice of best project management tool? Dropbox Paper.
Paper started life as an internal solution for Dropbox’s teams but quickly turned into a powerful cross-platform project planning tool. Paper includes most of the features you’d look for in a project management tool like to-dos, task management, calendar sync, and time tracking.
However, where it shines is in keeping all your project files organized and easily found. As Dropbox project manager DJ Chung explains:
“We needed a way to quickly convey our ideas with words, images, code, and references to other documents and software tools. Paper allows us to do that natively. It also integrates with other tools we use every day like Slack, InVision, and Trello, and also allows our teams to stay on top of project decisions and tasks.”
Should your team use Dropbox Paper?
While Dropbox Paper works well as a project management tool, it’s more suited as a collaboration tool. The focus on file storage, organization, and integrations means it’s better suited for helping your team keep track of content than planning in-depth projects.
However, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be an option. If you’re running a small, autonomous, and organized team, Paper might just be the small bit of structure you need to take your projects to the next level.
- Great file storage makes sure your team always has access to the docs they need
- Easy to track simple to-dos and tasks with the Project Plan Template
- Missing most of the features of other more powerful project management tools
- Hard to keep larger projects organized
- Dropbox Business starts at $15USD per user per month
Tools are just tools. It’s what you do with them that matters.
5. Kickstarter uses Trello
Kickstarter hosts thousands of crowdfunding projects and supports millions of backers and creators on a daily basis. With this many people counting on them, multiple teams at Kickstarter use Trello to stay organized and hit their goals.
Trello is a visual project management tool based on Kanban boards. Tasks are organized on “cards” that can then be moved across different vertical rows based on their status. For example, you might have a row for tasks that are “on deck”, “in progress”, and then “ready for review.”
This gives you a quick view of what’s currently being worked on and also helps you quickly see where bottlenecks are happening.
(Heads up: Planio also offers a Kanban board view of your tasks as an option)
Should your team use Trello?
The beauty of a tool like Trello is in its simplicity. Moving cards across vertical lists to show status couldn’t be easier. However, when you outgrow the simplest uses of Trello, it can become a bottleneck itself.
While a single Kanban board is great for planning and running sprints it can get messy when working on larger projects or maintaining an ongoing product backlog. The only way to really scale a product team on Trello is to create more boards, which is a great way for things to get lost.
- Simple UI
- Great for small projects or running individual sprints
- Lots of “power-ups” to add additional features
- More suited to individual use than for teams
- Doesn’t scale well with your team or projects
- Missing basic project management features (or only accessible through add ons)
- Limited free plan
- “Business Class” starts at $9.99USD per user per month
6. Amazon and Ghostery use Roadmunk
One of the most important features every project manager should be familiar with is building out a product roadmap. A roadmap is a visual way to show off your product strategy. It lets you think in larger terms
Companies from e-commerce giant Amazon to privacy plug-in developer Ghostery choose Roadmunk to help them create product roadmaps they can use now and use to get buy-in from key project stakeholders.
Roadmunk not only gives your team a big-picture view of your product vision but can also help you collect user feedback and prioritize new features. This means it can be used as a powerful project planning tool.
As Ghostery director of product management Jeremy Tillman explains:
“We use Roadmunk to create our product roadmaps, which are essentially broad stroke product strategy plans that extend 6-12 months into the future.”
Should your team use Roadmunk?
Because of Roadmunk’s narrow feature set, it’s not a true replacement for some of the other project management tools we’ve listed. However, it does have its place. If your team is struggling with strategy or understanding long-term goals, Roadmunk can help bring everyone together.
- Brings everyone together on your company’s vision
- Helpful for prioritizing features and ideas
- Additional tools for capturing user feedback
- No task management, sprint planning, or other common project management features
- Can create a disconnect between day-to-day tasks and product roadmap
- Starts at $19USD per user per month
7. WeWork uses Jira
Before their public offering fiasco (and a pandemic effectively grinding coworking spaces to a halt), WeWork had grown to a massive $47 billion valuation.
While that number was a matter of contention for most people, there’s no denying that WeWork was able to bring a progressive and data-focused approach to the classic world of office rental space. To do that they relied on Jira.
Jira is a feature-rich Agile project management tool built by Atlassian. Jira ticks almost all of the boxes a project manager could ever want, letting teams collaborate effectively while also seeing the broader view of project progress.
