A Review of the 4 Best Project Management Tools For Small Businesses Owners

In the first few weeks and months of starting a business, it is easy to track orders, invoicing, follow up, etc.  And then terror strikes, “Oh no! Did I send that proposal?  Did I receive payment on that change order?  Did I credit that inventory back to the supplier?  Did I tell them I would have that paperwork to them by today or by next week?”

 

On October 30th, 1935 Major Ployer P. Hill piloted the largest airplane ever manufactured up until that point.  Hill was a well-trained pilot and the Chief of the Flying Division at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. 

 

The highly decorated Major Hill was joined by a small team of other well tested aviation practitioners.  

 

Immediately after lifting from the runway in a plane deemed by the press as “too much plane for one man to fly”, the Boeing 299 (aka The Flying Fortress) banked unannounced and crashed killing Major Hill and the entire crew.

 

After exhaustive research and near bankruptcy, Boeing emerged with a simple and widely influential piece of technology that is still in use today…the pilot’s checklist.

Picture used from AOPA.org

 

A simple checklist has saved millions of lives since that fateful day in Dayton, Ohio.

Similarly, your business is too much plane for one person to fly.

Project Management software can save both massive amounts of time, error, and emotional labor .

Here are four tools that you can use to help keep track of all the moving parts and systems that are in constant motion in the fuselage of your business.  I have broken these tools down into four categories:

  1. Starter: any business at any stage
  2. Next Level: any business at any stage
  3. Non-Industry Specific: businesses that can have one person “own” the system
  4. Industry Specific: businesses that can 

Which one is best?  The one that gets used!

 

STARTER: Google Sheets

If I had a dollar for every time one of our heroic business owner clients said, “I don’t know how to get into that Google Drive!”

Google Drive is the house that is home to Google Docs (like MS Word), Google Sheets (like MS Excel), Google Slides (like MS PowerPoint), and loads of other powerful tools.

We’ve had some eye rolling laughs over the uber simplicity of Google Drive.

It blows my mind to think there is a single technology that allows a business to both create, store, send and receive documents, spreadsheets, slides, forms, drawings, videos, and then provides access to creating thousands of other specific tools and templates. 

Oh yeah, and it costs next to nothing for a while.  

Our entire business ran on the free version of Google Drive for about 3 years before we needed to upgrade our storage capabilities.

Every single tool and template that we have built for heroic business owners and their teams has been tooled in Google Drive.

We can share “view only” versions, create teams, open and close access to certain people.

Does Google see your information?  Here are their terms of service. 

The most basic starter digital project management tool can be built on a simple Google Sheet.  

We coach our heroic business to begin with a simple project tracker using Google Sheets.  Whether it is a pricing calculator, a job tracker, a bid/estimating tracker, a financial dashboard, or task list…start in Google Sheets

There is an assumption that Microsoft Excel is far superior to Google Sheets.  The two are largely the same with many of the same function keys and formulas. 

Here is an example snippet of a project management board from a construction company that generates well over $20 million in annual revenue.  It is built on a Google Sheet.

Often the more complex a digital tool, the less it gets used.  Remember, the best project management tool is the one that gets used.

NEXT LEVEL: Trello

Year two after launching Business On Purpose I saw a client receive a curriculum completely loaded up in Trello and I was fascinated.

Trello is simple, and in their own words, it “keeps track of everything”.

The best way I can describe Trello is to think about really smart digital post-it notes stuck on a digital board.

We have a number of clients for whom we track our entire coaching engagement in one Trello board.  Every time we have a coaching session, we open a new Trello card (aka digital post-it note) for the day and then include all of the notes and action items within that card so it never gets lost.

With Trello you can assign tasks, create teams, track due dates, tag people for communication, and literally hundreds of other things.

You can create a “new employee onboarding” board, a “jobs in permitting” board, an “inventory management” board, or a “new lead tracking” board.  Heck, you can even create one master board that links to all of your other boards so you can have a heads up display of all of your processes.

Google is basic.  Trello is simple.

Really simple.

But remember, the best project management tool is the one you will use.

NON-INDUSTRY SPECIFIC: Asana Or Basecamp

We’ve had plenty of heroic business owners in the past tell us, “we use Asana” or “we use Basecamp”.

Although we do not have extensive personal experience in the traditional project management tools, we have worked inside Asana, Basecamp, and other popular project management tools (i.e. SmartSheet, ToDoIst, Wunderlist, MS Teams, etc.).  

It is important to note that for these more advanced and intentionally devoted project management tools we highly recommend that you have an in-house champion to own the ongoing implementation.  

You can look up hundreds of articles and videos on how the software works.  Remember, our aim is for you to implement the right project management tool which means that we are more interested in implementation than we are in the features of the tool.

They are all really good.  

Which one will you implement?

 

The best implementation processes we’ve seen for project management tools is a five step process:

      1. Designate one “champion” (listen to a podcast I recorded here to help find that person) 
      2. Evaluate and demo the project management tool
      3. Set an onboarding plan for the project management tool
      4. Create a Training Dashboard within the tool that will link to all of the training you should be capturing as you learn (listen here to how we captured our coaching into training so others could benefit)
      5. Ongoing, long implementation schedule and meeting structure

Project management tools are easy to sign up for and far more challenging to implement. 

In our thousands of coaching hours we have yet to see a heroic business owner go from project management tool sign up to “change your life implementation” in a short time window.  

It is an investment more of time than money…and it will change the game for you if you commit!

INDUSTRY SPECIFIC: Archi-office, Qualia, Or BuilderTrend

 

Many project management software tools have been built for specific niches: Builders, Architects, Dentists, Attorneys, Engineers, Mechanics, etc.

Many times they have incorporated project management and billing in one tool.  

The financial module is more challenging to implement in a non-industry specific tool (sometimes not at all).

An industry specific tool carries the benefit of speaking your language right out of the gate while also constantly updating the technology to create more and more efficiency in your niche.

Beware, the same challenge associated with the more advanced non-industry specific project management software tools that I mentioned above very much exist with these industry-specific tools.

You must have a champion to own the tool as the single point of primary accountability for ongoing, relentless, obsessive implementation.

The big takeaway is this…the best project management tool is simply the one you will use

“Hire” a new project management tool in the same thoughtful, methodical way that you would hire a new employee.

 

  1. Identify the gap you are hoping to fill with the project management tool
  2. Write a simple “role” that you will expect of the project management tool
  3. Write out a simple “role” for the project management tool champion
  4. Set a budget for the project management tool and for any increase compensation for the champion
  5. Evaluate and demo 2-3 project management tools and compare them to the “role” you wrote down
  6. Hire, onboard, and DIVE IN!

 

Efficiency is great, and it is expensive to attain.

Commit to the process and the process will reward you long term.

Scott Beebe is the founder of Business On Purpose, author of Let Your Business Burn: Stop Putting Out Fires, Discover Purpose, And Build A Business That Matters.  Scott also hosts The Business On Purpose Podcast and can be found at mybusinessonpurpose.com.

Photo from “Geralt” on Pixabay