When asked about the downsides of being a project manager, some people would list long hours and substantial pressure. There’s no denying that the PM job may require you to make difficult calls or to log in…
One is hardly able to stay on top of the growing project-related software landscape. Capterra lists over 600 tools in the Project Management Software category alone. Add to that resource management tools, gantt charts or task managers, and you’ll end up with a very long shopping list.
Chances are, however, that you’re just starting out with your project. And that you’re working solo or with a very small team. As a result, your ideal budget for project management tools is $0.
If that’s the case, there’s no need to worry. There are more free options of project planning than a spreadsheet or an office room whiteboard. I’ve tried out 10 free project planning tools that come with $0 plans (not just free trials). In this article you’ll find a list of these apps together with their main characteristics.
In order to test these free project planning tools, I’ve created a simplified plan for building a website. My imaginary website consists of a homepage, an about us page and a contact page. I need to design it, create content for it and, finally, develop it.
Who else would be better to work on an imaginary website than an imaginary team? I’ve got one as well: it consists of 2 software developers, UX/UI designer, a freelance illustrator and myself.
Here’s a simple plan I made in Google Sheets:
Now, I’m looking for a more sophisticated tool that will allow me to plan the project and also manage it throughout its duration.
Trello allows you to create boards and fill them with different lists. I went for a simple Kanban-based board and created lists that correspond with statuses (in progress, to do etc.). I listed the main tasks that have to be done during this project:
Trello is a tool that would allow me to create more granular tasks but I’ve decided to use checklists that are built inside the cards to track smaller tasks (see the image below).
You can also add attachments to cards, making it easier to communicate new iterations or getting feedback. Adding due dates to particular cards is also handy when you want to plan a project.
If you want to use Trello just for the project planning phase, you have a couple of approaches you could go with, for example:
- Create lists with different features/elements that need to be delivered and then add tasks for each list.
- Divide your board into weeks and add relevant tasks for each list.
When looking for a way to set up your Trello board, make sure to check out these public boards prepared by fellow Trello users. They can serve as inspiration for you, as they’re based on real-life projects.
Price: Core features are available for free for unlimited people
Asana is a popular tool for managing projects of various sizes, and while the free version comes with limited features, it seems to be perfectly suitable for smaller projects.
The plan of your project can be displayed as a list, a board or a calendar (see below). The latter view is especially useful when planning milestones and deadlines. You can see how much time there actually is between different due dates. Keep in mind, however, that setting start dates for tasks is not available in the free plan.
Each task can be accompanied with a list of subtasks (with their own deadlines), attachments, tags or comments.
Before you onboard your team, you might want to check the free video courses available at the Asana Academy. Watching them can give you and your team members a lot of ideas when it comes to making the most of this tool.
Price: Teams up to 15 people can use Asana for free with limited features (including tasks, board view, list view and calendar view).
When it comes to project planning itself, Teamwork is a really powerful option. First off, you can map everything out in a Gantt chart, spot dependencies and potential roadblocks.
Teamwork also provides a board view, a calendar with milestones or a list:
If you’re planning to track your employees’ time throughout the project (or need to bill team members for the time they put in), you’re all set. Teamwork comes with a built-in time tracker:
It could be the number of features available in Teamwork, but I found this app a little challenging to navigate around. Fortunately, their knowledge base was extremely helpful in getting me back on track.
Price: Free plan available (up to 5 users, 2 active projects)
Out of the box you’ll notice that TeamGantt will not leave you hanging. The onboarding experience will help you tremendously, especially if you’re new to project planning or gantt charts in general.
As the name of this software would suggest, creating Gantt charts is the core functionality here. The process of building and editing charts is very straightforward, you can also assign people to particular tasks:
The plan of your project can also be displayed as a list:
Another interesting feature from TeamGantt is the workload table: you can see how much work everyone has on their plates. Free plan users can only measure the workload by the amount of tasks per day, which may not be the most accurate measure, but it still gives you some idea of your team’s utilization.