However, just because Jira is great for project managers doesn’t mean it’s equally loved by developers. As WeWork software engineer Alex Choi explains:
“We have a lot of needs from a project management tool—assigning tickets to team members, categorizing by type and tagging with priority, setting statuses, and on and on. After trying multiple options, we went with Jira. Not because we love it, but because it does everything we need.”
Should your team use Jira?
Saying you have a love/hate relationship with Jira is like a secret handshake that gets you into the technical team club. Every single developer has most likely at some point used Jira and either moved onto something else or begrudgingly stuck with it.
If you’re considering Jira for your team, the question is: Do features trump usability?
- One of the most powerful and flexible project management tools out there
- Easy to see the flow of tasks from the product backlog to release
- Lots of integrations with other popular apps
- Steep learning curve and many features that are overkill for the majority of teams
- Slow to adapt to customer needs (even common feature requests can languish for months or years)
- Not friendly for non-developers
- Limited free tier
- A complicated pricing structure that starts at $7USD per user per month (on average)
8. Groupon uses Basecamp
Despite its slow decline over the past few years, Groupon—the daily deals site—was once one of the industry’s fastest-growing companies, hitting a $1 billion valuation in just 16 months from launch.
Today, you can still find thousands of discounted offers from local companies, manufacturers, and getaways on Groupon, with billions in sales being processed on the site every year.
For managing this level and volume of growth, Groupon uses a number of different project management tools to stay organized, including Basecamp.
First released 10 years ago, Basecamp was one of the first modern project management software solutions. Each project is built on a “Basecamp” that includes a message board, to-dos, group chat, schedule, and docs.
As former Groupon UX designer Radu Jitea explains:
“[Using Basecamp] People are more structured and projects have more visibility.”
The goal is to give your team everything you need in one place. However, that approach can often feel like trying to squeeze into a one-size-fits-all solution.
Should your team use Basecamp?
Basecamp is one of the original project management tools and has a specific vision of how teams should work together. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always translate into the best way for modern teams to collaborate.
If you’re looking for a fine solution to project management, Basecamp will help your team stay organized. However, for more technical teams and larger projects, Basecamp can definitely feel limited in its customization and features.
- Keeps small and medium-sized teams organized and on track
- Great visibility into project status
- Focus on work-life balance and controlling the “firehouse” of information and updates
- Missing some common project management features because they don’t fit in the Basecamp “vision”
- UX feels a bit dated compared to other options
- Integrations don’t always work smoothly and can feel clunky
- $99USD per month
9. Netflix uses Confluence
As one of the world’s largest content platforms and producers, it’s safe to say Netflix has more than a few projects on the go at once that they need to keep track of.
From commissioning and producing billions of dollars worth of original content to maintaining streaming services for close to 100 million users in pretty much every country in the world, the teams at Netflix have their hands full when it comes to project management.
Netflix’s technical teams stay on track with Confluence—a project management and team collaboration tool.
Confluence is a team workspace and knowledge management tool that uses shared pages to collect project resources, vision, to-dos, and updates. You can create different “spaces” to organize the pages your team needs to see, such as software development, documentation, knowledge base, or personal.
Should your team use Confluence?
Confluence solves a problem that most teams face: transparency. When you have a million tasks on the go it’s often hard to see what’s happening and stay on top of different projects. Confluence’s page system helps you find exactly what’s going on in different teams and adds additional transparency.
However, because it’s meant as a collaboration tool it often feels like an added layer to the project management process. Instead of simply seeing all your tasks in a single organized system, Confluence is like a top layer for more powerful and flexible tools.
- Simple UI makes it easy to find project information and requirements
- Great visibility into progress and to-dos
- Helps new teammates get up to speed quickly
- Doesn’t replace a fully-featured project management tool
- Often feels like additional work just to keep it updated
- Can get messy if your company doesn’t stick to a clear structure
- Limited free tier
- The standard plan starts at $5USD per user per month (on average)
The best project management tools do more than track issues, shoot out reports, and keep your team organized. They’re a beacon in stormy seas.
10. Backpack Health uses Clubhouse
Letting people control their personal data is one of the most important things a company can do (That’s why Planio takes data security and control so seriously!)
