When you embark your your journey as a startup founder, your responsibilities will spread among many different departments. While motivation runs high, you may be able to keep track of everything you’re doing. However, if you’re doing things right, your company will eventually grow, and so will the responsibilities. Due to this, you will need to build a system to schedule and track your team’s efforts.
James Clear says it best: “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems”.
And every great system consists of great habits.
One of these “must-have” habits is proper task planning. This is where project management comes in. By using the right software tool, you’ll be able to prevent problems before they occur, and maximize the team’s efficiency.
In this article, we help you discover the best project management tool for startups. After reading this post, you should understand what exactly your company needs, and which tool will help you get there.
Project management tools vs issue tracking tools
Before we look into the different tools, you will need to get an understanding of what each category is meant to accommodate:
Project management tools aim to organize task and tracking them on a surface level. They usually come with minimalistic interfaces and are easier to learn by new team members. These types of tools are great for people who are working with creative tasks, and aim to offer a general coordination of teams. The most popular tools in this category are Asana and Trello.
Issue tracking tools are aimed at more practical people, like software developers or UX/UI designers. They offer a lot more options and functionalities for task issuing and tracking. These types of tools are meant to keep an overview of more complex and technical issues. For that reason they may seem hard to understand at first, and can quickly turn people away. The most popular tool in this category are Jira.
Many non-technical founders tend to confuse issue tracking with project management. As such they mix up the tools’ purpose, making things unnecessarily complicated and chaotic.
The first step of the process, therefore, is to understand exactly what your team needs, and accommodate it with the right tool. In the next chapter, we break down each of the four tools described above, giving you a better introduction to their features and functionalities.
Best project management tools for startups
In the next few chapters we will give a brief introduction to our favourite tools, and indicate what type of startup would gain most value from using each one.
Asana - (Hybrid) team management and task distribution tool
Asana was first developed by Facebook executives, in order to plan & track the company’s internal tasks. It was only on 2011 that the product was actually released to the public, and it quickly became a hit.
Many claim that Asana is the best project management stoftware for startups. This is due to its versatility, minimalistic interface and a number of different features that can come in handly while your business scales. You can get a better idea of the software by watching its introduction demo:
Benefits of Asana for startups
- Planning and tracking. Create, assign, and track projects in just a few clicks. Handle the tasks for your in-house team and invite freelancers to join the project. This way you can track everything from one location.
- Add-ons. Hundreds of integrations can help you sync Asana with tools you are already using for your business.
- Team communication. Feedback, discussions, project-based communication, and better overview of remote team members.
- Goal hierarchy - Create high-level quarterly goals, monthly goals, and even custom goals, under which you can add smaller tasks.
- Reduce meetings - Each participant is able to track which of their team’s tasks are in progress or completed. This reduces the need for direct communication, which in turn improves the team’s efficiency.
- Manage workload - get visibility into the team’s capacity and restructure tasks when necessary to rebalance work.
Drawbacks of Asana for startups
- Very difficult to track technical tasks as the product is more focused on creative type of work.
- You can’t assign a single task to more people.
- Inability to indicate time for a task on the free version.
- Inability to track time spent on a task unless using integrations.
- Limited export functionality. No direct export to Excel or PDF format.
What type of startup needs Asana?
Asana is best for teams that are not focused on technical work, since the task-setting features are more oriented towards creative workers. It is especially handy for companies that outsource product development, as it is easy to collaborate with third parties and track their tasks. It can also be a great choice for a growing company that wants to expedite the onboarding process and maximize their employee focus on core tasks.
Pricing: $0 - $25 per person
Asana offers a freemium price model, which is great for startups. In the early stages you will most likely get everything you need from the free version. However, as your team grows, you might benefit from the additional customization options. For technical teams, the free version will not be sufficient as there are no custom fields for task setting (starting from Premium model).
Trello - Visual project tracking and task overview tool
For most, trello is like a scrapbook used to plan their personal tasks on a day to day basis. The tool utilizes a Kanban project management system, which places tasks in cards, instead of calendars (Asana). This way, users can keep a very “high level” overview of what needs to be done.
With Trello, you can create multiple lists that consist of task-cards, and shuffle them as you see fit. You can also collaborate with multiple team members and assign each task to different projects. If Asana is the best tool for project managers, then Trello is ideal for founders and clients, as they just want to keep a general overview of the process without going too much into the details. Check this video to better understand how to use Trello for your team’s workflow:
Benefits of Trello for startups
- Visual task management. Collaboration occurs in a more “playful” way thanks to the software’s minimalistic interface. Users can create boards, upon which they place cards, each of which contains tasks. It’s more like a virtual whiteboard with organized sticky notes.
