Project Management Software: Best Tools in 2021
Project management software Open Source and commercial 2021
This thorough test of the best project management software gives an up-to-date overview of all free and the most important commercial project management tools. Here is my alphabetically sorted list:
- Allegra – “hidden champion” for task and project management
- Asana – proven solution for task management
- Jira – widely used in software development
- MS Project – extensive functionality, complicated
- monday.com – best marketing
- OpenProject – best Open Source solution with limitations
- ProjeQtOr – somewhat outdated Open Source solution
- Redmine – best “real” Open Source solution
- Trello – for easy task management
- Wrike – proven, comprehensive project management
- ZenTao – Open Source solution with limitations
In the Open Source area I found exactly 4 offers that I think are useful. The rest do not meet the criteria listed below.
In the commercial area I have checked about 100 offers, examined 23 more closely and selected the 7 best solutions. Let me know if statements are incorrect or if I missed something important.
In the presentations I tried to point out not only which functions the tools offer, but also what they don’t offer. I don’t want to put any project management tool in a bad light, but you should know quickly whether it fits or not.
On Premises and Cloud
For many companies it is important whether a software can also be operated within their own company network (“on premises”). The following solutions support on-premises operation:
- MS Project
For all solutions, there are offers directly from the manufacturer or via third-party providers for operation in a cloud.
Project management vs. task management
An important difference between a simple task management software and a project management software is the ability to map hierarchical structures over a timeline. Gantt charts are particularly suitable for this purpose. The following products support such work breakdown structures and offer interactive Gantt chart displays:
- MS Project
Agile project management
In many companies, agile and hybrid forms of project management are establishing themselves, mostly using the Scrum and/or Kanban method. In order to support these process models, a simple task board is not sufficient, but concepts such as user stories, epics, sprints, etc. must be stored. The following products support agile project management with more than just a taskboard:
In the open source area, I found exactly 4 offers that I think are useful. The rest does not meet the criteria listed below.
Not only did I try to make clear what features the tools offer, but also what they do not do. By no means do I want to put a tool in the wrong light, but I want you to quickly see if it fits your needs or not. Here is the result of my research in the open source area:
Here are the commercial solutions:
The best project management software on the market?
The project management software Allegra from the brain pool of Steinbeis can be described as the sum of Jira and Wrike. Allegra supports near-perfect agile, classic, and hybrid project management models. Throughout, proven methods such as the Eisenhower principle, Earned Value, Getting Things Done and RACI matrix are used to ensure clarity and overview even in very large projects.
Modern, mature, complete
Allegra supports all important features. The user interface is tidy and modern. The configurability is unsurpassed by any system on the market. The Gantt Chart, Resource View, and Graphical Workflow Editor are all interactive.
Sophisticated role and authorization system
The role and authorization system is well thought out and based on the RACI matrix principle. Access permissions can be set down to individual fields. All important methods like Earned Value, Milestone Trend, Eisenhower Principle and Getting Things Done are supported. Virtually everywhere, you can perform operations by dragging and panning.
Servers are in Germany
Allegra Cloud is operated on servers located in Frankfurt a.M., Berlin and Karlsruhe. Allegra Cloud is fully DSGVO compliant. There is a personal and responsive support that helps users via e-mail, phone and web conferencing.
Easy for the layman – too easy for the expert
Asana is a widely used cloud-based application to manage projects. A nice user interface with many instructions and hints makes starting with the tool relatively comfortable. With the free version for a single user you can not work productively; that’s just a bait offer. The minimum useable user quota is for 5 users and costs around $350 a year.
Templates, lists and boards
When creating a project, you start from a project template. There are quite a few of them ready to use and you can also create your own. At the center of the tool are projects in which tasks are managed. There is only one kind of task in a project, so you can not define any risks or open points, for example.
The tasks can be displayed in list views or on boards. There is a timeline view similar to a Gantt chart and a calendar view. You can create your own input forms.
