Free Project Management Software Guide 2021

Even small projects can fall flat without proper management. One-person businesses, creative agencies, startups, and big corporations alike all need project management tools to keep assignments on track, coordinate operations, automate workflows, and allocate resources efficiently. 

Project management software provides a complete view of a company's roadmap and priorities. It also provides extended capabilities to extract rich data and reports, forecast risk, and enhance cross-functional team collaboration, whether working remotely or in the office.

It's no wonder innovative businesses and managers use project management software to gain operational excellence. According to a recent PwC report, there's a distinct, positive correlation between project management software and project performance — an estimated 77% of high-performing teams use project management software. 

There are lots of free online project management software options. At first glance, it may seem impossible to know which is the right one for your business. Outlining your organizational needs before beginning your search can help you narrow your choices to pick the best fit. 

This article shares the best free project management software. It also answers questions regarding the benefits, challenges, and essential considerations of free project management software, including security, upgrades, and templates. But first, let's clarify the different types of free software options on the market.

Types of free project management software

There are several types of free online project management tools. It's important to select the right one for your business as they each have different benefits and hidden costs.

  1. Open-source: Open-source software is free to download, alter, copy, and redistribute under license. These tools are created and managed by volunteer developer communities and are not tied to one vendor. Vendors, however, may repackage open-source software as paid software packages. Examples of open-source project management software are Open Project and Kanboard
  2. Freeware: Freeware software is owned by a company or individual. It’s free to download but cannot be altered, copied, or redistributed. An example of freeware project management software is Twiddlebit.
  3. Shareware: Shareware software offers free trial periods but then requires a small fee for continued use. You can find examples of shareware project management software for Windows users on Soft Planet.
  4. Freemium: Freemium software is a limited version of premium software. Freemium offers you the possibility to get to know a tool and discover its potential. Most of the best online project management software offers a freemium model as a starter package. Freemium project management software is commonly structured in two ways:
    1. Reduced features: Here, software providers offer a limited set of project management features for free to enable small businesses, freelancers, and new customers to get used to the tool and handle basic task management.
    2. Reduced usage capacity: In this case, software providers allow a limited number of users to access the full features of the application for free, creating an opportunity for small businesses and teams to use the software until they are ready to expand. 
  5. Free trials: Free trials in project management software are different from shareware and freemium software. A free trial gives you all the benefits of your chosen project management software for a limited time. This ability to access and use all the features allows you to select the right tool for your team. You can request a demo in advance to learn how to use the software quickly. 

Determine if your business needs project management software

Before jumping into choosing project management software, it's essential to evaluate and determine if you need it. Your business may require project management software if:

  • Projects are often delayed due to excessive email back-and-forths
  • Work and reports are segregated in numerous spreadsheets and documents
  • Team members miss deadlines or are overwhelmed by the amount of work
  • There's a lack of accountability and transparency in your teamwork and process
  • There's stilted collaboration between managers and team members due to poor communication
  • There's often overlapping or redundant task assignments due to confusion around team members' roles 

If this sounds familiar, you need project management software to reduce inefficiencies, boost team collaboration, and gain control of your business.

How to choose the best free project management software for your business

The right project management software can be the difference between achieving net-positive results and closing up shop. Follow the steps below to find the best free project management software for your team.

  • Define your project management needs: Bring your team together to review how you work, note gaps, and prioritize your needs.
  • Research the best project management tools: You can start your research with our list of top free online project management tools below. Choose the software that solves most of the gaps and issues you have noticed in your business.
  • Request a demo and test the tool: Most free and premium project management software offers free versions and free trials. Request a demo (if possible) and test the tool with your team. Import workflows and some data to see how the features work.
  • Gather feedback from your team: After adequate time, gather feedback from your team about the new tool. Does it help them work better? Are your project management issues being solved? Do you think your team and business can grow with the tool?
  • Evaluate the cost: Free project management software often comes with hidden costs. This may be in the form of little to no security for your data, leading to security breaches and data exposure, or lack of customer support to deal with any problems. Ensure you also calculate the cost of training your team to use the software. 
  • Get executive buy-in: Get important stakeholders in your business to buy in and adopt the new software by emphasizing its most useful benefits and features. Communicate the need for a project management tool and how it can help the company improve results. 
  • Install and integrate your new free project management software: Once you’ve evaluated costs and gotten the necessary buy-in, integrate the new software into your business and share clear guidelines on using the software with your team.
  • Review and analyze with a retrospective: Periodically gather feedback from your team about the software. Review and evaluate if it’s working as expected and delivering positive returns. 

Is free project management software secure?

Free project management software comes with different levels of security, so it's important to prioritize your security needs when choosing one. 

