In today’s roundup, we take a look at one of the most important types of business productivity tools: project management.
Project management software has been a staple of the traditional business suite since the 1970s. Since then, there have been thousands of major project management solutions for businesses, from small, home built products, to major distributed applications. In today’s companies and startup life, project management tools are essential because employees increasingly need to work on teams as effectively as possible to achieve their goals.
Today, the field is dominated by top players like Microsoft Project, Atlassian, and Basecamp. But if you want to host your own intranet-based project management solution, none of these products is a good fit.
That’s where WordPress comes in. WordPress is hugely popular for intranets and small businesses that want to run their own software and stay organized and on task, so it’s no surprise that project management plugins are popular.
Today, we will take a look at WP Project Manager, Zephyr Project Manager, Upstream Project Manager, and Panorama Project Manager. Let’s talk about all of the features that you need to take a look at to determine which product is the best fit for your company.
Before we get into the details, here’s a table of contents:
Table of Contents
- 1. What to look for in a project management plugin
- 2. The Competitors
- 3. Installation
- 4. Ease of Use
- 5. User and Input Management
- 6. Calendaring and Time Management
- 7. Reporting
- 8. Discussion
- 9. Document Management
- 10. And The Winner Is…
And now, the article…
There are several key pieces that go into a project management software decision. In this section, we look at each one:
In our opinion, the ease of use of a project management plugin is the most important factor when making a choice of what to use. It doesn’t matter how many features a piece of software has, you will never get anywhere if the software isn’t easy to use, in terms of ability to install, maintain, save and recover and data inputs.
Any project management plugin should generally be self-explanatory to use, as long as you have some knowledge of the field. And more advanced features should be hidden from basic users, and exposed when necessary, while commonly used features should be available at your fingertips.
Additionally, key features of the product should be intuitive to use and you shouldn’t have to have a lot of technical background in order to navigate the software.
In general, you want to find a WordPress project management plugin or theme with the right combination of features and usability.
User management is important for a project management tool. It’s important to be able to define who can access what with the tool, and you it’s nice to have fine-grained abilities to set who can view or edit which projects, tasks, etc.
It’s also really nice to be able to have further control over individual aspects of projects or tasks, such as field customization (being able to add fields for different domain-specific information).
Any good project management software has a document management component.
You should be able to upload files and share them with other members of the team. You should be able to provide some metadata about the documents, and ideally, share with people outside the team.
Additionally, the documents should be secured such that confidentiality and privacy is maintained and people feel that they can share information without concerns about security.
Any team needs to allocate people and resources properly and members of the team to adhere to deadlines. Therefore, a good project management plugin will have a built in calendar, which lays out all of the tasks and milestones, as well as deadlines and other requirements.
Also, ideally, the plugin will provide timely prompts on when users need to submit certain tasks and/or assignments so that everyone stays on task.
Reporting is an essential part of project management, since all team members need to be apprised of what progress colleagues are making on their respective assignments.
This, in turn, enables team members to stay further connected to one another and enables them to update their work where needed.
Reporting functionality also ensures that stakeholders have an awareness of any other changes taking place in real-time with the project and to adjust their own goals for each task or to be able to delegate efficiently and effectively.
Discussion capabilities are a vital part of project management.
In order to collaborate effectively, team members must be able to stay connected with each other to stay updated on the progress on their tasks.
In any project, you must be able to comment on different aspects, add documentation, and provide notes.
There are several project managers available for WordPress, but only a very small number are usable and feature-complete. The ones that we found to be worth reviewing in this roundup are WP Project Manager, Zephyr Project Manager, Panorama, and Upstream Project Manager.
WP Project Manager is a project management software that has been rate on average 3.5 stars and was developed in 2008. This plugin boasts a number of different functions and purports to have a wide range of support available for its functionalities.
WP Project Manager offers users the ability to have significant control over privacy and security, enabling management to assign permissions for each team member and customize everyone’s role..
