The landscape of project management tools is vast, indeed, and when you’re looking for a way to get your work done faster, the last thing you want to do is spend hours searching for a tool that will get you there. So we’re making your job easier: We’ve polled hundreds of startups to gather their feedback on the best project management tools for startups of all stages. Here we give you the skinny on the most-loved project management tools from the Stacklist community, in order of popularity.
Trello: Used by 35% of the Stacklist community, Trello is our most popular project management software. It’s extremely simple to use, great for non-technical crowds and free! It’s extremely lightweight, and ideal for small teams or seed-stage startups, though it’s used by startups of all sizes and later-stage companies tend to use it as a complement to more technical PM software. Brian Fitzgerald, founder and CEO of Tinkergarten, states, “Trello is the simplest project management tool I’ve used. The efficiency of being able to create projects, put them on boards, move them around, share them–it’s just a very simple thing to use. We have a very small team, but it’s a team of seasoned people who have used a lot of these tools in the past. With a mature team who knows what they’re doing, Trello is super easy because it uses shorthand.” Another Trello fan, ALICE co-founder Alexander Shashou, notes that his reliance on Trello waned after his team grew: “I actually really liked Trello. I liked how simple it was, but ultimately that made it not quite great at running complex projects, so we let it go.”
Asana: More comprehensive than Trello, Asana is a good balance between a robust, technical project management solution–which will appeal to developers and engineers–and easy to use, which works well for the less-technical set. Asana is most popular among Series A and smaller Series B startups that need the broader array of features it offers over its less feature-heavy competitors. According to Adam Schwartz, founder and COO of TeePublic, “I’ve tried a lot of these tools, and I find Asana the easiest to manage. It’s really easy to create projects and tasks and assign them, and I think it’s the perfect balance of being a robust piece of software, but really lightweight and easy to navigate. Unlike a lot of other software that feels too rigid and formal in terms of collaborators and projects, Asana feels like the way real work gets done.” And though other founders note that Asana is amazing for remote team collaboration” and “built for text-based project management,” it’s not the ideal solution for those looking for a heavily developer-focused PM solution.
JIRA: If you’re in the market for a very developer-friendly PM tool, look no further than JIRA, which works for startups of all sizes and scales easily for larger teams. Not surprisingly, it’s heavily favored by larger Series A and B companies with over 50 employees and a complex development process. “We’re very happy with JIRA, in terms of allowing our teams to better map out and plan requirements through their workflows, ability to customize workflows and also provide a granular level of detail in terms of reporting for ourselves and our clients,” explains Matthew Raimundo, director of operations at Ticketmaster Mobile Studio. “It’s easy to print out reports, and it helps us communicate project status very well. But JIRA doesn’t handle collaboration of projects, so we also use Confluence, which is a wiki add-on for JIRA, and that’s where we store project plans, schedules, assets, meeting notes–things that help define what we’re working on. We use these together to manage development and design workflows, tracking product requirements, roadmap, etc.”
GitHub: A very technical tool that, in addition to acting as a code repository, is also commonly used as a project management tool and bug tracker for engineers. It dubs itself a “code host,” focusing specifically on cloud-based computing projects. Used by startups of all stages and with a reasonable price point, GitHub is great for developers, but not great for non-technical folk. Because of its lean profile and narrow focus, it’s become somewhat of a staple for startups who need to collaborate on code, and it’s generally paired with a simpler project management tool like Trello or Basecamp for less technical tasks. “GitHub is key to everything we do,” says Dan Loewenherz of Lionheart Software. “Given that we’re always working on multiple development projects, GitHub is especially important for us. Their product is awesome. We can use it for issue tracking too. Any project development that we do is connected to GitHub in some way.”
Pivotal Tracker: Probably the tool most loved by developers, Pivotal Tracker is a very specific type of project management service, designed specifically for software development. It tends to attract smaller, early-stage startups, who ultimately graduate to JIRA status as their organizations grow. “For all of our clients, we use Pivotal Tracker to manage each project,” says Gregory Hausheer of Lightmatter. “There’s no better platform that allows the bug documentation that Pivotal Tracker can. We love the flexibility the system gives you to manage and measure progress and velocity of a project, though there is a big learning curve.” Because of it’s uber-technical nature, it’s often paired with Trello for business-oriented tasks. “Pivotal Tracker is absolutely vital to our development work, but Trello is far more general and just a better fit for day-to-day needs,” explains Jameson Detweiler, co-founder of Fantasmo Studios.
Basecamp: Used by a range of startups from seed-stage to Series A and B, Basecamp serves as a middle ground in the project management landscape: It’s more robust than Trello, but simpler than Asana. Many startups use it on a project-by-project basis. “It doesn’t do everything that Asana does, but it has a much simpler learning curve,” notes Kim Taylor, founder and CEO of Ranku.
If you are a seed-stage startup and looking into PM software for the first time, here’s an important bit of advice to keep in mind, from Nine Naturals co-founder and CEO Grace Lee: “Start with as few tools as possible–use what’s immediately accessible to you on Google Drive. You will get far with those. Manage projects on Google Sheet and use Google Analytics. Assuming you’re new to all tools and new to a team, start at the simplest level possible so you can get a sense of how your team communicates, prioritizes, and delegates. Once you’re up and running, you’ll be able to recognize what’s right for you and your team and your business. Don’t force systems that you ultimately have to separate from.”