Project Management Tools for Agencies: Asana, Trello, Slack, Zapier & Co.

11 Min.
Project Management Tools

With the right project management tools, you can improve your communication in the team, create project documentation, avoid duplication of work, monitor your schedule and, above all, save a lot of time. We introduce you to the most important tools.

Project management tools minimize redundant, manual tasks. They stop you getting lost in endless email conversations – half of which remain unresolved. But with so many project management tools to choose from, you should carefully consider which one is best for your needs.

Series: Project management with WordPress

This is the third part of our series on project management. In the first two parts, you can read more about planning WordPress projects with purpose and about the best workflows for more efficiency.

Asana

Asana is very popular as a project management tool and has a whole list of useful functions. We also work with Asana at RAIDBOXES (previously with Zoho). It's easy to learn and use, the interface focuses on the essential points, your milestones and central features of your projects are always in view.

The application allows you to organize long-term goals in a timeline or switch to a list view for team members that shows each individual's tasks. There is also a board view so you can see the overall view of all projects. So it's ideal for agencies with medium to large teams and parallel client work.

Asana not only shows you exactly which tasks each team member is working on, but also allows you to graphically view each individual's workload. You can also assign a workload to each task to prioritize what you need quickly and what can wait.

Asana Project Management
RAIDBOXES plans its content with Asana

Asana doesn't have native invoicing or granular reporting. But it does have the ability to integrate third-party apps to add these features. The tool comes in the following variants:

  • Basic: You can enter tasks via the list, board and calendar view, assign team members and due dates. Includes the use of mobile apps and Chrome extension for up to 15 team members.
  • Premium: This variant offers you custom fields, a timeline view, advanced search and reports, and the ability to add guests. You can also create rules, add forms and milestones, a management console and areas for private projects and teams.
  • Business: Brings workload tracking, portfolios, custom rules, advanced approvals and the ability to integrate additional software.
  • Enterprise: Comes, according to the provider, with individual branding, extended support & backups, data export and deletion as well as a guaranteed operating time, among other things.

Since the individual plans change from time to time, please check the respective scope of services. You can also try out some of the project management tools described here free of charge for a while. You should definitely take advantage of this, because not all teams get along equally well with all software.

Trello

If you're looking for a project management software that's user-friendly and has the easiest learning curve compared to the other tools presented here, then you should try Trello. Trello's card-based user interface is usually immediately familiar to those used to "organizing" their workspace with sticky notes. The most significant difference between Trello's Kanban card system and your probably not very clear workplace is that the app keeps everything organized for you. So you're not going to lose any of those sticky notes.

You can also add attachments and use almost unlimited space for comments within each card. Trello's view is arranged vertically to visualize projects, lists of tasks within a project, subtasks, etc. This makes it easier for you to find your way around.

Accessing Trello – and all other tools that are similarly structured – is particularly intuitive through this approach. The left column stands for the work to be assigned, then you drag the individual task cards to the next column to the right to distribute and start the ongoing tasks. Then you drag them another column further when they're reviewed or completed, and so on. This is also similar to how Asana works.

The simplicity of Trello is also its biggest shortcoming, however. Because Kanban project planning is the central function. You don't have the option to switch to other frameworks, such as an extended calendar view or an extensive Gantt chart. Nevertheless, the simple operation and the low price make Trello a helpful tool for many companies.

Microsoft Project and Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Project is one of the most comprehensive project management platforms available. With MS Project, project managers from small to large companies have a wide range of options for planning their work and distributing tasks among their teams. This includes different visual representations of your projects.

The tool allows its users to present their projects through customizable Gantt charts, for example. Some prefer this visualization for allocating resources and planning workflows over time.

Project goes far beyond many competitors' software in terms of additional project planning features. The budgeting toolkit, for example, allows you to calculate earned value, which shows you the estimated costs and revenues of a particular project. For some businesses, this is useless overload, but others it's mandatory. It all depends on the average size of your projects. It also depends on the level of professionalism your clients expect from you.

As a sidekick to Project, Microsoft Teams is a popular messaging app. It's particularly useful if your working environment is already aligned with Microsoft products. Because these can now be linked together quite easily.

Slack

Like its videoconferencing cousin Zoom, Slack has grown enormously in popularity as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Suddenly, all kinds of office teams were looking for ways to coordinate and communicate without meeting in person. And that's exactly what Slack is perfect for.

