6 Great Project Management Tools For Improving Agency Efficiency

This post was part of the State of Search Tools Week in which we took an extensive look at Tools in SEO, with posts, demo’s and more.


Over the last two years we’ve tried and tested a stupid amount of different project management tools, both for the design / development side of the business and for our online marketing team. We’ve found that because of the differences in the way that the two departments work (sprints, phased projects and support work vs retainers and consultancy), it’s very difficult to find one tool that fits all. We’ve also found that more technical members of the team respond better to different options. So, having learnt a lot about the features that have helped us to improve our efficiency, I thought I’d write a blog post with my findings.

I’m sure some people will think that trying these tools was a waste of time, however we’ve found that using more advanced tools (that are highly customisable) to improve our processes has helped us to significantly improve our efficiency and output (which ultimately saves us money).

Key things that we considered when we were choosing tools

  • Scalability – Does the tool have features that might be need before taking on larger projects?
  • Usability – Is the interface user-friendly?
  • Flexibility – Can it be integrated with other tools to give it more flexibility and does it have an API?
  • Versatility – Can it cater for both sides of our business (digital marketing and development)

Other considerations

  • Fast data entry (as fast as Google Docs)
  • Does it allow us to create kanban flow boards
  • Integration with Harvest (our time tracking software)
  • Easy to add estimates and story boards
  • Regular data backups
  • Does it allow you to track time against individual team members and tasks
  • Does it allow us to assign set periods of time against projects / tasks (with notifications)
  • Does it allow us to track burndowns

Nice to haves

  • Interface simple enough for clients to use
  • Automated progress reports
  • Calendar to show sprints and consultancy projects
  • User overviews

Which Tools we liked best

Here are the project management tools that we’ve used and liked the most.

Harvest (time tracking, invoicing, expenses)


Harvest is primarily a time management tool, which is used by large and small agencies around the world. In addition to it’s standard time tracking features, it also allows users to send invoices, create reports and much more.

One of the main reasons that we chose Harvest was because it has an API and it can be integrated with lots of other software. Harvest also has apps available for iPhones, Android devices, Macs, PCs and plugins for Twitter, Gmail, all mainstream browsers and much more.

Harvest has been great for GPMD as it’s easy to use, has loads of great features and they’re always thinking of new ways to improve it. For us, the key features that make is fundamental are:

  • The mobile and desktop apps
  • The reporting views and features (great for managing time on projects, individual people’s time and retainers)
  • Quick and easy invoicing
  • Team functionality (managers etc)
  • Manage expenses (all expenses are managed in the same way as time)

Conclusion: Harvest is really important for us and we’re definitely not looking at moving away from it anytime soon.

Trello (project management)

TrelloTrello has been something we’ve been thinking about using for ages and a few members of our digital marketing team finally started using it recently. Steve, our Head of Search is a huge advocate of Trello and has integrated it with a number of our other tools (including Google Docs) to add more value.

I think Trello is one of the only tools we’ve used that could potentially meet the requirements of both the development and marketing sides of the business. Trello uses boards for projects and caters for user stories through a scrum plugin (for Chrome). The integration with Google Docs is also really useful and data can be pulled from spreadsheets and pushed into spreadsheets.

More information on Trello:

  • You can assign to more than one person
  • Integration includes Google Docs scripting, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Harvest, Dropbox, Thunderbird, Chrome, IOS, Android and anything that supports JSON or CSV files
  • You can track time directly into harvest and it pulls over task description information and a hyperlink into the full details of the task, attachments and notes etc
  • There are feeds available including calendar integration
  • You can view all tasks by user
  • There is adoption of well over 1,000,000 users
  • Backups can be automatically scheduled into Google Drive
  • It’s designed around collaboration and perfect for clients
  • It is really simple for non-technical people and clients
  • Provides structured workflows, this will be particularly perfect for copywriting too
  • It is based on Kanban and Agile, including many examples of how organisations are using it for Agile
  • It is designed to be used on screens around the office if appropriate.
  • You can see what everyone is working easily

This article also provides a great guide to accessing the Trello API via Google Docs and mapping out user stories to cards in Trello.