- Power-Up feature. Power-Ups turn cards into “living applications”, allowing users to enrich them with intergrations and ad-ons.
- Great for both team management and self management, especially for busy founders who want to keep track of high-level tasks.
- Helps build agile teams without the technical aspect of agile development.
- Better (cross-departmental) communication, which leads to more organized teams. Trello’s visual boards make it easy for users to learn how to collaborate, and allows teams to organize in-house talent, freelancers, and remote employees under one (digital) roof.
Drawbacks of Trello for startups
- Limited file sharing size (described further below).
- Cards and tasks can only be placed on one particular board.
- The card-list system can seem great at first, but becomes quite complex when you have too many tasks at hand.
- Limited keyboard shortcuts can have an impact on user experience.
What type of startup needs Trello?
Trello is great for small teams who are working on non-technical tasks. It is best used by early stage companies with only a few employees. For example, if you are in the process of building an MVP, or hiring your first employees, Trello can be very beneficial. However, as the team grows and your responsibilities increase, Trello might not be the best project management tool for startups.
Pricing: $0 - $17.5 per person
Trello also offers a freemium pricing model, which allows uses to upgrade whenever they deem necessary. The free option comes with everything described above, apart from Power-Ups, and has a fairly limited file sharing size (10 MB). The premium versions allow users to share larger files, includes Power-Ups, and comes with additional support.
Jira - Issue tracking and agile project management tool for startups
Jira is an issue tracking tool that helps larger teams plan, track and release new software in an organized manner. You could see it as an agile team management tool.Similar to Trello, Jira also uses boards for project setups (Kanban & Scrum style), and is heavily customizable depending on the team’s needs.
Most people find Jira a lot more complex and hard to use. We can’t really blame them. People who use Asana and Trello may think of Jira as the premium version of the prior options with a bunch of different ad-ons and customizable sections. Due to this, the onboarding process may also be more extensive.
Overal, Jira is more oriented towards technical teams (developers, UX/UI, etc.) that wish to have a detailed historic backlog, time estimation, complex technical frameworks, and an attention to detail. Here is a quick demonstration of how the tool works:
Benefit of Jira for startups
- Allows developers to keep a better overview of their tasks and goals.
- Allows more users to review and comment on other people’s tasks before completing them, making it a great option for new team members.
- Jira offers time estimations based on previous tasks. For example, you may choose to track the time it takes you to fix a bug, afterwhich the tool will estimate the timeframe it will require to complete similar tasks.
- More customization and details when it comes to task planning and issue tracking. This offers a better overview but comes with the necessary complexity.
- Easier when you need to manage teams and actions together (general coordination).
Drawbacks of Jira for startups
- Jira is not practical for people who are dealing with creative work. While it may be useful for designers, its complex UI may scare new users away.
- Harder when onboarding new users, as they will need to go through a longer learning curve.
- Unnecessarily complex for creative teams and people that want to focus on the big picture.
Pricing: $0 - $14 per person
Jira’s free version can be a great starting point for teams that are handling low-scale technical tasks, like building an MVP product. The more parties involved in the technical process the more tracking points you will need to implement, in which case it makes sense to upgrade your subscription. The paid versions also offer more storage space, which in this case is nearly essential. Overal, when looking at Jira’s functionalities, it’s safe to say that the free version is simply a stepping stone towards the paid options.
So what’s the best project management tool for startups?
This highly depends on your company’s needs, goals, and structure:
Jira - If you want to see the overview and history of your technical tasks in much detail, then you will need to go with an issue tracking tool. In our opinion, Jira tends to perform best in this area. This option is best for startups who handle their product development in-house or wish to remain fully involved when outsourcing the development work.
Asana / Trello - If you don’t necessarily need to track the development of your product in such detail, then you don’t need to use issue tracking software. A project management software will do just fine. Asana and Trello are both great options, with the final choice being purely based on personal preference. That being said, Asana does have a few more features that make it easier for distributed teams to collaborate in a more organized manner. Both of these options are best for startups who are not actively involved with technical tasks on a daily basis.
Choosing the right project management tool for startups depends on several factors. However, the size of your company is not as important as you might think. The final decision will come by looking at the types of tasks you are looking to work with.
With Asana and Trello you can organize your team, but you will be rather limited when it comes to practical details. With Jira, you will have a better overview of technical tasks, but the UI is not very intuitive.
You may also notice, as your company grows, that different departments will need different team management tools. While this might not seem like the best idea initially, it could improve the efficiency of your startup. While a tool like Asana or Trello can be used to keep a general overview of all tasks, Jira could be handled by a CTO, or CPO, and their respective team.