Project management software for visual people with lots of deadlines?
September 30, 2015 11:00 AM   Subscribe

I need help finding a great project management tool for visual people with too many deadlines. Overly-demanding list of criteria inside.

I'm in a partnership with another writer, and we're looking for a better way to track our projects and deadlines. We've been using Asana, but the task/subtask to-do list has become a wall of text that really doesn't work for us.

I've spent 2 hours researching what feels like 100s of tools and none of them have looked right, but I'm hopeful I either missed some features or someone knows of some obscure and perfect software that fits the bill.

What we need:
-Three levels of organization--category, project, subtask. For example, Writing-->Essay #1-->1. Draft, 2. Send for edits, 3. Revise, etc. We tend to have a lot of subtasks per project.
-The ability to add deadlines for everything. I really like the idea behind Kanban, but the inability to add deadlines to subtasks is a deal breaker, since we'll need deadlines for almost every step in the process.
-A calendar that compiles all the deadlines in one place. We're both Mac people, so iCal integration is an option if a calendar isn't included in the program. We don't want to use Google Calendar.
-The ability to see what the other person is working on, what's been completed (both projects & subtasks within a project), and what the upcoming projects/subtasks are. Ideally, this would be a single big picture view.
-Either an app or a mobile responsive website.

What we don't need:
-Extensive integrations, though Dropbox would be nice.
-Messaging/chat functions (we use Slack for that).
-Long, text-based lists. Lists can work if they're kept to a manageable size while still allowing us a way to see the big picture.
-Scrum or sprint-based planning.
-Reports or analysis of past performance.

What we'd like:
-Good user interface. The more geared toward visual people, the better (colorful and clean FTW).
-Inexpensive or with a free option for small groups. Right now there are just two users, and we'll be adding an assistant next year. We'd rather not pay for a program meant for 20 users.

Does this wondrous product exist?
posted by mjm101 to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Did you give Trello a thorough look over? It seems to have a great deal of what you desire. Granted, it started out as a Kanban board, but man, you can modify the HECK out of it and share with others. You may need to pony up for business class or Trello Gold to get all the bells and whistles.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 11:24 AM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

It sounds like Asana meets your requirements. I've been using it for a small team, and although I don't use the deadline feature as heavily as it sounds like you will, i've had a good time with it.
posted by demiurge at 11:53 AM on September 30, 2015

Unfortunately, Trello has the same problem as the other Kanban systems--no due dates for subtasks. The official Trello workaround is to create another card for the subtask, which would get messy fast. It's too bad, because I agree--if Trello allowed subtask due dates, it would be solid option.
posted by mjm101 at 11:53 AM on September 30, 2015

Demiuge, we've been using Asana, but as I mentioned, the problem is it produces a long as hell text list that's hard hard to navigate.

For instance, we have several categories: Marketing, Financial, Writing & Publishing. Under Writing & Publishing alone, we have twelve projects. Each of those projects has 10-12 subtasks. Some are assigned to me, some to my partner, but we always want to see the big picture of who's working on what and when. If I go to my task list under W&P, I'm looking at a list of 120+ tasks. If I remove the subtasks from the master list, then I need to click on one project at a time to see its deadlines. The functionality is there, but not the ease of use.
posted by mjm101 at 12:07 PM on September 30, 2015

My company uses Work Front, which sounds like it has everything you need. Our project plans are broken into sections and sub sections like:

Configuration - First Call, Second Call, Set Up
Validation Document Creation, Risk Assessment, Test Protocols.

Configuration First Call, Second Call, Set Up
Validation Document Creation, Risk Assessment, Test Protocols.

i get three views into stuff - one is everything I am responsible for working on (this is done in both a list form, and a calendar view). The other is the outline of a specific project to see when other people are working on other things within the specific project.

You set due dates for your tasks, and your calendar populates to document when you are supposed to start/stop working on a specific task. I can do overlay calendars between my calendar and the rest of the team to see if there are issues/conflicts/task switching that can occur, etc etc.

You can upload documents to specific tasks for other people to see - so if my coworker needs my draft o fa document to their piece, they can find it attached to the project without having to ask me.

You can also log time against tasks and do trending reports to assess if you need more time to draft essays in general, of it just your partner does, etc etc.

Overall it is pretty slick. It's web based, which is helpful. No idea about cost - but it sounds like it hits every single one of your wants.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 1:07 PM on September 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry, I somehow missed that you're using Asana already. Have you tried using tags? Have a tag for each of your categories (Marketing, Financial, etc.). Then when you click on the tag, you can see all the tasks for that tag, sorted by project, showing deadline and who is assigned. You can also use a I'm not sure that a purely hierarchical format will work better for not showing all of your 120 tasks. You could also consider using "Project Sections" to help categorize things. Not to say that something other system might work better for you, but maybe these things will help you out.
posted by demiurge at 3:04 PM on September 30, 2015

Thanks for the help, demiurge. We've tried the tags, but that just adds one more bit of text to the screen, until each task is so busy our eyes blur. Really, Asana has all the functionality, but it's not a great option for us right-brained people. We write for a living, so you'd expect us to be fine with a text-based interface, but it's just too overwhelming for the number of tasks we have. Maybe after staring at words all day, we just want pretty pictures and colors when it's time to get organized and check our progress.

I've heard the best project manager is the one you actually use, and we only use Asana reluctantly, because we haven't found a better option us.
posted by mjm101 at 3:22 PM on September 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

After my own extensive to-do list app research and trial, I've landed on Wunderlist. It's not visual the way Trello is, but it's attractive and appealing to my visual aesthetic. (It helps that you can choose your background color and/or image.)

It has most of what you want (four levels of organization, mobile access, calendar integration, assigning tasks and seeing their status, free), BUT only tasks (the 3rd of 4 levels) have deadlines, so that might be a dealbreaker.

I feel your pain. I still haven't found an app that really does what I want.

Have you looked at Pagico? I don't know much about it, but a main feature is a visual overview of your workload.
posted by nevers at 4:35 PM on September 30, 2015

It's free and I love Wunderlist for this type of thing. It has some great functionality for something that costs nothing.
posted by Jewel98 at 8:47 PM on September 30, 2015

Thanks everyone for the help. I checked out all the options, but in the end they were either too expensive or not quite what we were looking for. But they did lead me deeper into the unending well of project management options, where I found a solution.

With some adjustments, Kanbanflow hits most of my criteria. Like Trello, it allows you to create tasks and move them around, so it's great visually. The subtasks don't allow due dates but, unlike Trello, it lets you create "swim lanes" (aka rows) for each board. So each Kamban board is a category, the swim lanes are the projects, and the tasks are the individual cards. The calendars are board-specific, but can be exported to iCal and Google Calendar.

Plus, it all fits in a neat grid and is color-coded, so it's very happy-looking. $5/month for premium, which I will willingly pay if I don't need to look for another project management system for several years.
posted by mjm101 at 10:10 PM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm glad the OP found something that works. Just wanted to add a link to a list of the supposed top 10 project management tools for freelancers because choices are good and it includes some services not listed above.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:25 AM on October 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

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