The Best Project Management Tool Is the One You Use

Rainer Berak, Project A’s Operating Partner and Managing Director, shares his favorite project management tools

By Rainer Berak

When talking to founders or project managers about our daily work, a very common initial question is “Which tool do you use and prefer”? In my opinion, the tool selection is heavily overrated and the answer is simple: The best project management tool is the one you use. Does that sound like a sloppy statement to you? Let’s have a closer look on the single words.

The one you use: Often we start with creating a list, maybe in an e-mail, a spreadsheet, even a piece of paper. Later we transfer it to Wunderlist or Trello to keep it simple and structured. Then things get more complex and we start to hand tasks over to our Biz Dev guy. But we also want to do some deeper planning, so we try out Asana. We start creating different versions, e.g. for technical tasks, for marketing and for all operations, but missing e.g. investment and admin tasks. Needless to say that the plan you shared as a presentation with your investors was not perfectly in synch with all the others, and suddenly we find ourselves in a situation where despite all that planning, the (functional) teams in a project are looking at different plans and so running at different speeds and — inevitably — not exactly in the same direction.

To help avoid this, pick the more sophisticated solution because you might need it at a later point. Every complex solution out there can be used in a limited way at the start, and you can get deeper into it when required. It’s naive to believe that the simpler solution saves you time, as it can take twice as long when you have to change later.

The one you use: let’s say you’re a founder, then your venture is your car and your plan should be your steering wheel. Some people prefer to employ a driver, but I would strongly recommend driving yourself! Invest the minimum required time to build your plan, follow it up, update it, and keep things on track. You may need 6 hours to set up your plan, and 1 hour per week for monitoring and maintenance, but it’s more than worth it, and eventually it saves you a lot of time. If you decide to leave that up to your Biz Dev intern, make sure you find a good way to still steer what’s going on. If you don’t, you’ll get a disconnection between your plan and reality, resulting in a frustrated intern, team, and yourself.

The one you use: planning is not the end of planning, but the start. If you feel like you are planning just for the sake of doing it, either stop (not recommended) or take a minute to think through why you do this. Answering some questions might help: Are plans and reality close enough so that one can have traction on the other? Do you know what every task is about? Do you share priorities with your team and do you get status updates? Are the work packages actionable and defined on a level so that you can tell if they are completed or not? If you have your answers, make sure your plan fits to them — and eventually adapt your planning during the course of the project.

Having said all this, of course don’t want to deprive you the answer to the initial tools question. Voilà these are the tools I use and prefer.

  • Trello or Wunderlist for task lists or the operational level
  • MS Project if you use Windows, Merlin if you use Apple
  • Asana, Smartsheets or Wrike if you insist using something better accepted in our industry