The Best Project Management Programs for Creative Agencies

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When the day comes to graduate past QuickBooks and paper timesheets, what’s the best project management software for an agency? We’ve worked at a handful of shops, using a handful of project management programs, and we’ve definitely got some recommendations after the experience.

Let us begin by saying that, more than likely, none of them have everything your agency’s looking for. None of them are intuitive. You need to start with a list of the most important features you’re looking for—like tasking, forecasting, invoicing—then play around by taking the free demos to see what fits best. And once you make that decision, you have to take the time to learn the program the way it’s supposed to be used. It’s the only way to ensure it’s helping you move ahead and not holding you back.

We’d love to make it easy for you and give you a list of features, pros and cons, and add-ons—but there are too many to count and, frankly, you don’t have time to read all that detail anyway. So, here’s our quick and dirty on the three most popular project management programs on the market for creative agencies.

MS Project – Way too cumbersome for an ad agency. Great for building buildings, large software projects that will take a year plus to develop, and people who love to take a few years to learn how to use it right. It has its place, just not at ad agencies.

Workamajig (Creative Manger Pro) – They tout it’s “Made for agencies,” and it works great. But you need to make sure you’re using it right, and the learning curve is fairly steep. Take the time to set it up correctly from the onset and learn it in detail. It becomes intuitive once you get over the learning hump. We appreciate that you can use it in as much detail as you desire—for estimating, for time tracking, for invoicing or as a combination of them all. A note though, since CMP’s switch over to the Workamajig format (Flash), it’s really slow to load compared to the original.

Basecamp – The most simple of all the “project management” software. And that’s because it’s really jsut a tasking tool. No bells and whistles like invoicing, forecasting, Gantt charts, etc. For what it is, though, we think it’s the best tool out there because it’s super simple to use. Just type in what you want and click and drag where you want it to be. A nice add-on feature is the time clock widget.

Agencies are looking for the “magic bullet” when it comes to project management software, but that comes with understanding exactly what you need your software to do for you. We say keep it simple, stupid. What do we need to do? When’s the due date? Is that really possible? Let’s get it done!

Comments

I’m personally a big fan of Omniplan. http://www.omnigroup.com/applications/omniplan/

Those familiar with Omnigraffle would be very at-home with Omniplan.

Surprised not to see Clients and Profits on this list. It has all the functionality of CMP/Workamajig. I’ve used both extensively—Clients and Profits is far more usable.

We’ll soon be switching from Basecamp to @Task: http://www.attask.com/. I was on a training call for it today and it seems solid.

Awesome quick summary. Found your article by way of one that we just wrote, a <a href=“http://www.atilus.com/basecamp-project-management-review/”>review of Basecamp as a project management tool</a>. We have used a few, as well as bigger programs like Project and it is by far the easiest. And sometimes you really do need to just keep it simple.

Project mgmt programs for creative agencies? Really? That’s impossible because at truly creative agencies these programs don’t and shouldn’t exist.

I have used them all from clients and profits to OmniPlan. Base Camp and all that 37 signals has to offer is some of the best. We use it to task all our projects and time tracking. Unless you have a rocket science at the helm….the simplicity makes it easy to bring everyone in on the fun.

For trad. agencies I agree Basecamp is a winner. For interactive agencies, VersionOne is a good solution. But the best solution is build a small and efficient PMO with the right people and the tools should be almost invisible.

does anyone know anything about Advantage?

At Hero we use a little know product called Infowit. It looks old and clumsy, but it’s simple, pared down system lets us work the way we want to. It has all the things we need, lets us develop what we want and keeps the overhead low. Many PM solutions have a unspoken secret, to be effective in their system you have to work the way the system requires. This can be a big hurdle. It can be the reason for success or crappy ROI. For those agencies who have good workflow but just need support managing and tracking the details, finding a system that doesn’t require a sea-change is best.

Another solution Hero is quite fond of is Action Method Online. This online and offline system by Behance is all about personal project/task management. Many times personal methods are the root of PM problems. No agency-wide software is going to help fix bad organizational habits.

I’ve used both CMP and C&P. Both are cumbersome and the learning curves are very steep. So are the price tags. Web based and with a new interface, CMP is the better product of the two. If you’re using MS project you’re not a creative shop.

Haven’t used BAsecamp but have researched it extensively and can’t wait to use it. 37 signals. Got to love em!

We were okay with Creative Manager Pro.

We hate Workamajig, which is their new software. Hate. And we’re programmers. We know how to create software like that, but chose a few years back to use 3rd party instead for economies of scale.

The list of issues we have is long, long.

They didn’t do the kind of usability testing they should have done, and they’re letting the clients do the QA.

Here’s a good one. Hit the backbutton by accident? You have to login again when you say “oops” and go back, PLUS of course none of your windows are open anymore.

Also, try printing a budget for a project. Nope, had to use Snag-It to screenshot it, and then print it.

That’s just a few off the top of my head. My list goes on forever and we’re done complaining and filling out support tickets.

Instead, we’ve just signed up for Basecamp. Enough is enough.

Have a look at functionpoint ( http://www.functionpoint.com ) we have both traditional and digital agencies using our software. We also have a downloadable newsletter from Second Wind (with a focus on traffic management) that can help with your search ... it even names a number of our competitors.

Tate

On the topic of the "magic bullet" described in the article... I'd warn people of looking to invest in a SOFTWARE SOLUTIONS to what are essentially PEOPLE PROBLEMS. Analyze your process before purchasing any ERP. Feel free to read more about Creative Agency Project Management topics here: http://creativeagencyprocess.blogspot.com/

When it comes to project management, I have always believed on Basecamp and Zoho.

Thats all?

I highly recommend ProWorkFlow. I've personally tested over 60 project management systems for use in a creative agency, and found that ProWorkFlow has the best set of capabilities for the price AND their customer service is par none.

Another one to consider for agencies, is the FLOW application of PIVOT. It is very robust from sales to project management to time-sheets to invoicing and more. Check it out here:
http://www.pivotstack.com/agency-management

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