Project Management Tools for Digital Agencies
I haven’t met a project manager yet who has found the perfect project management tool. They’re generally working with two or three systems, as one size rarely fits all.
So is there one tool out there that does the job for digital agencies?
The answer is…it depends on the task. Do you need to create a project plan or track or as a collaboration/communications tool? What’s the size of your agency and how many people will use it?
While you can’t beat trust old Excel for simplicity, here are some common tools rated highly by local agencies (note that license and set up costs vary). For client side the answer will be different, although I’m using MS Project at the moment and what ever tools the developer may require for collaboration and logging bugs and issues. I recently used Podio as a collaboration and issue tracking tool but found it difficult. That may have been due to the antiquated versions of IE and Firefox we were tied to at the time. If you as the agency are looking to use tools that include clients, then ensure they suit the lowest common denominator.
Here are some PM tools which are being successfully used by local digital agencies:
Jira for issue tracking
Used by both agencies and clients alike for issue and bug reporting this is a popular tool. It is easily customisable for the particular needs of your company department, but there is bit of a learning curve. It can also do project tracking, and has a number of other add-ons including a code management function (for a fee). It is quickly becoming the de-facto tool for issue tracking.
Basecamp for communications
Basecamp is a great tool to enable communication across departments, clients and agencies. Because it was one of the early project management tools it has gone through a big evolution and is therefore easy to use. The strength of Basecamp is in the ability to assign and track tasks, share files and calendars and send messages across agency and client. It has extended into other areas such as issues tracking, authorisation and workflow as well as invoicing etc.
My only reservation is that it relies on the client to be relatively sophisticated - it relies on IE 9+ which is not fully installed at my current place of work so the business side people can’t access it.
Projector for time and cost tracking and invoicing
Projector started out as a tool for professional services, and has been successfully implemented by several agencies I spoke to. They like the ability to time and expenses, invoicing, scheduling, and managing projects. It gives both a high level executive view of a project and can also manage the detail. It also has easy Dropbox and Basecamp integration.
Assembla for job tracking
Timesheeting and job tracking is a continual challenge. Assembla does the job in job tracking and ticketing system. Its speciality is in combining code and task management so it’s really useful for commercial software development.
Traffic LIVE for scheduling, resourcing and reporting
Traffic LIVE is a studio management system that offers scheduling, invoicing and task management. While it’s primarily a creative support tool it’s also well used in the digital world to help manage tasks, project management, scheduling/resourcing and timesheeting. The system gives a helicopter view and can handle quoting, billing and reporting.
Liquid Planner for managing multiple projects
Liquid Planner gives a very useful resourcing view of projects across the agency or division by assessing the impact of a range of estimations and expected delivery dates. From a financial management perspective the tool can be used to assess the impact of discounts and to reflect risk, and to give financial reports. Liquid Planner is particularly effective at planning, resourcing and managing tasks across multiple projects.
Other tools which have been mentioned:
- Agile Zen which supports agile methodology
Or go your own way – building your own PM tool
Some of the agencies I’ve spoken to recently have created a bespoke tool that covers everything from high level projects performance, resourcing, tracking time, logging and tracking issues. Or one agency built a system that integrates with financial reporting, and Jira for issue tracking. For example they are able to report on project efficiency, chargeable time, utilisation etc. Forecasting is always tricky, as projects sometimes change in scope midway. Depending on the complexity of the system it can take up to a year to implement.
There’s a fine line to tread – between capturing sufficient information for reporting and decision making, or asking for too much information and tying up people in filling reports and time sheets at the expense of actually doing work which is very unproductive. Ultimately the PM tool has to suit your specific circumstances.
If you have any other tools that you’d rate, please comment here: