Project management tools for researchers in 2022

Written by: Lisa Stienen

When you type in “project management tools” in your search bar, you get a seemingly endless number of results. In the past few years, more and more project management tools have been launched and the decision for the right tool for you to manage your projects became harder and harder. The goals of project management tools are almost always the same – to make your life easier by planning, organizing, managing, and prioritizing your to-do list. Nevertheless, each software has different functionalities and features, and the choice can seem overwhelming or even unnecessary: especially when working alone, many do not consider the option of working with a project management tool. In this blog post, we talk about why you should consider using a project management tool when working on a project or in a team and how they can help you be more successful in your research. 

As a researcher, you may feel that your success depends on how innovative your research is and how hard you work. In reality, being innovative and hardworking are important, but so is working smart. If you are the type to open your email in the morning and start working from top-down, you may soon come to the point when you have more emails than you can read. Project management tools can help you to avoid such situations.  

Why project management tools are helpful for researchers  

As someone working in science or research, you might not be the obvious audience of the marketing efforts from project management tools. Many of these tools address sales and marketing teams and do not always make it clear that many more people can benefit from them. Especially people dealing with a high workload, multiple tasks, and tight deadlines – like researchers. While working on a research project, doing your PhD, looking for the right funding, preparing your manuscript for publication, or teaching and mentoring – all the tasks, deadlines, and scheduling can become too much. Project management software can help you with:  

  • Task management: This is the process of managing the many tasks of a project from start to finish. It can help you break down the tasks that you need to get done, in order to achieve your goals. The goals may be your individual goals, or goals for research teams. Team members can share knowledge and plan their work. Task management is very helpful to follow tasks thoroughly.  
  • Kanban boards: A Kanban board is an agile project management tool that helps to organize and manage personal or professional work. It can structure the daily work process and make it more efficient. The Kanban board visualizes tasks and projects in various stages. The mainboard shows the whole process, including columns that represent the progress stage and cards for the different tasks.  
  • Time tracking: Time tracking is a helpful tool to track how long you spend on individual tasks of a project and the total time it takes to complete the project. This allows you to better estimate the time you need for future projects and also helps you to prioritize work and not over-commit yourself. 
  • Scheduling with Gant charts: A Gant chart is a bar graph, detailing the schedule of a project and enables you to visualize the time it takes to accomplish tasks and how the tasks are related to one another. For example, if you are running an experiment requiring a specific reagent, you must first purchase the reagent and it must arrive before you are able to perform the experiment. A Gant chart helps you visualize the steps needed to complete projects.
  • Team collaboration and communication: If you work in a research team, project management tools can simplify cooperation. Whether dividing up tasks, working together on a presentation, or exchanging opinions – most project management tools come with collaboration and communication features to help you. 
  • Reporting: In the context of project management, reporting not only shows the overall status of a project but also the progress of different tasks and other aspects relevant to the project. Reporting helps you to monitor your work, evaluate your performance, and never lose the overview of your project.  

There are many people that never thought about using a project management tool but would benefit if they would start to do so. Maybe you’re one of these people: having too much to do, struggling with your time management, and losing track. In the next section, we give you some tips on how you find the perfect project management tool for your needs. 

How you find the perfect project management tool  

Some factors to take into consideration when looking for the “perfect” project management tool for you 

  1. What do you need? The first question you should ask yourself is where your project management is lacking and what kind of help you would like from project management tools. Do you have problems with the organization and the structure of your project? Do you find it difficult to keep up with your tasks and meet deadlines? Or do you often feel overwhelmed and lose the overall picture and goal? Do you manage a research team and would like to have an overview of everyone’s progress? Making a list of these aspects can be helpful to see in which areas your project management can be improved and what features your project management software should have.  
  1. What is your budget? Many project management tools are available in a free version. So, even if you have no budget available, you can start to use project management tools. But some of the free versions of the tools have limited access to all the applications – which could lead to problems when working on a very complex project or if you have a big team. In this case, you should think about how much money you are willing – and able to spend. 
  1. What are your options? In the next step, the search begins. There are not only many project management tools online but also lots of articles where different options are described and compared. With your list of needs and your set budget, you’re now prepared to pick. In the next section, we also go into a few of the most comment tools to give you a quick overview.  
  1. Test your favorite option(s). After picking a project management tool that seems to fit your needs and budget the best, it’s time to test it! Try out all the features the software has to offer and see if it actually fits your project and/or team. If you’re not happy, you always have the option to switch to another software. Tip: It can take a while to set up a software, especially for more complex projects or bigger teams. So, wait for the final decision and first try with a few tasks and examples. 
  1. Feedback and decision. After testing the project management tool for a few weeks it’s feedback time! Pull up your list of needs again – does the software make your project management easier? And if you work with a team, what is their opinion? When you’re happy with the results and can imagine working with the tool in the long term, the decision is made!  

