It takes more than a cup of coffee and a monitor covered in sticky notes to organize a WordPress project. Whether you’re building a client website, launching a new plugin or running a SaaS, the success of your project depends on your organizational skills. And if your organizational skills are somewhat lacking – or even if they’re not – it’s worth investing in a project management tool.
So what is a project management tool? Basically, it’s a program – or these days, usually a SaaS – that helps you plan, organize and track a project or multiple projects, whether you’re working as an individual or as a team. At WPMU DEV, we use Asana, a popular project management app (which I’ll talk about more later) to track the development and progress of the many projects we have going on. But while Asana works for us, you might find another tool works better for you.
What makes a good project management tool or service? I’ll explore that question in more depth as well as name drop a few of my favorite tools and why I believe they’re worth checking out.
Key Factors When Choosing a Project Management Tool
Before we start looking into a few WordPress PM tools, let’s first discuss what I believe are the crucial factors you need to consider when choosing a tool that is suitable for you, both as a web developer or for a digital agency.
#1. Deployment Location: Self-Hosted vs Cloud
It’s the modern era of cloud services, SaaS services, or whatever name you want to call them; services available fully-online are now the norm.
The reason why these services have taken off and become so popular are various, but I’ll mention two which I believe are the strongest differentiators:
- Always on – SaaS-based products are always available, from anywhere, at any time. Today’s modern office is not restricted by location, time, geography or anything else. If you’ve got an internet connection, you can work – physical access to your office is a thing of the past. SaaS fully enable the digital nomad lifestyle.
- Lower Total Cost of Ownership – With cloud-based software, you can get started immediately. No need for infrastructural investments, licensing costs, maintenance agreements, support personnel. Both the initial investment and the running costs are typically cheaper for cloud-based products, even when paying on a monthly and per-user basis, especially for SMBs.
#2. Focused or Adapted for Web Design and / or WordPress Project Management
We’re discussing project management tools with a specific focus on WordPress and web design/development here, so I’m of the strong opinion that the tool you should use must somewhat revolve around your needs as a web designer/developer.
While generic project management tools are a dime-a-dozen, you’ll find more suitable candidates when you start niching into web design and WordPress.
Now, don’t get me wrong, generic tools are great and many of them are open enough and configurable enough to let you get on with the job even if they are not specifically developed with WordPress or web design project management in mind. In fact, I’ll mention quite a few tools that are actually quite generic in nature.
Yet, if you have a service that specifically caters for the web design, how to blog and WordPress niches, so much the better.
#3. The Service Addresses Your Pain Points
Before you subscribe to one of the many project management services, you’ll need to a little bit of introspection:
- What are the problems I’m facing as a web designer or agency?
- What changes do I need to do in my own processes besides adopting a project management tool?
- Do I need to resolve internal communication issues?
- Do I have a problem managing or communicating with the client?
- Do I typically underestimate the effort required and overspend on budgeted hours?
- Do I have problems remembering all of the tasks which need to get done?
- Are my developers and designers having trouble getting through to each other?
As you can see from the above, some of the problems can be resolved using a good project management tool, others can be resolved if you use a proper job scheduling software, whilst others still are going to need surgery.
No software can fix intrinsic problems YOU have to fix.
However, a good WordPress project management tool can surely ease some of the nagging pain points most agencies and freelancers are bound to experience during their day-to-day business. In fact, I daresay a project management tool is essential if you care about the success of your business.
Okay, let’s get down to the list.
How are you going to remember and keep track of all of the tasks you need to get done? With one of these project management tools.
WordPress Project Management Tools: SaaS
Tools Designed for Agencies and Freelancers
If you’ve been around for a while, you’ve surely come across and probably used at least one of these project management tools: Asana, Basecamp and Trello.
When we were setting up the agency I work for, we tried all three of these and whilst they do have their strengths, they’re not strictly WordPress-focused.
In fact, they’re very broad and generic in nature, but that means they’re going to be a good fit for a WordPress project management tool if you put in the effort to make them work for you.
That means once you pick up a project or client, you’ll need to set up the tasks you’ll need to get done in that project. At that point, it’s all a question of monitoring the done tasks and adding anything else which crops up.
Personally, I love the Asana UX – they get so much out of the workspace it’s amazing – yet I never managed to get stuck on it.
Basecamp is great. I spent quite a few months working with it. I never experienced Basecamp 1, but Basecamp 2 was pretty straightforward. I’m still not sold on Basecamp 3, I believe it’s been Trello-fied.
Trello is great for keeping an eye on a number of tasks. We use it at WPMU DEV to plan, organize and track articles for the blog getting written, but as the number of tasks and cards grows larger, it becomes pretty busy and makes it harder to keep track of stuff.