Conclusion: Trello is currently being tested on some projects as a possible solution for retainer work.

Toms Planner (scheduling)

TomsPlannerToms Planner is an online gantt chart tool that we use for scheduling both development and online marketing work. We have a password protected static URL that acts as a centralized resource for people wanting to know which client / project they’re working on and when.

Toms Planner is really easy to use (drag and drop functionality) and has colour-coding options for different clients and you can also create different charts for different teams or projects.

We’ve been using Toms Planner alongside other tools and have no plans of replacing it with any integrated tool.

Conclusion: Having Toms Planner as a centralised resource for people to see what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis is really useful and we have no plans to replace this tool.

OnTimeNow (project management, time tracking, scheduling)

ontimenowOnTimeNow is an agile project management tool that is for web developers. We started using OnTimeNow a couple of months ago, following a session where we tested lots of different tools. We’ve been really pleased with it and it’s helped us to manage projects more effectively.

Here are the reasons why we chose OnTimeNow:

  • Caters for release management
  • Cost effective (at around $100 per year for 10 users)
  • Provides kanban flow boards
  • Calculates project velocity and burndowns
  • Great for scheduling and predicting completion
  • Easy to review individual performance

Conclusion: We do really like this tool but we are also planning on trialing Pivotal Tracker for another project to gauge which one our team members prefer. We’re also due to start using it on some digital marketing projects this month.

Redmine (project management, time tracking, scheduling)

redmineRedmine is a comprehensive project management tool that is designed for large projects and is highly customizable. We’ve been using Redmine for the last year or so and it has helped us to improve our processes, bug tracking and workflow. We’ve started to move away from Redmine recently because it’s got quite a steep learning curve and the user experience isn’t great – Most of our team members prefer working with OnTimeNow on projects than Redmine.

Redmine does have lots of really useful features though, including:

  • Support for multiple projects
  • Gantt charts
  • Feeds and notification system
  • User roles and responsibilities
  • Issue tracking system
  • Time tracking options
  • Wiki for each project
  • Forums to discuss projects
  • Customisation options (custom fields etc)
  • Multi-language support

Conclusion: Although we don’t use it as much as we did, Redmine is a really good tool with lots of great features. I would say that it’s more suited for development work.

Zendesk (issue / bug tracking)

zendeskZendesk is a really useful customer service tool that allows you to track incoming enquiries in an organized way. We use Zendesk for our support desk and it has a number of great features that help us to be more efficient and remain on track.

Key features of Zendesk:

  • Apps for lots of different devices
  • Individual users (with user tracking)
  • Integrated analytics
  • Lots of pre-existing integrations available (including Magento and salesforce)
  • Different user groups
  • Ticket tagging and categorization options
  • Change management features

Zendesk has been really useful for improving the way our development team deals with support assignments and we’ve used it a lot with the digital marketing team too.

Conclusion: Zendesk is vital for both our development team and our online marketing team and I would definitely recommend it as a customer service tool.

Other Tools

Other tools that we used, tried or considered included:

  • Basecamp
  • Asana
  • Active Collab
  • Atlassian
  • Streak
  • Team Week
  • Teamwork PM
  • Mingle
  • Target Process
  • Team Pulse
  • Agile Bench
  • Do

If you have any other tools that you would recommend, please feel free to reference them in the comments below.

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About Paul Rogers

Paul Rogers currently works as the Organic Performance Manager for Buyagift PLC. Before joining Buyagift in June 2013, Paul spent three years working for GPMD (a London-based ecommerce agency) as Head of Digital Marketing.

44 thoughts on “6 Great Project Management Tools For Improving Agency Efficiency

  1. I think RedMine is such a great product (and free!) which accomplishes a lot of things needed to track work/tasks for multiple projects. While the user interface could do with a polish, it is very functional and does what is needed (no rounded corners on boxes though).

    There is another tool similar to RedMine called Trac which is basically the same thing.