Good solution with a few gaps
It is obvious that the concept of Asana offers many users a completely sufficient functionality. But you should pay attention to the following points if you want to start with Asana. Asana might fit your needs if
- You do not need a Work Breakdown Structure, ie hierarchically arranged tasks. There are only subtasks in one level
- You do not need subprojects, they do not exist
- You do not need read-only and invisible task attributes
- You can handle tasks, risks, open points, milestones etc. all the same
- You do not need tables in the task descriptions
- You can do without methods like RACI or Earned Value
- You do not need a comparison of an actual state of a project to a target state
Server location in the US and Europe
The project management software Asana runs on servers that are located in the USA and Europe. As of December 2019 Asana stated in their blog that it is possible for Enterprise customers to host their data in European data centers that are subject to the European data privacy laws.
Very good Issue Tracker and Scrum Tool
Jira is an issue tracker optimized for software development and a very good scrum tool. Jira is highly configurable and provides many interfaces to other software development tools such as Wikis, source code repositories, and continuous integration systems. It supports simple workflows and can be extended through a number of rich APIs.
Perfect for agile project management
In terms of functionality and usability, Jira sets the mark for agile project management software for software development. The standard workflows such as creating and executing sprints are optimized. The user interface is functional, friendly and tidy. There are all necessary views such as configurable task boards and lists. The different types of events such as Epics, User Stories and Tasks are also treated differently.
Classic project management not supported
Jira does not support project hierarchies and only one level of sub-tasks. This means that you can not map a project breakdown structure or a work breakdown structure. It also lacks views on time planning (no Gantt) and resource planning. There is no concept of “project types” eg for hardware and software subprojects in an embedded system. There are some offers from other manufacturers, which try to supplement missing functionality with plug-ins.
Cloud and On Premises possible
Jira is offered both as a cloud solution and as an on-premise solution. The vendor does not commit to the server location and promises to assist its customers to be European privacy protection regulation compliant.
4. MS Project
A tool for the project planner
MS Project is known to many as desktop software and has a bad reputation. Above all, this is based on the fact that dealing with such a powerful tool requires profound knowledge of project management and the associated terminology. In addition, the extensive functionality of the software offers the user almost unfiltered and complete, which even experienced project managers find strenuous.
The desktop version of MS Project is unsuitable for modern, team-based, collaborative project management. But there is also a MS Project Server, and for this in turn a web interface.
MS Project Server: Too complex for the team
In order to involve the entire team in project management, project management software must be able to provide role-based, reduced views on functionality. For this purpose, the software must also be able to support important process elements that have an effect on project management (eg issue tracking, requirements management, continuous integration).
That’s exactly what MS Project does not offer. Even in the web version, the solution remains a tool for the project planner, who must try to adapt the plan to the harsh reality through discussions and queries.
Installation and Support
MS Project comes from the manufacturer without personally addressable support. The user can access a help center and help themselves with search queries.
The installation of the server software can only be done on Windows servers and needs sound system administrator knowledge. The software must be configured after installation to adapt it to your own processes.
The solution with the best marketing
“I want to hug the people who invented this,” says Monday about Monday. Monday also says about Monday, that it offers a similar range of functions as Wrike. Monday also makes other promising statements. So I looked at Monday without having smoked anything first.
Nice and colorful
The user interface of Monday is clearly arranged and makes heavy use of bright colors. Instead of boring lists, there are many colorful tiles, which are provided with symbols. Everything is generously dimensioned. For those who like it colorful, it doesn’t get much better.
Where are the projects?
A project management software without projects? Is that possible? The answer is no! Monday organizes all tasks in “Views” that have “boards”. There are a number of board types, such as a calendar view or a timeline. In the table view you can configure the columns of the boards. There are also ready to use templates for boards.
It never gets complex with Monday
With the simple approach of Monday, project management never becomes complex. The reason: The software simply does not support the handling of more complex tasks. Here is an excerpt of what does not work:
- Only boards, no projects or sub-projects. From about 30 tasks per board, the overview suffers visibly
- No task hierarchy, so no work breakdown structure is possible
- Access to either an entire line on the board, all content, or just read only
- There are very limited possibilities for creating input forms (“We are on it …”)
- The whole layout and design concept is getting to its limits with projects of more than 5 people and a few hundred tasks
Toy or tool?
The answer to this question certainly depends on the use case. Monday offers something of both, you can play with it and you can also handle a limited number of tasks. In marketing and . advertising, Monday is portrayed as an aircraft carrier; I had the impression of being on a coastal boat. Wouldn’t you like to hug their marketing?
Servers are in the USA
Monday is offered as a cloud solution only and operated on Amazon Web Services servers located in North Virginia, USA. Monday is not compliant with European privacy protection regulations.
