6 Great Project Management Tools For Improving Agency Efficiency

6 Great Project Management Tools For Improving Agency Efficiency

25th December 2013

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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Written By
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.
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