Agency software tested

At RAIDBOXES, we've been working from home for a long time – for some of the working week or even entirely. Which tools do we use? And which ones can we recommend to you? Read our articles on home office tools and an overview agency software.

Whether you have a team of two or run a large agency, Slack improves your communication with multiple conversations in separate channels, private communication with direct messages and file sharing. Slack is available in desktop and mobile versions.

The easy-to-navigate layout shows all your conversation threads, all the channels or group conversations you have access to, and all the users who've sent you a message directly, on the left hand side. Slack has voice and video chats, but they're not always very robust. At RAIDBOXES, we enjoy using Slack but have switched to Google Meet for video calls. 

Slack  collaboration software
Slack facilitates communication in distributed teams

Slack offers a limited free version to try out the tool first. Those who are used to Slack usually don't want to do without it. But beginners often need some time before they realize the great benefits of the tool.

Zapier

Zapier is perhaps the most curious and innovative of all collaboration tools because it's not actually a collaboration tool. Instead, it connects two or more other apps via "zaps" and enables them to exchange information with each other. This allows you to automate many steps that you used to do manually in a team or in the interface with your clients.

If you receive an email with an attachment, for example, you could set up a one-step zap to automatically copy the attachment to Dropbox and notify you via Slack. You have the option to create Zaps based on any trigger.

Another example would be to set up Zapier to automatically write an event in your team members' calendar apps when a Trello card with a due date is assigned. No more "Oh! Was that due today? I forgot...". These are just two ideas of almost infinite possibilities. Even if you already use a project management tool that lacks certain workflows, Zapier is worth a look. Maybe you can extend your existing software landscape with it so that your different tools and processes "talk" to each other.

Zapier Automation
Zapier offers integration with many well-known services

Time management and tracking

There are also valuable tools beyond the project management suites that help you keep track of everything and everyone. Sometimes they're included in the larger applications, sometimes as a separate app. As a project manager in a WordPress agency, you're up to your neck in every aspect of your team's work.

But even as a freelancer, you need to keep the big picture in mind and perhaps coordinate external forces and resources. At the end of the day, project management is all about keeping track of other people's packages of tasks. At some level, it's your job to manage the people who do those tasks.

Time management, time recording and monitoring are an integral part of your overall strategy. That's why you should also know the appropriate tools here.

What can software do for your time management?

One of the key tasks when working in distributed teams is knowing how you can record the actual hours worked on a project when working from different locations? What about if you involve other freelancers or agencies who also want to be paid?

We're no longer in a world where you can pull out the stamp card and record the time. Instead, you'll probably have contractors doing all sorts of different and complicated tasks all over the world, and maybe even in different time zones. Are you familiar with every little aspect of the work that goes into creating a WordPress website? Even then, you'll have a hard time keeping track of everything.

This is where the management and tracking of various tasks comes into play. Let's first address an uncomfortable truth. No one likes to have managers looking over their shoulder as they work. Likewise, managers don't want to be seen as wielding the digital whip and getting lost in micromanagement.

The first thing you thought when you read the heading "Time management and tracking" might have been something like, "We're not that kind of company. I trust my team." But the fact is that time management software benefits the developers and designers as well as the management.

The future is freelance and self-determined

We're living in a new era where freelance work is on the rise while permanent jobs are on the decline. Especially in the environment of WordPress agencies. And even where contractually secured work fortunately still prevails, employees want more freedom. In the form of remote work, for example, or working hours that actually deserve the attribute "flexible". See our article on the advantages and disadvantages for employees and companies.

Finding and retaining employees

With the current shortage of professionals with in-depth knowledge of WordPress or online marketing, your agency has a lot to offer. We show you how RAIDBOXES remains attractive as an employer. For example, through the Holacracy model, our corporate culture and the targeted promotion of teamwork.

Here are some concrete ways in which time management and time tracking benefit everyone, regardless of how and from where they work.

1. Pay your people what they're due

Most employees in the creative sector don't want a classic office job where they can't wait for their working day to be finished. They want shorter, more flexible working hours. In a job where you can regularly take on new challenges, and that comes with a higher hourly wage in return.

As a freelancer, on the other hand, it's often a challenge to make sure the pay is right. Many creatives sell themselves short and are afraid to ask for reasonable hourly wages. After all, others could do it "for less". The fact that it's difficult to survive is often neglected. The same goes for the fact that it is possible to find projects that pay well – if the quality is right at the same time. Keyword: coherent project management.

