In my opinion, the most critical component of running a remote team is selecting the right project management philosophy and tools. The right project management tool will tie aspects of your project and team together and integrate other tools. When done right, your project management tool becomes your central work hub. Since projects are often varied and have multiple components and variables it is critical to choose the right tool that will assist your business and increase flexibility.
The market is saturated with 100’s of project management tools. Many are similar and they all copy some aspects of each other. We have used a number of the biggest players in the field including:
For our business requirements, the tool that consistently came out on top was ClickUp. There are 5 key aspects that were critical for us and will likely be the same for you, I’ll take you through them and why ClickUp became our project management tool of choice.
Many project management tools are built for a specific project type and when you try and use it for another project it does not meet the needs. Projects are dynamic, they change. As an agency we manage multiple projects, all of them have different stages, requirements and goals. ClickUp has an extremely flexible hierarchical structure that can adapt to different project types. ClickUp starts with a high level project space. Within that space are folders. Each folder contains lists and the individual tasks sit within these lists.
In our businesses we’ve customised this for our purposes. A project space for examples is everything One Egg does (box 1 in the screenshot below). Another space could be a side project we are working on. Within the One Egg space, each folder is a client (box 2 shows OED as a client). For each client, we have multiple lists. One is Content (Box 3), another is Social Media, and so on, covering all the projects that we are working on for OED clients.
Within those lists fall all the tasks we are working on. Each project list can have different stages depending on the requirement of the project. We can also assign tasks to multiple owners, we can have subtasks and dependent tasks. 2 examples of tasks can be seen below
One of our core tenants as an agency is transparency. ClickUp’s flexibility lets us have control over privacy and who can see which tasks. We can bring in clients as guests to view and comment on certain tasks and projects but not others. We can also ensure that staff members are only working on projects relevant to them..
2) Ease of use
There are some tools that have amazing features but are difficult to use. This may work for you individually since you have invested in learning the tool, but getting your team and your clients to use it will be more challenging if the learning curve is too high. Not everyone may be as tech savvy as you and the tools will only work well if everyone is on board. It should be intuitive to use from the outset so that it can grow with your team. It should also have good documentation and a strong supporting team behind it.
We found ClickUp to be fairly straightforward to use. It is extremely flexible, it does have more options and customisations then some other project management tools, which makes it slightly more of a learning curve. Asana, for example, is easier to use out of the box, but has less customisation power. Where ClickUp shines especially, is in the support and documentation provided. There are constant updates and thorough and easily accessible supporting information.
Image: The Asana interface is clean, has a short learning curve, but offers less customisation
We’ve dedicated a section further on to talk in more depth about communication tools like Slack. Yet it’s surprising how a great project management tool can handle a lot of your team communication needs. The transition to a project management tool will transport your communication about a specific task out of email and into a task based system. Email is a messy way to run a project, it isn’t designed for it, yet so many companies still do it this way because it is the default. Project management tools are centred around tasks and designed to focus communication on each task. It is a change of mindset and discipline to move away from emails and into a project management tool, but it is far more organised.
Most project management tools facilitate this well with the ability to comment and have running discussions on tasks. Users can be tagged in discussion to ensure they receive notifications (via email) on new comments directed or assigned to them. Below is a screenshot of the commentary section in ClickUp showing a three way discussion with users tagged.
The ability to also assign tasks is a key aspect of project management. Clickup for example allows you to assign tasks to multiple users.
A number of project management tools like ClickUp & Monday.com have also integrated video collaboration into the task screen. This allows you to conveniently start a conference call with members of your current task.
Screenshot of task screen from Monday.com, showing ‘Start Zoom Call’ Button
We discussed how these tools allow you to move communication into them. However it’s undeniable that most communication still happens in email and making that leap can be a challenge. When it comes to solving email integration, the best project management tool I have used is Streak. The brilliance of streak is that it actually sits within your Gmail account as an add-on. Originally designed as a CRM, it works just as well as a project management tool. The basic idea in Streak is to create boxes which you can think of as ‘tasks’ and then assign emails to those boxes. Within your box you can include data related to a project, such as description, assignee, notes or any other custom field. Practically speaking, when I receive an email from a client related to a task, I can easily assign the email to the task (or create a new task). Then I send off a new email to someone in my team and assign the task to them. All of this information including all emails, assignees and task notes is linked through the one box. For interested readers I have written an in depth review of how you can use Streak as a project management tool.
With Streak there’s no need to open a 3rd party project management application. As you can see in the screenshot below, with Streak we have multiple pipelines (task lists) in the sidebar (box 1) and then the main screen we sort each of our boxes according to stages, such as ‘in progress’ and ‘completed’. All this is within Gmail.
Streak is a fantastic product if you are a freelancer managing the communication yourself. But once you bring in other team members it can be more challenging because there is a steep learning curve, it’s expensive per user and it is missing many other important features that other project management tools have.
4) Time Tracking & Reporting:
A great project management tool should pull all aspects of your work flow together. It should help you organise everything in one place and drive efficiency. Ultimately becoming your go to tool and your springboard for all other work. Some tools like Clickup allow you to track project time and report on progress easily in one place.
There are some great time tracking tools out there which we will discuss further on. But ideally team time tracking should be done against your projects in your tool. ClickUp allows you to create time estimates for each task and then track actual time against these tasks.
ClickUp also provides dashboards to review how projects are tracking, how team members are progressing on tasks and which projects are falling behind and becoming overdue. There are reports detailing estimated vs actual time per task and project group. Below is an example of a ClickUp dashboard with scoring for each team member based on task interaction and completion.
5) Growth Potential:
Your project management tool needs to be flexible, easy to use and provide strong communication and reporting. Without these aspects the tool will not grow with your team. Another no less important consideration is pricing. The tool needs to have the right balance of features and pricing. Consider your growing team as well as guest contractors and clients that need access to the tool, as you grow user based pricing can become an issue. Clickup is the most reasonable tool we have found from this aspect. This is why we recommend it overall.