Core features offered include to-do list creation with updates on progress, milestone creation and assignment, messaging, file-sharing and email notification.
Pro features include more advanced project management capabilities such as Kanban board and Gantt chart creation and usage.
There is also a time tracker, invoicing for charging clients, and the ability break long tasks into simpler subtasks. WP Project Manager also provides users with some useful integrations such as with Slack or WooCommerce.
Zephyr Project Manager aims to be intuitive, easy and a fit for virtually any kind of team. We picked up on the fact that Zephyr bills itself as having a beautiful user interface and providing all of the functionality that you would need to create projects and assign tasks.
Specific features in the basic version of Zephyr Project Manager include the ability to create projects, prioritize them, convert them to tasks, view your progress, and keep everyone informed through a discussion panel.
In terms of actual tasks, users can create, assign, mark and start discussions with questions on tasks. There’s an android app for the plugin and each user gets a personal dashboard.
A file manager, email notifications, and calendar are also available. Users can also customize the plugin in a couple of ways and is localized to translate into any language.
Panorama is another project management plugin that boasts beautiful project dashboards.
The plugin has all of the standard functionality that you would expect. It calculates your project progress on task completion so you have a sense of how much you’ve accomplished.
Users can also manage and delegate tasks through dashboards or project pages and team members can upload, review and approve documents.
A discussion feature allowing for easy messaging simplifies document workflow. Project discussions are organized through an inbox with threading that reduces time spent hunting for messages.
UpStream Project Manager also offers all of the standard functionality that you would expect.
This includes a personalized dashboard, the ability to establish milestones and tasks for your project that you can then assign and delegate, beautiful calendars and Gantt charts, and tracking of every aspect of project activity.
UpStream adds one significant feature that you don’t really find on competitors, which makes it really useful for software development projects: you can you can easily report bugs or issues. And just like milestones and tasks, you can assign the bug to a user, add the status, severity of the bug, a description, and a due date.
UpStream offers threaded discussions, file managenent, localization (including multiple languages built in), Gantt charts and advanced permissions functionality.
WP Project Manager installed successfully and had a nice screen at the beginning to show us how to get started.
Everything seemed to go smoothly, until we actually tried to start using WP Project Manager on our server.
Clicked the button to create a new project, and…nothing happened. We tried again, and nothing. The popup was open, and we were stuck.
While installing Zephyr, we encountered several errors, but we were eventually able to get the plugin up and running.
Here’s another shot of the errors:
Panorama was easy to install, and everything was up and running relatively quickly. After downloading the plugin, activation went smoothly, and we were immediately presented with a new category for projects on our dashboard.
The Upstream Project Manager tool worked well out of the box. Once we installed it, it popped up a warning about an HTTPS misconfiguration in our WordPress settings, and asked us to correct it. Once we did, everything worked perfectly.
Upstream installed pretty easily, and we had no noticeable hiccups in the install process.
The Winner: Panorama and UpStream
As anyone who uses WordPress a lot, when you’re using plugins, you have to be prepared to find bugs and error messages everywhere. And our review of project management tools very much followed that rule.
The exceptions were Panorama and UpStream, which installed pretty easily and had no noticeable errors or bugs.
When you get right down to it, in navigating any piece of software, what every user wants is something that’s easy to use. The problem with a lot of WordPress-based software today is that it’s just too tough to use.
Let’s take a look at how our project management contenders performed in this area.
Overall, we liked WP Project Manager’s familiar user interface. We also appreciated how much WP Project Manager tries to do. For instance, in addition to everything we’ve covered here, WP Project Manager lets you generate a variety of reports, integrates nicely with WooCommerce connects to your merchant accounts.
However, this is exactly the problem with WP Project Manager. In an effort to offer its users such a variety of features, we think it’s taken on a little too much — a little too quickly.