The best open source project management software
When looking for free project management software, OpenProject is at the top of the list in terms of quality and performance. The project is one of the best solutions I have found. It is a fork of the Redmine project and is being developed independently of it. It offers a clear, tidy and modern user interface.
Large range of functions
OpenProject is well suited to projects related to software development. The system is fully configurable. Like Redmine, it offers so-called “modules” that can be activated by project. There are modules with functions for tickets (issue tracking), time tracking, news, documents, files, wiki, repository, forums, calendars and an interactive Gantt view.
Project and task hierarchies
OpenProject makes it possible to create project hierarchies and task hierarchies of any depth. Processes can be linked with each other, eg through predecessor-successor relationships. Expenses can be categorized.
No support for agile methods
To find out what OpenProject does not offer, I looked at the list of features of the commercial Enterprise version. It quickly becomes clear that there is no Agile Board for Scrum and Kanban in the free version. There is also a lack of support for single sign-on, attribute highlighting, full-text search in attachments, a usable workflow system and, unfortunately, as rudimentary a function as a multi-select custom field. I also found no way to freely design the input forms.
Good for classic PM and issue tracking
The free version is therefore particularly suitable for classic project management, task management and Issue Tracking Tool, in which you do not need workflows and the number of attributes for tasks remains manageable.
OpenProject is maintained by a company in Berlin and under continuous development by an active developer community. The project has about 3100 stars on Github.
Installation and technology
The free project management software OpenProject is written in Ruby on Rails and supports the Postgresql database system. I installed my test system on a Linux server, which was relatively easy with a Docker container. Installation on Windows servers is possible, but challenging.
Click here to download for OpenProject.
Versatile project management tool
ProjeQtOr is a very comprehensive software for general project management. The product covers many process areas, including project planning, resource management, incident management, requirements management and test management.
When I installed the tool and logged in, I was confronted with a wealth of controls and features. Behind the default configuration is a specific development process, which you first have to adapt to your own. The default configuration is for a system house that performs software development projects for external customers.
Input masks and fields not configurable
If you do not need some of the functions, they can not always be removed from the user interface. Also you can’t define custom fields and input forms. If your own process matches the one shown in the tool, you should take a closer look at ProjeQtOr. The installation and initial commissioning on a Linux server takes about an hour.
Very complex user interface
The many functions unfortunately result in the user interface appearing very complex. There is a Gantt representation, but it is not really interactive. There are hardly any context menus and little drag and drop functionality. The workflow editor of the tool is tabular and not graphical. There is no support for agile project management.
Installation and technology
It is not clear wether ProjeQtOr is directly supported by a company. Commercial support is available via a contact form on the website. The Sourceforge administrators are located near Toulouse in France. The project has been developed continuously since 2010.
Click here to download ProjeQtOr.
Sophisticated, comprehensive project management tool
Honor to whom honor is due. Redmine serves the category “free project management software” since 2006. Redmine is a project management tool especially for software projects. The system is very configurable. It offers so-called “modules” for tickets (issue tracking), time tracking, news, documents, files, wiki, repository, forums, calendars and a non-interactive Gantt view.
You can create so-called “trackers” to be able to treat different types of tasks separately. For projects, tasks, time entries and users, and customer-specific fields can be created. There are integrations with SVN and Git. Tasks can also be created by e-mail.
Project and task hierarchies
Redmine supports project planning with project hierarchies and transaction hierarchies of any depth. Tasks can be linked together, for example, by predecessor-successor relationships. There are simple, tabular workflows. Expenses can be categorized.
A few shortcomings
Redmine is a mature, high-quality and configurable system suitable for different types of teams. If you look for deficits, you can mention the somewhat outdated design of the user interface, the lack of drag and drop functionality, the rudimentary Gantt chart, lack of configuration options for input forms and the just rudimentary workflow support.
The most important point, however, is likely to be the lack of support for agile methods in the core system. If a team needs support for Scrum or Kanban, it could compensate with extra plug-ins.
Installation and technology
The Redmine project currently has a team of two active developers plus a large user community. Redmine is based on the Ruby on Rails framework and supports a whole range of database systems. Due to the technology used, installation on Unix systems is easy, but a challenge on Windows systems. The project has about 3400 stars on Github.
