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Best Project Management Tools for Software Development

Best Project Management Tools for Software Development

If you've done a quick Google search, you'll know there's no shortage of project management tools on the market. But finding one built for software development that your devs actually like using is tricky.

Every team works a little differently, and software teams are no exception. To solve this, in this article, we've compiled the top tools most relied upon by software developers to manage projects. This is not a complete list, but it includes some of the most popular and why they may or may not be a good fit for your team.

Psst – if you're still stuck after this blog, we also wrote a blog on how to choose a project management platform. You can find it here.

Let's get into it...

1. GitHub Issues

There's no doubt that context-switching is one of the biggest drains on developer productivity, making it impossible to get back into the coding flow. GitHub Issues is GitHub's basic version of built-in project management, offering simple project management tools, including Kanban boards and basic workflow automation.

Key features include:

  • Built right into GitHub
  • GitHub Projects can add issues, pull requests, and custom filters
  • Project tables can be adjusted to improve visualization
  • Built-in workflow management
  • Integration with other tools that extend platform functionality

Despite being a well-integrated tool that provides some of the basics, it's important to note that it is still quite limited compared to a true project management tool. GitHub issues still lack a lot of basic functionality like the ability to group issues into epics, making agile project management a challenge inside GitHub.

2. GitLab

Since its emergence in 2011, GitLab has been presented as the GitHub alternative. It provides all the necessary tools, from development to planning to visualization, and includes similar project management benefits to GitHub. It distinguishes itself from GitHub with its built-in DevOps workflows, enabling developers to reduce reliance on integrations. GitLab is primarily known as a distributed code management system despite a 2020 survey of 65,000 professional developers showing that 37% of the respondents use it as a collaborative tool. It can be used for some project management processes, but you'll need a separate tool to manage most of your work.

Key features include:

  • Coverage of all stages of DevOps cycle
  • Essential capabilities, such as value stream reporting, planning tools, registries, and more
  • Cloud and deployment agnostic
  • Built-in security and compliance
  • Both SaaS and self-managed options
  • Integration for both technical and non-technical teams

GitLab is a tool for users looking to have their DevOps cycle live in one place. However, many devs report GitLab's interface is significantly slower than GitHub's – this might not be ideal for remaining productive, especially when managing projects.

3. Asana

If a project management tool lacks features and customizations, your team might face challenges keeping projects organized and tracking progress. This is one of the draws (and drawbacks) of Asana, which touts a surprising amount of features, including Workflow Builders, Gantt charts, Boards, Calendars, Reporting, Goal Tracking, and more.

Key features include:

  • A native inbox for communications
  • Customizable dashboards
  • A calendar for tracking workloads
  • The ability to combine projects into broader portfolios
  • Real-time report generation
  • Workflow automation

It's an ambitious tool with too many features to mention, but as the KISS principle—Keep It Simple, Stupid—teaches us, you can have too much of a good thing. Asana has such a vast array of features that it's constantly adding to it's easy to spend as much time exploring features as actually using them. If you're a team following an agile methodology, you might find this to be a serious distraction with a steep learning curve.

4. Jira

Jira is a popular tool built for agile software teams and includes various software-centric templates such as Scrum, Kanban, Bug tracking, and DevOps that are highly customizable.

Key features include:

  • Extremely customizable with robust automation and built-in workflows
  • Boards provide snapshots of relevant information like stories and issues while showing broader info like project progress
  • The ability to leverage other Atlassian tools, making it a good option for teams already using their other tools

Being a highly customizable product isn't always considered a good thing – Jira is often criticized in the development community for being overly convoluted for this reason. If you have a project manager that gets too feature-happy (which is easy in Jira), you can end up with messy workflows, tickets with too many fields, and seemingly endless busy work.

5. Linear

Linear is an issue tracking and project management tool that simplifies standard project management processes found in software development. Additionally, its keyboard-first approach makes it a relatively fast tool to engage with once you learn its shortcuts (which, admittedly, can take a while).

Key features:

  • Rather than sprints, Linear uses its own brand of momentum-generating "cycles"
  • Built to load and sync quickly
  • Keyboard shortcuts for routine functions
  • Workflow automation, roadmaps and timelines, and board views

For all of its simplicity, it lacks some features critical to agile project management, such as the ability to turn issues into epics and break tasks into smaller units of work beyond the issue or project level. This can make it not an ideal tool for teams with complex projects requiring greater levels of organization.

6. Zenhub

We humbly submit that Zenhub has got the best of all five worlds. Built with developer efficiency in mind, Zenhub is more than just a project management tool – it's a productivity management tool that was designed for software organizations. As the only project and productivity management tool that lives inside GitHub's interface, Zenhub is a tool that your technical team members will love while enabling product leaders to efficiently plan and keep track of agile processes.

Zenhub's key features:

  • Spend less time updating issues and sprints with automated sprint planning and workflow automation.
  • Forget context-switching – Zenhub is the only project management tool that lives inside GitHub's interface (that isn't GitHub issues!)
  • Get actionable insights into your team's productivity with real-time reports, including release reports, burndown charts, velocity charts, and cumulative flow charts.
  • Spend less time collaborating on story-point estimation with Planning Poker.
  • Get data you can trust – Zenhub updates reports and issues with data straight from GitHub, so you never have to worry about out-of-date information.

We think you'll agree. Try us for free, or check out our productivity calculator to see how much money your team could save with Zenhub.

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