For Backpack Health, they wanted to take that approach to the sensitive world of health information. Their tool lets individuals control and share health data with everyone involved in their care.
This means they have a serious responsibility to their users to ship secure and powerful software. To keep their technical teams organized, Backpack Health uses Clubhouse–a relatively new project management tool that streamlines the software development process by cutting out unnecessary features and focusing on speed and flexibility.
As Brett Collinson, SVP of Product at Backpack Health explains:
“We wanted something with just enough structure that could be adapted to how we work, without us having to fall completely in line with the driving philosophy of the tool. Clubhouse fit that really well.”
Should your team use Clubhouse?
Simplicity is a double-edged sword when it comes to using Clubhouse. On the one hand, it gives you clarity into all aspects of your project through clearly marked Milestones, Epics, Stories, and Sprints.
However, Clubhouse’s focus takes a bit of an idealistic view towards project management with limited reporting, resource management, and other ways to manage the intricacies of larger projects.
- A happy medium for features (as long as your team works within their Agile workflow)
- Clutter-free UI and fast load speed
- Good for small teams but can quickly be outgrown
- Steep learning curve for those unfamiliar with tools or deep in the world of Agile terminology
- No time tracking
- Nothing that makes it truly stand out from other mid-level options
- Limited free plan
- The standard plan starts at $8.50USD per user per month
11. Airbnb uses Wrike
There are few Silicon Valley success stories as epic as Airbnb. Starting as a way to make extra money by renting out air mattresses on their floor, the founders of Airbnb grew into a Unicorn operating in pretty much every country in the world.
This means managing a platform with millions of listings and millions of more users while also growing out new products and services. That’s a lot to handle. And for a number of technical teams at Airbnb, the answer to staying organized is Wrike.
Wrike is a deeply customizable project management tool that combines personal to-do lists with multiple project views to keep everyone on your team organized and collaborating.
For project managers, Wrike offers the option to view your projects as Gantt Charts, task lists, and even Kanban-style boards. As Hoon Kim, Airbnb Creative Production Manager explains:
“One of the biggest advantages of Wrike is that there are so many different ways to look at projects and tasks. The ability to be nimble in terms of how we look at data really allows us to be more iterative.”
Should your team use Wrike?
Wrike takes collaboration to heart by creating a tool that keeps all information, conversations, files, and plans in one place. And while collaboration is one of the major benefits of using Wrike, too much going on in one space can lead to messy projects and miscommunication.
- Great for project planning and visualizing tasks
- Flexible enough to work with most software development processes
- Navigation can be confusing and slow
- Steep learning curve and requires a lot of buy-in to get your team using it
- Limitations with reporting
- Limited free plan
- The professional plan starts at $9.80USD per user per month (up to 15 users)
Part 2: A 5-step guide to choosing the best project management tool for your team
Well, there you have it. Eleven top project management tools from some of the best technical teams in the world!
However, as we said at the beginning of this guide, it’s not just what tool you use, but why you use it.
Choosing the best project management tool for your company can be daunting and overwhelming. Every tool has its own pros and cons that might be deal-breakers for you. But they’ll never tell you that on their marketing site.
Making a clear decision starts before you get overwhelmed with marketing sites and comparison charts. To find the best project management tool for your company, start by answering a few questions about you, your team, and your goals.
Step 1: Define what “great project management” looks for your team
There’s no one true “best” project management tool. Instead, there are only options that either work with or against your vision of what great project management looks like. As Dribbble’s former Director of Product Sarah Kuehnle, explains:
“I care most about the impact of a tool on my team. I’m happy to use pretty much anything provided it keeps my team productive and happy.”
So what does your tool need to do in order to satisfy how your team builds products?
Here are a few questions to ask:
- What software development process does your team use?
- Will you be collaborating and working with other teams and stakeholders?
- Do you need to integrate with other tools?
- Is functionality more important than UI?
- What do you want to change about your current project management tool?
- Are you expecting to grow significantly in the next 6-12 months?
These questions will help you frame your choice on a high-level. Do you need a feature-heavy tool like Jira? Or are you more concerned with ease of use and flexibility like in Planio?
Step 2: Shortlist your most important features
Once you understand your big-picture needs, it’s time to get specific.