  2. You should try Teamworkpm…. I tried a lot of stuff too: Basecamp, Clarizen, Inloox, Activecollab, Central Desktop etc. IImho the best project management tool at the moment is Teamworkpm as it has recurring tasks, time tracking, and great tools for collaboration. And you can connect it with other applicaions like Harvest, Fresh books etc.

  3. At FirstClick (Australian SEO/SEM Agency) we use AtTask which is fantastic once configured correctly. It’s taken us some time but it really helps to balance resources between teams, manage client hours and generate reports when required on staff hour utilisation and client hours.

  4. You should also try Breeze (http://letsbreeze.com), it’s an agile PM tool. Basically it’s a Trello and Basecamp mashup plus it adds the missing functionality like time tracking, reporting, calendars and more.

  5. I have used half of the tools that you have listed above in the past, but these did not go down well with me probably because of my kinda project management requirements were less demanding. But now I use proofhub (www.proofhub.com). My projects are being managed perfectly now, as I have got all of them tracked and reported accurately. Moreover this software also helps me to indulge in private discussions as well as helps to assign a task to multiple people.

  6. Things happen that we can’t change too. But it is a whole lot easier to complete what matters most when we are more active and begin with the end in mind. Project and time management is most important to improve efficiency and productivity.

    I have been using ( employee time recording software ) from Replicon, which tracks effectively all my activities and gives me reports of my work days. This software shows that exactly where I spend my time, and how much of that time was productive or unproductive. It allows me to improve productivity and eliminate distractions or less productive activities.

  7. Nice resource guys. You also need to add a couple more:

    – ProofHub : we couldn’t live without this awesome project management tool!

    – BufferApp : a great lite way to manage social content publishing

    – Uservoice : community feedback done well / helpdesk

  8. I think the list is missing KanbanTool (www.kanbantool.com). I have used a dozen of project management tools but none of them come even close in terms of usability, clarity and intuitiveness. Anyone can learn to use Kanban Tool within minutes of using it.

    We have been using KT at our company (a team of nearly 50 people) and there is no complaints. Our performance is at its peak and team members collaborate easily. Saves a lot of time on our projects

  9. I’ve been using Teamwork PM for about a year now and so far I am a very satisfied user. If you want to monitor efficiency of team members, Teamwork Pm allows you do this. Monitoring tasks, reporting milestones, monitoring deadlines and inputting recurring tasks. If you want best results for team collaboration, Teamwork PM can do this for you as it allows instant messaging, status updates and uploading files for sharing to other team members.

  10. Another good one to consider is PIVOT. Not only does it handle agency project management, invoicing, time-sheets, etc. It also handles digital marketing including websites, promotions, social media, email blasts and more. Check it out at

  11. I use WorkBook.net as my ONLY system for all areas of my agency.
    WorkBook is a fantastic integrated solution that covers CRM, Project
    Management, Resource Management + Accounting meaning that all info me
    and my team require is in 1 system.

    I would encourage all you advertising, PR, design etc. agency owners out there to take a look http://WorkBook.net

  12. I just shopped for a project management tool for my team, I almost bought Asana and then I met the Streamframe team at SxSW. The project management space is so fragmented. Even with the most modern tools we still ended up relying on email and spreadsheets as a “catch all.” Particularly worrying to us was how financial and efficiency tracking seemed to be completely ignored when managing projects. Even in Beta, Streamframe solves all these problems. Their feedback is quick and they have already started working some of my companies suggestions into their road map. Here is the URL: check it out http://www.streamframe.com

  13. I agree with Project Management HUB, Teamwork has a wide range of features such as time tracking, Reporting, Mobile access and much much more, It also comes with a free 30 day trial and if you decide it is the one for you then you can choose from 7 different purchase plans.

    I have designed a site where I put together a list of Project Management Software + collaboration software with in depth reviews which you can visit here http://www.businesssoftwarehub.com/

    If what you are looking for is not listed please email us and let us know, Or even if you need assistance with anything we will be more than happy to assist.

