Project Management Tools: Choosing the Best Fit for Your Team

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

What are project management tools, and how do you select one that best meets your team’s needs? Learn more about tools and project management programs to help you and your team get organized. 

[Featured Image] A team sits at a conference table, working on individual laptops.

Many teams use project management software to organize their workflow. Platforms like Airtable, Trello, Asana, and Smartsheet could be a good fit for your team as a way to efficiently track, assign, and schedule various aspects of a project. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular options.

What is project management?

Project management is the organization and planning of a project from start to finish. People involved use particular skills, techniques, and tools to deliver a finished project with value to others. For example, developing software to streamline business processes or coordinating relief efforts after natural disasters both require project management [1].

During this process, teams engage in numerous activities, including identifying the project lifecycle. Additionally, teams might establish a project's objectives, set goals, identify resources, assign tasks, explore risks, and set milestones to ensure the project meets its intended deadline.

Read more: 11 Key Project Management Skills

What does a project manager do?

A project manager plans out each aspect of the project to ensure it is complete and delivered within a particular timeframe and budget. Usually, a project manager focuses on tasks that are time-constrained and temporary.

For example, let's say a project manager for a marketing company plans to manage a brand's blog for the next six months. The project manager would likely meet with the client to understand their needs, create a content calendar with monthly topics ideas, assign writers to deliver content each month, and assign someone to proof and publish each piece.

As you can see from the example, each project often has multiple steps in its workflow, so project managers usually have strong organizational skills. Additional skills include:

  • Leadership 

  • Communication

  • Negotiation

  • Management

  • Technical abilities

  • Critical thinking 

Why do they need tools to complete tasks?

Project managers often have several projects to manage, each with different goals, resources, budgets, and teams involved. Project management software helps managers stay organized. With the help of software, managers can:

  • See all projects and the progress of each one in a centralized dashboard

  • Communicate with their team easier

  • Assign roles and set milestones so everyone knows their part

  • Manage budgets

  • Identify problems quickly

  • Create a standardized process that everyone is familiar with

Goals of project management tools

Project management software comes with a handful of features that help managers achieve goals, like evaluating the scope of a project, breaking it down it smaller, assignable tasks, and setting up a workflow to achieve it. More specific goals include: 

Planning a project

Project managers take an initial concept, talk with everyone involved, and create a process to turn an idea into reality. Aside from meetings to assess the project objectives, the project manager will define the project's score and develop a detailed plan to get the job done.

Tracking steps for the project

Projects become actionable steps within the software. Managers assign tasks, with due dates, through team calendars. At a glance, managers can see where multiple projects are in their lifecycles and quickly identify problems. For example, if a deadline lapses, the manager gets a notice and can message team members for an update.

Managing personnel

Team members receive task and deadline assignments within the software. While working on their aspect of the project, they have access to collaboration tools, like file sharing and messaging. 

Documenting work

As each person completes their task, project management tools provide documentation of their involvement. Software often includes time stamping, allowing you to see who finished each task and when. A record of the entire project and its timeline lives in the software.

Meeting goals

With project management software, teams can set goals and identify key performance indicators (KPIs) to gauge success. Teams can set up team dashboards and performance reports, too, so everyone can easily understand how well they've performed.

Types of project management tools

Dozens of project management programs exist on the market, and while they all focus on organizing and maintaining a workflow, their features vary. As you research different types of software options, consider features like the following:

  • Scheduling tools like Gantt charts, timelines, and calendars

  • Collaboration tools like file sharing, messaging, and discussion boards

  • Integrations with apps and platforms that your company already uses

  • Reports that provide projects status in one dashboard

  • Budget tracking capabilities

  • Time trackers or integrations with commonly used time trackers 

As you weigh the features your team needs, you can explore individual solutions to see which type of project management tool is best. Let’s explore a few popular platforms:

1. Airtable

Best for: Teams that want to customize their management process

Airtable does offer the resources to create a workflow, but it's ideal for those who want to code their own process. It's a highly customizable platform that benefits larger enterprises that need to track not only a project but also resources, budgets, and staff [2]. 

Whether you decide to draft a process from scratch or not, the features of this platform include:

  • Ability to import projects from other software

  • Gain multiple project views for easier project data management 

  • Ready-made processes for things like a product launch or collecting feedback

2. Trello 

Best for: Simple projects, small teams

Trello, a Kanban board-style system, is ideal for basic needs. You'll create a workflow and move projects through it. The stages of the project are on Boards, while the projects are listed on Cards. Two boards might say "Writing in progress," and the next might say "Ready for editing." You'll move the Card through each Board until it's complete [2]. 

Other beneficial features of Trello include: 

  • Checklists

  • Calendars

  • Basic automation like calendar reminders or items crossed off a checklist 

  • Color-coded cards

3. Asana

Best for: Enterprise teams with complex needs

Asana offers features and functionality beyond the basics and meets the needs of larger teams that manage dozens or hundreds of projects at a time. Managers can set up a workflow, assign roles, and access a project calendar using shared workspaces [2]. 

Additional features that users like include: 

  • A variety of ways to view work, like on a list, calendar, and bulletin board

  • Ability to set goals and due dates

  • Integration with apps like Microsoft Teams, Google, Slack, and Adobe Creative Cloud

4. Smartsheet 

Best for: Teams that rely on spreadsheets

If you have projects organized by spreadsheets and you're happy with the process but want more features and functionality than Excel or Sheets can provide, Smartsheet could be a good fit. Each column often represents a step in the workflow, and each row is a specific project the project manager can assign to a team member [2]. 

Its features include:

  • A messaging tool that makes communication easy

  • Easy-to-send forms to gather feedback on a project

  • Digital asset management

  • Basic automation, like reminders and approval notices

Get started today with Coursera

If you're new to project management, online courses can help you accelerate your learning process. The Project Management Institute, for example, offers project management certifications, or you can check out learning options on Coursera, like the Google Project Management: Professional Certificate. This highly-rated course guides you through learning the best practices and most in-demand skills in the field of project management.

Article sources


Project Management Institute. "What is Project Management?," Accessed July 27, 2023.

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