With time management tools, freelancers no longer have to worry about whether they're getting what they're entitled to. And project managers don't have to worry about whether the hours that are listed in the invoice were actually worked. Everyone can look at the timer in the app and see what's due for a certain task or for a certain payment period.

2. Convenient billing

And not only that. With detailed figures, you can also assure your clients that they're paying for exactly what was done – no more and no less. Who doesn't know the unpleasant situation of having to explain that it really took so long to do this or that task. It's like saying, "No, we're not going to add to the bill".

Instead of having this kind of awkward conversation, most of us would probably rather just round off when it comes to the number of hours. But if a particular task takes 20 minutes longer than you estimated, and your team does that task 10 times a week, that's 170 billable hours you're giving away every year.

There's much less dispute with project management tools. You can refer to the report and show your client exactly how long it took for which part. And you don't go by their estimate or approximation. This is especially helpful if you have several external freelancers working for you.

3. All work is accounted for

Speaking of an agile team that's constantly on the move, let's ask a quick question. Who among you hasn't done work-related things on the train, at the gym or during breakfast? Maybe even on your smartphone?

Freelancers and many employees in the creative industry are used to using apps on their mobile phones, tablets and computers. In addition, time tracking also tracks work that otherwise tends to go unnoticed: reading and answering emails, answering a customer's question via Slack or video call, maintaining the project management software, and so on and so forth.

With time tracking software, you and your employees are paid for all the extra minutes they work here and there. These are minutes that add up to hours faster than you think.

4.Keep an eye on the budget

When we start the production phase of a new project, most of us probably tend to bring a number of freelancers on board in our exuberance. Or people from other teams. To get the project rolling and to finish on time.

This approach can quickly get out of hand, however. Trying to balance the hours of "outsiders" with the hours of your internal staff can be a nightmare. Your costs can quickly spiral out of control. And you end up blowing the budget that your clients set.

With proper time management, you have all the numbers right in front of you, ideally on an easy-to-read dashboard. This way, you can take your foot off the accelerator if the billable hours get out of hand. Or, conversely, you can put a few extra people on the project.

5. Submit more accurate offers

Do you know the situation that your team is constantly over the estimates for tasks, milestones or even whole projects? Time management tools can help here. As you get used to using them in your ongoing projects, you'll start to develop a set of more precise time frames. In other words, a set for carrying out certain typical tasks and project phases.

This data allows you to give better estimates, which all clients want from you. And you don't have to ask your team to pull all-nighters because you were too optimistic in your time estimates. How about never having to say, "Just this one more project, please. It will get better after that."

Time management tools

Far from being Big Brother, time management tools can help you focus on your work. Motivate your team to talk about it at any time if they still feel monitored. Because monitoring won't do you any good if the framework is not accepted. Sometimes it's enough to adjust break regulations or to include or exclude certain activities in the tracking so that your colleagues feel more comfortable.

Are you looking for support for your time management or time tracking? Here's a selection of apps you should take a look at:

  • clockodo
  • clockin
  • askDANTE
  • todoist

There are also a lot of free tools available, a simple search in the search engines for "record working time" or "time recording app" will help.

Conclusion: Project management for WordPress

In this series of articles, we've shown you the most important concepts and systems in modern workflow and project management. In each of these steps, it's important to observe whether and how you can take the needs of your clients into account. And that in every phase of the project, from the briefing to the final acceptance.

Once you have set up a sensible project management system, you wonder how the work could have worked at all before. As a sought-after agency or freelancer, you will always have stressful phases. But with the tools and strategies mentioned above, you can get through them better and they will be fewer. Another nice side effect: through planning, you will no longer accept certain assignments because you will immediately realize that they are not worth it. Or you will only accept them if the commissioning agency site adjusts the conditions and/or the budget.

Our advice is to try out different project management tools and ways of working. Talk to other agencies and freelancers about what they've had good experiences with. Because what one person likes is not suitable for another and vice versa. We've noticed that our project management runs much more smoothly since we changed our tool.

Your questions about project management tools for agencies

What questions do you have about WordPress project management? We look forward to your comments. Are you interested in current topics about WordPress and WooCommerce? Follow RAIDBOXES on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or via our newsletter.

Marcel is responsible for sales activities at RAIDBOXES and concentrates on the satisfaction of our customers and partners. He's been passionately involved in sales for over 15 years and, together with his team, is driving forward the further development and expansion of the RAIDBOXES community. This includes a particular focus on the WordPress agency world, cooperations and freelancers.

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