Tools Designed for Web Designers and Freelancers
This one is a new player in this niche. While you’ll find plenty of all kinds of management tools, BeeWits is right in the web designers niche AND has very WordPress specific project management built-in.
The idea behind BeeWits is simple – most websites, although the end-result is different, follow a pretty defined structure during the build. There are a certain set of tasks which need to get done on each and every website project you take.
So rather than you having to create all of the tasks from scratch, BeeWits uses a concept of task templates. These are essentially task or checklists of all the things you need to get done to complete a project. When you need to start a project with BeeWits, you can pick and mix from the task templates available.
That way, your project can get started really quickly. The prescriptive nature of the task templates also ensures that you have the confidence that all of the tasks which need to get done are in place.
There are hundreds of task templates to choose from, including WordPress tasks, WooCommerce tasks, SEO tasks, Design, Web design client questionnaires, development, testing, deployment and everything else in between.
All-in-all a pretty solid tool which is definitely worth a try.
Tools Designed for Issue and Project Tracking for Software Teams
If you’re working mostly with software developers, you’ll probably find that most of them, have at one time in their life used Jira. This tool by Atlassian started off as an issue or bug-tracking software, but as its success grew, so did the portfolio of tools and features available.
Jira is able to manage the tracking of bugs as they go for discovery to fixing, testing and deployment. It’s also been enhanced to fully track agile projects, including such stuff as planning for sprints, release planning and other software developer-oriented needs.
While it’s very popular with developers, this is typically not the tool of choice, particularly if you have a larger team made up of people with different specializations, few of which include coding.
Incidentally, quite recently, Atlassian has acquired Trello, so expect a few things to come out of that in future.
WordPress Project Management Tools: Plugins
If you’re not looking for a SaaS but would rather self-host everything, you’ve still got plenty of options. Project management is a perennial problem, so you can expect to find a plugin to suit your needs out there.
CQPIM WordPress Project Management Plugin
This project management plugin built on top of WordPress is a bargain if you ask me!
CQPIM WordPress Project Management Plugin was essentially custom-built by an agency in Brighton, UK, for their own needs, but as it grew and as the agency noticed the lack of quality project management plugins, they decided to release this as a commercial plugin.
It turned out to be an excellent decision since CQPIM is now the highest rated WordPress project management plugin at CodeCanyon.
Logging into the live demo, you’ll find quite a full-featured project management tool, including task tracking, quotations tracking, project tracking, Invoicing – it’s the whole hog.
I do believe there is work to be done on the UX, but it’s probably the fact that this is built on WordPress, which somewhat restricts the flexibility of what can be done.
Kanban Boards for WordPress
If you’re a fan of Kanban, or if you’ve been quite used to using Trello and want to emulate this using WordPress, Kanban Boards for WordPress is the perfect choice.
Just like we discussed with Trello above, Kanban boards are great for getting a bird’s eye view of what’s going on with a project, mostly at a high-level.
The plugin uses a freemium model, where you can start off for free, and buy any add-ons to extend specific functionality such as task comments, attachments, notifications, etc.
Kanban is a good choice if you’re just getting started – you’ll probably find that some of the addons are going to be required rather than nice-to-haves.
WP Project Manager
Another clean and fully-featured WordPress Project management plugin is WP Project Manager. Having been around for quite a few years, you can expect this plugin to be very mature in terms of functionality.
Even the user experience is much much better than other plugins which we’ve mentioned here – they moved away from the standard WordPress look and feel and went for something which is much more user-friendly.
WP Project Manager also includes a Kanban board by default, so you don’t have to go for a third party for that.
There is, however, one thing to be wary of: the plugin has an average three-star rating in the WordPress Plugins Directory, with quite a few one-star reviews too, indicating that the plugin is somewhat buggy.
Do take this into consideration and make sure that all works as necessary for you and you’re happy with the support before you take the plunge.
We’ve got one final option to complete this list of nine WordPress project management tools and it’s Project Panaroma, which takes the final spot.
This is another WordPress project management plugin that works on a freemium model, where you can start with Project Panorama Lite to get a feel of the product and then purchase the a specific version of the product, depending on the functionality you want to enable, how many installations you want to enable and a few other criteria.
Project Panorama has also avoided using the WordPress backend look and feel, which makes for a great UX -– the charts based progress indicators are a great way to quickly get an idea of how each project is doing.
All-in-all it’s a good WordPress project management plugin, and the price is quite fair for a self-hosted PM tool.
When it comes to project management tools, the great thing is that you’re essentially spoilt for choice.
The choice of which WordPress project management software tool or plugin to choose depends on quite a lot of things in reality and there’s no real good or bad choice. Set your own criteria, your must-haves, and nice-to-haves and then take the plunge.
If you’re looking for a project management choice specifically for WordPress designers, your choice is a bit more restricted, but with a few tweaks here and there you’ll be able to make most of the above work for you.