In the 20 years I spent starting, growing, and running Vigor, one thing that seemed to be a constant nagging issue was how we managed projects. During that sprint of time, I was able to work alongside other advertising agencies, design studios, and marketing consultancies. One thing that run true across the board was project management software was usually a sore subject.
I’ve seen advertising agencies that still use a job jacket approach. For those unaware, creative or design briefs are written, printed out on paper, put in plastic sleeves, then dropped on team leads’ desks to divvy out and traffic in. It’s wild to see in action, especially in this era of information and technology.
I’ve seen basic systems loosely adopted across the teams. In many instances, I’ve seen multiple systems used throughout an agency where each person or department is left to manage their workflows with the software of their choosing. Talk about chaos!
To this day, I scratch my head and wonder how any of the agencies I’ve seen actually get things accomplished. The truth is, it’s a mix of individual responsibility, leadership, and a lot of hope. Even when things get done, the agency is left with little data with which to use to learn and grow. And that’s a highly important byproduct of any standard operating procedure. What are you learning? How will you use that learning to adjust, optimize, and grow?
In 2016, I set out to land the project management plane once and for all for my agency. To do so, I embarked on a deep review of over 35 different project management software systems. Podio, Wrike, Jira, Smartsheets, Google Sheets, FunctionFox, you name it, I probably heard of it and tried it out. After my research, I gave up and started to design my own system based on the processes I had integrated into Vigor, mixed with the knowledge of how larger agencies worked.
After about four weeks of initial planning and wireframing, I stumbled upon what seemed like grace from God. It was the system I was intending to design and build. That system sits at the top of this list at number one for that very reason and more which I’ll explain later. Before I do, I want to outline the parameters I had set for evaluation and selection (an exercise I suggest everyone goes through before diving into reviewing potential systems.)
Parameter 01: It must be intuitive for even a novice.
Parameter 02: It must have the functionality to manage multiple types of projects from beginning to end.
Parameter 03: It must be affordable for us to scale (we were an agency of 8-12 and growing.)
Parameter 04: It must have additional options and features that we could adopt in the future
With those parameters in mind, I zeroed in on three project management software solution for my advertising and branding agency. Here they are with my hot takes in ascending order:
Pros: Monday was easy to use and set up. It was easy to understand as it mirrored spreadsheet-like formatting. It also featured other view types like Kanban and Gantt charts.
Cons: Expense quickly became an issue as new users were added. It was also difficult to manage multiple projects under the same client making it more complex for rapid adoption.
I had a lot of high hopes for Monday when I first encountered it. When I tried it out for the first 30 days, it seemed pretty great. Then the fees started to stack up as I added new clients and users. It quickly became unruly with the cost. Additionally, as more projects were entered, maintaining control and understanding of where each project was in its plan, which belonged to which client, and other details just simply became difficult to find.
Monday has grown since my 2016 review. It looks to have gotten much larger with multiple products and use cases. It’s certainly worth a review as it could align better with your agency’s systems and needs.
Pros: Incredibly simple. Cost-effective.
Cons: Basic with no feature growth.
Admittedly I will always love Basecamp for its simplicity. If you’re a 1-5 person studio that only handles certain types of project (e.g. websites), then Basecamp can be an incredible value for your investment. I used Basecamp on numerous occasions throughout Vigor’s lifespan. The only complaints that arose were when we needed more features and options to grow the agency. As we added in new types of projects and other teams, Basecamp’s simplicity quickly turned ineffective.
I love Basecamp for small shops that have generally the same type of projects.
Pros: A lot of features. Cost-effective. Great user interface.
Cons: Usability as more features are rolled out. Cluttered organization of projects.
Asana quickly became my go-to for project management in the early 2010s. I still love a lot of the features it offers. Asana is great for larger teams that have various types of projects and focuses. Multiple projects can be housed under each folder, which can serve as a client account. It’s certainly not a good option for very small teams. Asana is best suited for the 6+ team members agencies.
There were some complexity issues with Asana as we grew in team size. The team quickly became confused as to what existed where and how to use Asana’s suite of features. I know of some clients that still use Asana and have had little issue with its adoption. I highly suggest trying it out for your agency’s needs.
Pros: Like, absolutely everything. Cost. Usability. Features. Growth.
Cons: Time tracking isn’t as great as it could be.
I have drunk the Kool-Aid and I still drink it today. ClickUp is the project management system I would have designed had this team not already aced it. Found it in the depths of my frustration with all of the other systems I had reviewed which is when most brilliant things come to light.
ClickUp comes with a suite of features that can be turned on and off to suit the needs of the agency. Agency leaders can flip the switch to introduce new features as the team adopts and becomes comfortable with the system. For teams with basic project management needs, ClickUp can be kept rudimentary. For teams that require more complexity with trafficking multiple projects and clients across multiple teams, ClickUp is here to serve.
It has so many features that I simply cannot list them all. Just know, if you want it, they probably have it. There is just one area where ClickUp falls short in my opinion and that’s in the time tracking feature. While it’s okay and definitely checks the box, it could be much better for teams who leverage the data that can be found in sound time tracking. One of my biggest gripes is the inability to assign standard categories of time entry across all of the projects. However, with this being the only issue, I give ClickUp the highest merits and scoring of all the other project management systems for advertising and branding agencies.