The Web is full of solutions for task and project management, ranging from memo listing to complex planning.
Sailing that sea, however, is not easy, because there is plenty of solutions and each of them is based on several compromises, not always evident in the test phase. After consistent data entry, limits show up. Then, switching to another solution is never easy (or possible) despite advertising.
In this article there are neither lists of all the available products nor comparative reviews. However, there is my experience choosing and adopting the kind of tool we are speaking of in a small team with various roles. Many domains were involved, included software dev, mechanical/electrical design, marketing, operations.
The selection criteria were the ability to use the tool both at the individual productivity level and the team management level, the availability of mobile and tablet applications, a wide set of handling/planning features.
I evaluated several product lines, obviously discarding the extremes, that is the programs for taking simple note lists and the software exclusively dedicated to the enterprise (ERP and similar):
- Low-end. These applications are designed both for personal use and for groups (accepting the simplification). Activity lists are a bit more structured and/or configurable than basic programs and, depending on the chosen plan, you can do a minimum of project management and planning. This category includes a very large number of products (among my favorites: ToodleDo, Asana, Nirvana). In many cases, a free version is not too limited and paid versions or extensions offer some top-end functionality.
- Middle-range. This professional category, widely populated with leading brands (including Targetprocess, Wrike, Jira), is also designed to meet business needs and is the one that promises greater longevity, power, and flexibility. Security policies, planning, dashboards, milestones/release management, advanced search/filtering, and so on are usually available features. You easily recognize this category because of the cost, often not low. Although sometimes there are free versions, these versions are usually too limited, especially if you intend to use them in a team. The investment will depend on the features you want to include, as all the products have more pricing plans. Be prepared to spend several hundred dollars a year for 5–10 users.
- High-end. Finally, there is a category of solutions designed to solve planning problems up to high levels of complexity (Microsoft Project, Teamwork Projects, LiquidPlanner, etc.). These are relatively expensive solutions that, for effective results, require a fair degree of in-depth analysis. In some cases, the most expensive pricing plan of mid-range products covers this category well enough.
I personally heavily tested many applications on the low-end, to save money. However, for a valid tool, there is no other way than stepping up and spending, because of two main issues: too basic features — that soon reveal their limits in real cases — and a very limited product growth over time — making unattractive to fill it with your data, starting with too many compromises.
On the contrary, I discarded the high-end applications because of the excessive cost compared to the needs.
My research in the professional solutions has therefore taken a very precise way in the middle range: Wrike or Targetprocess. A special mention goes to LiquidPlanner, but I discarded it for the high cost and a user interface the did not fully convince me.
Wrike is a fairly comprehensive solution and has many features not always present in the competitor products: projects/activities hierarchy, simple user interface, great tablet and smartphone applications, good configurability.
The two most important limitations of Wrike are the cost and project management. Pricing is rigid: discarding the free solution, you start at $49/month (they advertise $9.80/month/user but you are actually obliged to start with 5 users and grow by steps of 5 users). Also, project management is poor. Hierarchies allow high flexibility but, except this, other products are definitely better. The application is mainly focused on task management.
Targetprocess is disorienting at first. It adopts an apparently complex model — mainly based on software development — but customization options are largely superior to the competition products. So customizable that it looks too complex. If you do not get scared and have the patience to take the first steps, you realize that it is a very powerful tool, carefully designed for the management and planning of processes (even outside the software development). As you get accustomed, it’s easy to use. The smartphone application does not excel, but it’s a fact that these tools need bigger screens. The support is excellent and clearly more competent than Wrike. Higher pricing than Wrike ($20/month/user) but more flexible (single-user pricing).
We choose Wrike essentially for two reasons: we were afraid that the English language (I worked for an Italian firm) could scare and that the high degree of configurability and versatility of TargetProcess would disorient the users, completely new to these tools. These issues could be easily overcome but the perceived impact was already high and a psychological rejection was not the best way to start. Also, even though it was an overvalued point, I was fascinated by Wrike’s hierarchical flexibility and a bit scared by the hierarchical rigidity of Targetprocess (our processes were work-in-progress).
The adoption of Wrike was not only simple but even enjoyable. The interface is really handy and pleasing, except for small defects that you encounter in any product. Also, tablet/smartphone applications are very easy to use. Adoption by the users was facilitated by the excellent interface and simple concepts. On the contrary, the lack of a true syntax for advanced searches was an issue, as well as a modest customizability and the absence of any form of conditional formatting (for example, automatic highlighting of certain activities). Also, I was disappointed with project management from an overall point of view.
I think that Wrike is a decent tool, however, in the specific case, I longed for greater integration with business data (custom fields with special numbering logic, external folder linking, and so on). Having software development skills — despite Wrike envisaging the possibility of custom extensions — I chose to implement a specific application with Zoho Creator, which, in addition to activities and projects, could integrate many other data and address other needs. Wrike was abandoned and, one more time, I found myself with a large exported list to someway migrate to the new system. Wrike has a good export function, but I preferred manual (and thoughtful) reinsertion of the data into the new system. The possibility of exporting from a system and automatically loading it into another one, for this category of products, is a theoretical possibility. Actually, automatic data migration has always proved to be unsuitable, mainly because the two systems often do not adopt the same paradigms.
With hindsight, between Wrike and Targetprocess I would choose Targetprocess without any doubt. I am convinced that dealing with any reticence is largely paid off by the flexibility and longevity of the tool over time. Your company invests in the customization and the adoption of these tools, so it’s best to invest in a tool that can accompany the team/s over years, meeting possible growing needs.