Project management software security encompasses the confidentiality and integrity of your data, the security of the infrastructure, and the stability of your network. Below, we have listed five critical issues to consider when evaluating your free project management software options:

  1. Privacy: Includes policies on how to verify your identity, access your accounts, and how and when the software providers can access your data
  2. Compliance: Covers all security compliance standards reputable software providers are held to
  3. Physical security: Encompasses where and how the platform stores your data 
  4. Application security: Includes all application features that help ensure your data stays safe, including data encryption, user authentication, and 2-step verification (also called two-factor authentication or 2FA)
  5. Network and system security: Ensures secure connectivity and detects, prevents, and remediates the impact of network attacks if they occur

Can you upgrade free project management software?

Small teams and businesses can upgrade project management software as they grow. The best project management tools typically have valuable features hidden behind a fee. This may include the ability to add more users, use advanced features, or access more in-depth reports.

If you're unsure about the benefits of upgrading from free to paid project management software, contact the support team and request a product demo before purchasing a subscription. Read customer reviews and testimonials and compare the available paid plan features before upgrading. 

What is the benefit of using free online project management tools?

Free online project management software brings many benefits, such as the ability to break down projects into tasks and subtasks with clear deadlines and deliverables. Other benefits of free online project management tools include:

  • Aligning day-to-day operations with business goals: Project management software allows teams to see how their responsibilities fit into the bigger picture. 
  • Reducing project risk: Project management software minimizes discrepancies and errors, prompting team members when a deadline is approaching.
  • Encouraging team accountability: Project management software keeps work progress transparent and encourages team members to do their part, as everyone knows what they're responsible for.
  • Gathering valuable insights and reports: Project management software provides data and reports aggregated from past projects to improve performance in new projects.
  • Adjusting employee workload: Project management software shows how long teams take to complete a task and where bottlenecks occur, helping managers adjust and assign tasks to employees with less workload. 

What are the challenges of using free online project management tools?

Despite the benefits of free online project management tools, there are potential challenges you may have to avoid. Here’s a list of the most critical challenges of free online project management software. 

Software security

Your project management software will likely become a repository for a lot of company information. Over time, it may hold a significant amount of data, including details of customers you've worked with, profit margins on projects, internal and external costs, labor and resource data, and other sensitive information. 

Establish that your software is secure by evaluating the five security criteria we shared above. Ensure you can restrict user access and visibility within the application and share guidelines with your team to educate them about software security. Three critical security risks to consider when evaluating free online project management tools are:

  • (Meta)data exposure: Consider why the tool is free and what the provider is gaining in exchange for access to your data. Do they have access to your company and customer data, or other sensitive information you don't want to share?
  • Data security: Does the software rely on other platforms to store your project data? If it's lost, can you retrieve a backup? 
  • Security breaches: How does the free software protect your data from theft?

Complicating simple projects

Some projects are straightforward enough to complete without interrupting the workflow or adding unnecessary dependencies or approvals. Ensure you integrate your project management software into your business without creating new challenges and roadblocks for your team. 

Task management, not project management

Most free online project management software provides basic task management features. This may be sufficient for creating and monitoring specific tasks, but it doesn't cover the scope of effective project management

Task management tools do not enable you to see how tasks and progress across the organization connect, limiting your ability to manage dependencies or the critical path. In other words, when one task slips, it can be incredibly difficult to understand the impact on the overall project. Ensure your project management software supports risk and change management. It should also provide a simple overview of all your projects, analysis, and reporting.

Lack of training and support

Most paid project management solutions come with training and support through dedicated customer success managers and support teams. Free online project management software often isn't equipped to offer this level of service. 

Without support and training, the costs for upfront time, effort, and expense to train your staff and configure the software will be coming out of your pocket. If you run into a bug or an issue, you have to search for the solution and test the fixes. This means more time dealing with the software instead of working on projects and growing your business.

One size fits all

Except for open-source software, you cannot customize free project management software. This means that you cannot easily adapt your free project management solution to fit your organizational structure, project workflows, or unique requirements. 

One-size-fits-all software can cause headaches with reviews, approvals, and security. Even if you use an open-source tool, customization will be labor-intensive and complex. You may need someone in-house who has the skills and knowledge to customize and maintain the software, resulting in labor costs. 

Inability to grow with your business

Most free project management software only provides a limited solution. Freemium plans are restricted to a limited number of users, projects, and data. They may also exclude certain useful features or the ability to integrate with work applications. This limits your team's ability to use the tool, resulting in a fragmented view of your progress across projects.

Where can you get free project management tools and templates?

A quick Google search will lead you to many free project management tools and templates. The right one for you fits well with your current way of working and ensures best practices are built into your business.

If, for instance, your team works according to Agile principles, you'd be most efficient working with Agile-focused tools and templates. This saves you from reinventing the wheel with each new project and falling out of rhythm. 