The best project management tool for your team combines the right philosophy and approach with the features and tools you must have. So what are those?
Start by making a shortlist of the features you know you need to have. This is the baseline you’ll use to evaluate every project management tool you look at. To get you started, consider these 8 “must-have” project management features:
- Scalable task management that works whether you’re building an app, website, or product
- Flexible project planning options for both Agile and Traditional project management
- Long-term planning with milestones and product roadmaps
- Collaboration tools like team chat, wikis, and knowledge management
- File storage with easy access to all relevant docs, files, code repositories (and everything else your team needs to do their best work)
- Developer-friendly integrations with other tools
- Time tracking, reporting, and other tools for managing the project
- Powerful search for when projects grow or get out of hand
It’s probably not a coincidence that these are also the main features of Planio! If you’re curious about whether Planio might be the right choice for you, check out our full features list.
Step 3: Create an “anti-list” of features to refine your choices
Now, it’s time to refine your choices.
Chances are that a number of project management tools will tick all your boxes for features.
This is where it’s good to create an “anti-list” of features or tools. These are the bugs, annoyances, or idiosyncrasies that your team wants to avoid with their next tool.
Ask your team to list out all of the issues they see with your current project management tool (and approach!) Once you collect these, combine similar issues and look for themes.
Does your team feel limited by a lack of flexibility and customization? Or are they confused or overwhelmed with your current tool?
Do they use all the features in your current app? Or would they prefer to integrate with the other tools they already use?
Use this feedback to exclude options on your list of tools.
Step 4: Bring together your “project management tool selection committee”
If you’re a small team or company, your selection committee might just be you. But if you have the resources, it’s good to get opinions from a number of people who will actually be using this project management tool.
A good mix will include:
- A junior-level developer
- A couple of more senior people on your team
- A manager or stakeholder
The best project management tool works for your entire company–not just the power users on your team. By bringing in people with different levels of expertise and different needs, you’ll be in a better position to understand how your choice of tool will impact the entire product lifecycle.
Step 5: Run a test project with your #1 choice
Trialing a project management tool is tough because of the huge upfront cost in time and energy. You may get a short free trial to use the tool, but you still need to migrate data, set up projects, learn how to use it, and get your team on board.
However, if you’re considering making a switch, you need to get some real-world experience first.
Sign up for a free trial of the tool you’re interested in (Planio offers a 30-day free trial without entering your credit card information!) and set up a test project.
A test project should be small enough to not take you days or weeks to prepare for, but also robust enough to test the features you need. This could mean a sprint or something smaller.
(Planio even offers a free data migration service so you can see exactly how all your data, projects, tasks, and bugs will look in their tool!)
Once you’ve decided what you’re going to use your trial for, set expectations with the rest of your team.
- Before the trial: Introduce your team to the tool you’ll be using and explain why it was your best choice (hopefully including some of their criteria!) Let them know that you’re only using it for a specific trial period and that you expect there to be at least a bit of confusion.
- During the trial: Keep your process mostly the same (unless it needs to change for the tool). Check in with teammates periodically to see if they’re having issues and take notes each day on how you feel about the switch.
- After the trial: Gather feedback from the whole team and assess whether or not this feels like a good change.
There’s a good chance that things won’t go exactly as planned during your trial. And that’s to be expected.
Instead of being turned off, try to stay positive and ask what worked well. Did people see a significant difference in how they worked? Or were there more annoyances than benefits once you got in the trenches?
Ultimately, what matters most is your experience.
Marketing materials will always paint the picture of a perfect world. But if the tool doesn’t work for you then it’s not the right choice.
We’re definitely biased, but we think Planio could be the best project management tool for you
Talk to anyone who builds digital products and they’ll tell you the same thing: Tools are just tools. It’s what you do with them that matters.
For us at Planio, we’ve spent years working on technical teams, scaling startups, and building open-source software used by millions of people. So we know what it means to want project management tools that just work.
That’s why we built Planio.
We could spend all day telling you why we think Planio is the right choice for your team (like our flexible task management, powerful reporting, industry-leading security, and user-friendly experience).
But what matters more is what you think.
So take a look at your “must-have” and “anti” feature lists. If we’re on your shortlist, give us a shot! You can start a free 30-day trial, get individual help migrating your data over, and start using Planio on your next product sprint!