Click here to download Redmine.
Cloud solution with a large range of functions
Wrike offers its project management software of the same name under various tariff models, in which different degrees of functionality are available. I have tested the Enterprise version because the free offers and the Professional offer are functionally too limited.
Folders, projects and tasks
Wrike uses the terms “folders”, “projects” and “tasks”. Tasks can be nested arbitrarily. Even projects and folders can be hierarchically structured and grouped together in “Spaces”. Tasks can be provided with their own fields. It takes some time to get used to this modeling; after that it seems plausible.
All important views there
Wrike provides a list view, a Kanban board view, a Gantt view, a calendar view, and a spreadsheet view of the tasks. A particular strength of Wrike is its workflow module. This allows a number of tasks to be automated.
No support for Scrum
Wrike offers a Kanban board for agile project management. Real support for Scrum does not exist unfortunately; it lacks the concept of backlogs, epics, user stories and sprints. Thus, the software is mainly suitable for classical project management, but not for agile or hybrid project management.
European privacy regulation compliant
The California provider operates European servers in Amsterdam and hosts user data in the European Economic Area. Wrike is European privacy regulation compliant. If you do not need agile project management and the prices are okay for you, Wrike has a sophisticated, functionally rich solution for simple workflow management and classic project management.
Very nice for agile software projects
ZenTao is a project management software designed primarily for teams that develop software with agile methods. The free tool is especially popular in China, where it is being developed.
The user interface is clean and modern. The open source edition is functionally limited, but provides teams with all the key features for all tasks in a Scrum development process. If you need Gantt charts, Excel import, an integration with SVN/Git or your own report templates, you have to switch to a paid version. There is a Chinese and an English online help.
ZenTao does not support expense-based allocation and billing of tasks; there is no support for accounts and cost centers.
Classic PM only partially possible
The open source variant has no user-definable fields and input forms. The roles are not assignable to a project, but are always assigned to a user. The permissions are not configurable. The transaction types are fixed, you can not create your own.
ZenTao allows you to define repetitive tasks. There is no support for a task hierarchy; however, tasks can have child tasks. Projects can not be split hierarchically into subprojects.
Installation and technology
Teamwork made easy
Trello is a cloud-based solution to facilitate team collaboration and simple project management. While it lacks the configurability of some of the other solutions presented here, it makes getting started quite easy. Together with its reasonable pricing scheme it is a solution worthy to look at more closely.
Wide range of team collaboration functions
ProofHub tries to cover the most important team collaboration and project management functions. This encompasses
- Task management
- File and document management
Within these functional areas there are dedicated views to support important use cases. There are most notably an interactive Gantt view, a Kanban view, a simple task list, a calendar view, special views for discussions, and a chat view. Reports and cockpit views add extra value.
Good solution with a few gaps
ProofHub shines with its wide range of functions. However, there are a few points that you need to be aware of in case you need it.
If you are thinking about serious Scrum development, you might want to consider Allegra or Jira. If you must have support for a fully hierarchical work breakdown structure you will have to turn to OpenProject, Redmine, Allegra or Wrike.
Server located in the US
The project management software ProofHub runs on servers that are located in the USA. Thus, they are subject to the local data protection law, which is incompatible with the European privacy protection regulations. You need to check for your organization if that can be a problem.
Which products did I exclude?
- The software has been updated within the last 12 months
- The software has been around for more than 3 years
- It can be seen who supports the further development of the software
- As an on-premises solution, the software runs on Windows and Linux
- In the open source area, the software is usable without paid extensions
- The software is web-based and can be used without browser plug-ins or special servers
The best project management software: a conclusion
It’s amazing that we did not find more than 4 viable open source products that can be used seriously for project management purposes. All but two offer paid extensions, which then turn the tools into complete solutions. It is also interesting that two tools have emerged from the same code base.
The many (over 300) other solutions are either no longer maintained (eg dotProject, ProjectOpen][, LibrePlan, are for desktop use only (eg ProjectLibre), are pseudo-free offers or fit only for very limited application scenarios. There are furthermore a number of free desktop tools that are not suitable for teams.
In the commercial area, there is a wide range of solutions, of which I have presented a few of what I believe are the best (and may it just even be the best in marketing).
Please use the comment function to alert me to errors or important products that are missing in the list.