Wrike offers project planning and management templates with a range of project management approaches, including Agile. Our templates help speed up work, organize product backlogs, set up sprints, manage Scrum meetings, and report progress. They’re designed with customization and flexibility in mind, helping teams of any size reach their full potential. 

Features to expect from free project management software

Most free project management tools facilitate task and schedule management, but these are not the only features you’ll need to gain project management excellence. Below, we've listed other essential features to look for in free online project management software.

  • In-app communication: For project-relevant communication between team members
  • Dashboards: To display an overview of progress at the individual, team, and department level
  • File sharing: For teams working on digital assets and files
  • Multiple views: For example, Gantt charts, spreadsheets, lists, or board views
  • Cloud storage: To enable teams to access information and work wherever there's an internet connection
  • Mobile applications: To enable teams to collaborate from different work locations
  • Templates: To reduce rework and avoid starting from scratch with each new project
  • App integration: To connect and integrate easily with other work applications

Free online project management tools you need to know about

Now that we've answered some of the most frequently asked questions about free project management software, here's our list of the top free project management software. We’ve chosen these six based on their robust freemium offering.

Wrike

Wrike provides maximum security for your project management projects and data. The software enables you to customize workflows and review and approve projects within the application. You can add comments to tasks, projects, and files and create custom fields to suit your business’s unique needs. Wrike's free plan features include: 

  • Unlimited projects, tasks, and users
  • Real-time activity streams
  • Integrations with other work applications
  • 2GB free storage space
  • iOS and Android mobile apps

Pricing: Free plan; $9.80/user/month (Professional); $24.80/user/month (Business); Custom (Enterprise). Learn more about Wrike.

Freedcamp

Freedcamp enables you to manage tasks along with calendar, milestone, and issue-tracker tools to plan and control your timelines. It offers a standard list view and a Kanban board. Freedcamp's free plan features include: 

  • Unlimited projects, tasks, and users
  • Message-board discussion feed
  • Calendar view laying out upcoming events
  • Time tracking tools
  • iOS and Android mobile apps

Pricing: Free plan; $1.49/user/month (Minimalist); $7.49/user/month (Business); $16.99/user/month (Enterprise). Learn more about Freedcamp.

Asana

Asana allows you to track ongoing projects and assign people and due dates to tasks and sub-tasks. Its Kanban-style solution uses lean visual workflows to represent every task. Asana's free plan features include: 

  • Unlimited tasks, projects, and messages
  • Collaboration with up to 15 teammates
  • Unlimited file storage (100MB per file)
  • Integration with other work applications
  • iOS and Android mobile apps

Pricing: Free plan; $10.99/user/month (Premium); $24.99/user/month (Business); Custom (Enterprise). Learn more about Asana.

Teamwork

Teamwork provides basic task and project management features, allowing you to assign tasks and deadlines, upload files, and chat with team members. Teamwork's free plan features include: 

  • Unlimited projects, tasks, and users
  • Unlimited milestones and messages
  • Time-tracking tools
  • iOS and Android mobile apps

Pricing: Free plan; $10/user/month (Deliver); $18/user/month (Grow); Custom (Enterprise). Learn more about Teamwork.

Trello

Trello's Kanban-board interface allows teams to visually move a project through workflow stages to completion, making it easy to create, assign, and track tasks and projects. Trello's free plan features include: 

  • Unlimited tasks and users
  • Management of up to 10 boards
  • Unlimited storage (10MB/file)
  • iOS and Android mobile apps

Pricing: Free plan; $10/user/month; Custom (Enterprise). Learn more about Trello.

ClickUp

ClickUp provides project management and collaboration tools that enable you to work within the application. You can use its spreadsheets and text-editing tools, for example, instead of switching between other work applications. ClickUp's free plan features include: 

  • 100MB storage
  • Unlimited tasks and members
  • iOS and Android mobile apps

Pricing: Free plan; $5/user/month (Unlimited); $9/user/month (Business); Custom (Enterprise). Learn more about ClickUp.

What is the best free project management software?

Our top recommendation for free online project management software is Wrike. Its free plan goes beyond project management, with highly secure collaborative features creating a digital workspace for teams of any size.

Startups, enterprises, businesses, and entrepreneurs can easily build a fully-fledged digital work environment with Wrike, assured that their data is safe — not even Wrike employees can access it. 

Wrike’s free plan offers customer support five days a week (24/5). They also provide training webinars and project management resources to guide teams and managers in streamlining and improving project management activities within their business. 

Built with security, scalability, and automation at its core, Wrike’s free plan is designed especially for the project management needs of today's hybrid workforces. Unlike most freemium project management software, Wrike allows unlimited users for any team, allowing customers to transition an entire organization into Wrike without concern for team growth. 

Are you ready to improve and harmonize project management within your business without skimping on quality or security? Sign up with Wrike for free today to begin building your smart project management workspace. 

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