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Project management apps: How three popular picks stack up

Liane Cassavoy | Nov. 6, 2014
Whether you're a visual planner or a more straightforward list-maker, we've got the perfect project management app for you.

If you can't stomach the idea of a collaboration tool without built-in communication features, Asana just might be the project management tool for you. Asana is centered around communication, as it "puts tasks and conversations together."

It does that by allowing you to create Projects, and lists of the tasks necessary to complete them. You can view tasks by list or by calendar, and can sort by tasks to do, those that have been recently completed, by assignee and more. Once you've created a task, you can assign it to someone to complete, much like you do in Trello. From the left hand column of Asana's Web version, you can access your tasks, your inbox, where you can trade messages with your collaborators, and your dashboard, which offers a handy, high-level summary of your projects.

In many ways, Asana is more robust than Trello, offering more features for teams who want to stay in constant contact as they collaborate. But Asana also comes with more of a learning curve, as it requires someone who will take the time to learn its ins and outs, and set it up completely with all of the details of your projects. Doing so is the only way you'll get the most out of it, and it will take some time.

Asana's mobile layout (apps are available for Android and iOS) is simpler than its Web-based version, a change that I found refreshing. It offers a simpler way to browse your inbox and tasks, and is well suited to use with a touch screen. I wish the Web version were more like the mobile app.

Like Trello, Asana is free for most users. Organizations looking for additional privacy controls, an unlimited number of guest users and additional Dashboard features will have to opt for a Premium plan, which starts at $50 per month for 15 users.

 If Trello is too visual for you, and Asana seems a bit overwhelming, consider Smartsheet. This project management app takes a spreadsheet-like approach to organization that just may be the perfect fit for you.

Anyone who's ever used a spreadsheet will feel right at home with Smartsheet. You organize projects into sheets, which can be formatted using one of the many templates or outlines that Smartsheet provides, covering everything from event planning to a product launch with Gantt (a type of bar chart used to show a project's schedule). If none of Smartsheet's templates work for you, you can use one of its basic layouts and customize to your liking.

From there, it's very simple. You enter your tasks, and format them almost as you would in a spreadsheet--except it's a lot easier to do so in Smartsheet. You can easily set due dates, collapse and expand columns and rows, enter data from pick lists, and more. You don't need an extensive knowledge of spreadsheets to feel comfortable in Smartsheet, and you can do things you can't do in spreadsheets, such as upload attachments like videos and PDFs. You also can switch the video to a calendar format or view your project as an interactive timeline.


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