The most challenging aspects of running a small business isn’t always your day-to-day specialty work. Sometimes it’s simply controlling the organizational management and task delegation to see the big picture in terms of who is doing what and when. Once your business gets to a certain size, owners and project managers soon find themselves wishing for a tool to help them streamline and in some cases, automate these often mundane, yet super important tasks.
Under the umbrella of project management solutions, the offerings are incredibly vast and at first search, can be overwhelming! We recently went on this quest internally, with a set of very specific needs in mind. As a marketing agency, we manage hundreds of projects for various clients and missing deadlines is not an option. We have been using Todoist but believe we outgrew its functionality. What we thought would be a quick and simple task, turned out to be the complete opposite.
The basic needs for our agency (our Wish List) were as follows:
- Recurring Tasks (Must Have): We didn’t want to have to reinvent the wheel every week or month for tasks that were pretty much the same each time. (Think monthly newsletters, regularly scheduled direct mail and social media management.) BUT we also didn’t want to have to re-structure the entire schedule component if something needed to get pushed out a day or if someone missed a deadline. We weren’t sure exactly what this module should or could look like, we just knew what we hoped it could do for us!
- High-Level Overview (Must Have): Our project managers need to be able to login quickly and be able to tell, within a few mins, where everything is, what’s been delivered, if any balls have been dropped, and if there were things that might
be negatively affecting the final deliverables for each of our clients’ projects.
- Time Tracking of Billable and Non-Billable Time (Must Have): This was a big one for us, since we are an agency, its super important to be able to know, at any given time, where a project is in terms of billable hours, how that measures up
to what we quoted a client and whether a project is on track for what was projected. Bonus if there is some sort of an integration with an invoicing service and/or QuickBooks, because who doesn’t love it when all the systems play well together?
- Visual Calendar Layout of Projects (Nice to Have): When all the projects are tracked independently, while it’s a
manageable view, they don’t tell the full story because multiple projects (deadlines, teams, crunch times) can overlap with one another. A visual layout (but please, no Gantt charts!) overlaid onto a calendar would be ideal.
- Content Pipeline Calendar with Versions Control (Nice to Have): We knew this was a big ask but we were still were hopeful. So much of what we do at Snowbird is content-related, so this would be a game-changer for us. Because we utilize many different writers for different types of content, having a content pipeline utility that managed all the content we were developing, per client and with version-control would be magic and would give so much collaboration time back to the writers and project managers.
- Change Tracking/History (Nice to Have): This seems fairly basic but we wanted to be able to see when edits were made to project details, notes, deadlines, etc. Interestingly enough, several of the solutions we researched didn’t have this
- Collaborators (Nice to Have): In this marketing agency setting, we’re called upon to collaborate with other marketers (internal and via agency partnerships), and a plethora of clients, often with multiple contacts per business. This can really
add up to a lot of users, many of which only need to be involved with one small piece of the puzzle. Our hope was that we could invite “guest” collaborators to different projects without scaling our solution so far that we were priced out of the equation.
Simple right? As we found, it’s easier said than done. After countless hours of reading through comparison articles, combing through websites, emailing and chatting with sales reps, we came up with our “short-list.” Then it was time to start organizing our feature wish list to see who ticked which boxes.
Project Management Software Wish List Functions Comparison
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It was interesting, when digging into the features, to see just how many ways there are to accomplish similar tasks! Below are a few notes on specific functions we liked and didn’t like about each of the solutions on our short list.
- While they
technically do have a system for setting up re-occurring tasks, it wasn’t as agile as we would have liked. Many of our re-occurring project have steps that are dependent on the completion of others and it didn’t seem as though this product could account for that.
- While there was the ability to track projected time vs. actual time – there didn’t appear to be a simple way to pull reports by client – and since we are an agency working against billable hours per client, this would not really work for us.
- The options to view projects by Gallery Maps or Mind Map caters to how the individual user prefers to see their projects and tasks.
- The ability to see the big picture across the scope of all projects, without losing access to the details if needed was a plus.
- There was no re-occurring task functionality which is a deal breaker, for us – they claimed to have work arounds, but the explanation did not suit our needs.
- The sales reps struggled to answer questions – one of the ones we like to ask is “what additional functionality of your solutions sets you apart from the competition” it’s like that one tricky (read: annoying) interview question. It could make or break you – in this case, it was the latter!
- Rather than a high-level view, this solution had a rather in-depth set of alerts– which is all well and good, but not entirely what we were looking for. Too many alerts end up becoming “noise” and then cease to be effective.
- Their time tracking capabilities were more advanced than some of the other platforms. The ability to input hourly rates, based on project and pull reports based on project could be a major game changer for an agency.
- These guys and gals really seem to excel in the areas of resource allocation and scheduling for overall projects which could be handy as the business grows in the future.
- This solution relies heavily on created “landing pages” where one can set up any number of notifications and reminders. We felt as though it may be a bit over complicated with a longer learning curve that may not work with our business model and other collaborators.
- There is an optional calendar live app that is intended for lightweight content management.
- What kept us from perusing this solution further was the fact that the sales rep kept referring to a new product, with each feature question we had – the referred to it as “ProcessKit.” It’s not yet ready to roll out, but when it is, it could potentially tick many/all our boxes, but for now, it’s still in beta — boo.
- There seems to be a lot of set up, and it sounded a bit like another application we deal with for a few of our clients – we aren’t looking to build our own processes, that is just more time and too much work for us at this time.
- They cited a lot of integrations, so while we felt that Airtable could perhaps serve as a “mothership” for many of the things we need, other programs would need to be layered on in order to make it all come together.
- Proactive upgrades based on customer need.
- Ticked the most boxes on our feature need list!
- Customizable dashboards for each user.
- This interface had a lot of layers and unnecessary complexity. It’s akin to comparing the dashboard of Hootsuite to that
of Buffer. This was over-the-top and didn’t have a simple, user-friendly interface despite having the most features that we wanted.
- Features section on the website was vague and sales support was not overly forthcoming when asked specific questions.
So, what was the outcome? Unfortunately, we have yet to find a platform that crosses off all our Wish List items. And as it turns out, Todoist does recurring tasks which was the number one functionality we wanted. For now, we’ll optimize our usage of Todoist and pay attention to functionality updates on the various platforms. And who knows, our Wish List items may change over time.
What about your agency or small business? Which project management software do you use and why? Comment below and help others who may be in a similar situation.