  14. Here’s another recommendation- Try Google Calendar + ClipPod. We’ve using it for our own resource scheduling + very basic project planning and it has worked out quite well so far.

  15. Finding the tool that fits your company can be quite time consuming. I have spent the past few months researching marketing automation solutions – it has been a worthwhile process, one where I have learned a lot about our company requirements. So yes Paul, agree the process can be a great learning experience.

    Can I also recommend Admation – it is a really intuitive solution designed specifically for the ad agencies and marketing teams to manage creative projects. The development team have been providing technology solutions to the industry for more than 12 years, so they understand the particular needs and workflow of creative projects. Check it out – http://www.admation.com

  16. Timely Projects (www.timelyprojects.com) is something you should consider. Very appealing UI and a great project management and collaboration tool

  17. Have a look at Comindware Project (http://www.comindware.com/solutions/marketing-project-management/ ). It’s a good fit for project managers leading creative teams – you will have automated priority-based planning, automated Gantt-chart updates, numerous notifications, tasks hierarchy and dependency, collaborative documents management, discussion rooms etc. And finally… easy drag and drop interface plus apps for iPhone and Android smartphones.

  18. Nice List,

    I’d like to recommend one more tool i.e. Invoicera. Invoicera is the powerful online software for time tracking and team collaboration. It is a product that combines features like online invoicing, expense and task management.

  19. Informative resource. I would like to recommend one more tool that can compete with the giants listed – Kanzen (https://mykanzen.com). A intuitive Kanban project management and collaboration tool for businesses seeking to improve their performance. Worth a try!

  20. Fantastic article!! One of the most intuitive solutions I have come across and another great fit for project managers leading a creative team is Briefcase – http://getbriefcase.net/

    If you’re after solutions for job management, scheduling, time tracking, reporting, invoices, quotes and estimates, Briefcase is the way to go – basically everything you need in one place. Do yourself a favor and check it out!

  21. You may want to look into adding inMotion (www.inmotionnow.com) to this list. It’s a collaborative, creative review and approval platform designed for in-house marketing and creative teams. We use it for all our creative and marketing projects, and our vendors love how easy it is to collaborate on specific tasks within projects.

  22. Great read thanks for sharing! These tools are a great help especially for freelancers online businesses. Time tracking tools are also important as it helps you and your employees keep track of your time and productivity. By using web-based time tracking tool from sites like https://www.clockspot.com/ you can micro manage your projects and be more effective with completing your tasks.

  23. All of those tools listed are great for simple and easy planning. Yet, I don’t find them sufficient for getting a good overview of all your projects, times, resources, resource availability times etc.. and those are thing you really need for good project management planning. We do use Trello for very small setups but we use Hub Planner- https://hubplanner.com for a company wide project management.

  24. You might want to consider checking out and/or adding Priority Matrix to this list.

    Priority Matrix is a Workload/Project Management tool – https://appfluence.com/workload-management-tool/ .
    With Priority Matrix, you can:
    -Create multiple projects to keep tasks organized
    -Manage personal tasks, and tasks for work
    -Set task due dates, and sync with your calendar
    -Upload and share files
    -Manage your email inbox
    -Collaborate with teammates
    -Customize projects to fit your workflow
    -Increase visibility and accountability within your team
    -Access daily and weekly reports
    -View your tasks using our quadrant view, calendar, or gantt chart
    -Use In-app templates like GTD and Eisenhower Method and you can even make your own!
    -Use it on all your platforms because Priority Matrix has mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android
    -And more…!

  25. I’d also like to recommend ProofHub here. A project management tools to manage your work place and team from anywhere. Stay updated all the time.

  26. Nice list. I’d like to suggest one more tool Breakdown structure here for project management. It is a project management software to plan, collaborate, organize and deliver projects of all sizes.

  27. I think it’s a bit outdated list – though it’s a great set as we all probably used things like Redmine or Trello. For more “advanced” planning I prefer using Jira (project management) and Teamdeck.io (https://teamdeck.io) for resource planning. It gives me and my team a complete view of what’s going on in the team.

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