When you try out a few different project management tools, you realize quickly that most of them revolve around the same basic principles. Nevertheless, there are noticeable differences regarding the features, usability, display, and amount of customization available. It depends on your needs and your working style how well a particular tool suits you. We choose a few common ones to give you a short overview of the different options on the market

Common project management tools you should know  

Trello 

Trello is a very visual project management software, suitable for a variety of users, including researchers. They especially focus on Kanban boards and working with images. The software is simple and easy to use. Trello is particularly suitable for smaller teams managing a limited number of projects. 

Pros 

  • Real-time updates 
  • Straightforward and easy to master 
  • Good notification system 

Cons

  • Lacking reporting functions 
  • Not the best tool for complex projects 

Price

  • Free version available 
  • Advanced versions from 5 USD/user/month 

Asana

Asana is suitable for teams of any size and creates a space where everybody can work together. In contrast to Trello, Asana works with lists instead of boards. The software can be customized to your needs, helps to automize the workflow, and provides real-time reporting. Team members can create tasks, assign deadlines, message each other, and share files.  

Pros 

  • Easy and clean user interface 
  • Wide range of features 

Cons

  • For new users the number of options and features can seem overwhelming 
  • No integrated time-tracking feature 

Price

  • Free plan for up to 15 users 
  • Other versions from 10,99 EUR/user/month 

ClickUp

Another project management tool that is especially well suited for scientists and researchers is ClickUp. ClickUp can be used by individual researchers, as well as research teams. The software helps with the management of processes, tasks, and time, as well as with collaboration and reporting.  

Pros 

  • List and Kanban board views 
  • Possibility to add comments  
  • Full-featured free version 
  • High levels of customization possibilities 

Cons

  • Because of the many features and customization options, the initial setup may be time-consuming 
  • It can be slow to refresh the pages 

Price

  • Free version available 
  • Advanced versions from 5 USD/user/month 

Monday.com

Monday.com is a flexible and transparent project management tool. The software has simple, visually intuitive layouts that can be customized to everyone’s specific needs. The features include resource and project management, time tracking, collaboration, and reporting. 

Pros

  • Many integrations including project management apps like Slack, Google Drive, Gmail, Google Calendar, Jira, GitHub, Trello, Dropbox, and more 
  • Great communication and tracking features 
  • Team overview to ensure a healthy workload for everyone 

Cons

  • Timeline feature is not available in the free version 
  • Due to the many options, it has a steeper learning curve  

Price

  • Free 14-day trial 
  • Free plan for up to 2 people 
  • Other versions from 8 USD/user/month 

Zoho Projects

With Zoho Projects, you can manage your project efficiently and effectively. The software is suitable for small and bigger groups and automates many processes. You can create custom workflows to suit your project requirements, collaborate with team members and track project metrics.  

Pros

  • Cost-effective tool 
  • Efficient task and project tracking  
  • Option to integrate with other Apps, including Slack and Google

Cons

  • The set-up process has a steep learning curve 

Price

  • Free version available 
  • Other versions from 5 USD/user/month 

Ultimately, when using any project management software, it is important to keep in mind that the software is intended to help you be more efficient and more productive. It is worthwhile to invest the time to learn new tools – as the saying goes, you need to “invest time to save time” – so a couple of hours today has the potential to save you a couple of hours every day. Along the same lines, you need to know your goals – it is not about ticking off boxes, arranging to-do lists, and keeping the software looking beautiful, but that you are able to work smarter and achieve your goals. Even more importantly, if you work with a team of researchers, everyone in your team should be using the same project management software. Happy managing your projects for a better work-life-balance!  


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