Price: Free plan available (up to 3 users, 1 project)
What I found particularly interesting for project planning is its integration with MindMeister, a tool for creating mind maps. Mind maps themselves are great for drafting the initial structure of your project.
Create such a map in MindMeister and then import the tasks directly to MeisterTask. All you have to do is drag an element from your mind map onto the person this task is assigned to. These tasks will be added to your MeisterTask board. You will also see the assignees on your mind map:
Price: Core features are available for free for unlimited people (MeisterTask), 3 mind maps available for free (MindMeister)
If you’re looking for a tool for planning and managing a series of projects, nTask could just be right for you. Of course, it will also be suitable for single project purposes. It’s just that nTask is really good at providing you with the big picture of all your ongoing projects.
When it comes to planning a single project, you can create a list of tasks or a simple Gantt chart. The assignments can also be viewed as a grid:
Team members are able to log time spent on a particular task. You can assign hourly rates to your employees in order to track the cost of your project.
Price: Free plan available for teams up to 10 people (5 workspaces, 5 projects, some features limited)
The creators of Nifty pride themselves on building an app that covers project management and team collaboration. The collaboration aspect is supported by the fact that a team chat is a part of this app. What about the project management part?
You can plan your project starting with a list of tasks, or map your milestones on a Gantt chart:
Tasks themselves can be managed in a board view. You can create the board and columns from scratch or use a predefined template. For this project, I’ve picked the agile development template (and removed the backlog column):
Price: Free for teams up to 3 (2 projects available).
Zenkit will be appreciated by those of you who like to start planning their project with a mind map. While there are many mind mapping tools out there (plus, you can always rely on pen and paper), it could be a hassle to translate your visual map into a project backlog. With Zenkit, it’s pretty easy.
I started out with a simple mind map:
Each element of the mind map is a task-esque item: you can add a deadline, a project stage or a team member responsible for its completion. Then all you have to do is change your view to a board and you’ll see a Kanban board based on the mind map:
Other available views include a calendar one, a list or a table. The feature that makes the latter one really powerful is the ability to add custom fields. This way you can customize your view and aggregate the data in a way that works for you.
Price: Free for teams up to 5 (5 workspaces available)
Airtable might not be on top of your mind when thinking of free project planning tools, simply because it’s not a project management app per se. It’s more of a tool for storing and organizing data. As such, Airtable is really versatile and, in my opinion, great for project planning as well.
When creating a list of tasks/milestones, you have full control over the structure of your database. You can add fields (with different formats), connect different tables or import a spreadsheet you’ve previously made.
The view can be changed from a list to a calendar or a Kanban board:
I’ve created a pretty basic structure for my project. If you want to include epics and customer stories in your project plan, you might find this template useful:
Price: Free plan with basic features is available (team members aren’t limited)
We usually refer to Teamdeck as a resource management tool. In essence, the focus is on your team members and their capacity, not on the tasks themselves. Teamdeck gives you a big picture of who’s available to work and for how much time. It is often exactly what you need to know when planning a new project.
You can pick appropriate people and plan your project accordingly:
This approach allows you to plan your project with actual conditions in mind. You’re more likely to avoid scheduling conflicts when you see other projects, people’s vacation dates, public holidays etc.
Once your project is live, team members can log in their time in the timesheets. You’ll see whether your estimates were accurate and be able to act accordingly. Note that overtime is marked with red bars, so you’ll notice it right away.
Another feature you’ll find useful during both project planning and execution is reporting. This is especially helpful if you have to keep an eye on your project’s budget. You can create a report that compares financial estimates to the actual cost, calculated on the basis of your team’s timesheets.
Price: Free plan for teams up to 2 people
Free project planning tools: the list is not complete
There you have it: a list of free apps for planning your project. You can combine a couple of them and create a really powerful toolbox for your project. From project ideation, through resource planning to kanban boards, you should be able to find software that fits your needs.
I’m still on the lookout for great free project planning tools: if you have a suggestion for a tool that can be added to this list, make sure to drop us a line in the chat.