As a result, the interface feels overpopulated with bells and whistles, and it seems as if WP Project Manager stopped paying attention the basic stuff, a long, long time ago.
It feels extremely overwhelming when you’re trying to do something simple like determine your progress on a project.
We also ran into PHP errors multiple times in using WP Project Manager. Generally these didn’t seem to affect the usability of the software, but they’re always unnerving when you come across them.
Panorama is definitely the best looking of all of the products tested here. And it sticks out in our minds as having a lot of potential. It’s hasn’t taken on too much and it seems to be trying to do what it has taken on, right.
But in many cases we felt like the design was prioritized higher than usability, so although it looks amazing, it isn’t always usable.
After creating our first project with Panorama using the WordPress interface, this is what we got:
After working with Panorama for a bit, we got a sense of how everything fits together, but we still had a bit of trouble getting everything to work as expected.
It also took us a while to understand how to complete tasks on the front end. While it’s easy to add comments and documents, we just couldn’t figure out how to actually advance the project — or set some of the basic task information.
We found UpStream to be a good balance of features vs. complexity. Although it has a lot more features than some of its competitors, it doesn’t have quite as many as WP Project Manager. But that allows it to be much more easy to use.
The WordPress interface is pretty simple, and everything seems to be in its place. The standalone interface, while nowhere as pretty as Panorama, was functional, and it was obvious how to do things.
Our testers had no problem creating tasks and projects, adding files, and setting dates, using both the admin interface and the standalone interface. Everything seems to be in the place you’d expect with UpStream, which is very nice.
Another thing that was nice about UpStream was that we encountered no error messages or warnings when setting up and using it. UpStream was the only tool that didn’t have any errors or warnings during our usage.
We were really excited about Zephyr, since it’s relatively new and seems to get good reviews. But Zephyr was the only one of the project management tools that we looked at that we were never able to get fully working properly.
Even after messing around for a while with settings and re-installing, we still got errors and bugs filling up our screen, to the point where we couldn’t get anything done.
Eventually, we gave up on trying to get Zephyr fully working…so we definitely wouldn’t say it was the easiest to use.
The Winner: UpStream
We found UpStream to be the only one of these tools that was really easy to use. All of them had their good points, and nothing looks as nice as Panorama, but UpStream just seemed to work as we expected.
For user management, Panorama has 3 special roles: Project Owner, Project Manager, and Project Creator, in addition to the standard Administrator and other WordPress roles.
Like most of the other tools’ user management features, Panorama allows owners to access projects that they are assigned to, and creators to access projects that they created (as well as others that they’re assigned to). Panorama also allows you to restrict access to projects on the project page, where you can set allowed users and teams.
For input management, Panorama has some customization, as well as templates, but we couldn’t find any way to do the comprehensive field customization that the other tools had.
Furthermore, it doesn’t look like Panorama has any custom field creation capability.
UpStream has a pretty comprehensive input management functionality. There is a custom fields module, which allows you to add fields UpStream has two different levels of user management.
You can add text fields, file fields, dropdowns, radio buttons, user fields, category fields, country fields, and even color pickers, and there are a half dozen different ways you can configure each one. You can also filter by the fields.
For user management, UpStream has two different levels depending the level of permissions you require. At the basic level, UpStream provides three roles, UpStream Manager, UpStream Client User, and UpStream User. UpStream Client User is part of their team/group management feature, which allows you to create groups and add projects to the group.
What’s nice about UpStream, however, is that they have an advanced permissions function. Although it’s not for the faint of heart, you can set access to individual projects, groups of projects, tasks and items within projects, and more. So you could allow someone to view a project, and edit one file in that project.
But UpStream goes further than that: it also allows you to set read, write, and edit permissions on almost any field in the system. So, for example, certain users can see a project date as read only, but edit a project status field.
Advanced Permissions requires reading a lot of documentation, but it’s really powerful.
Zephyr’s input management functionality is relatively basic. It’s custom fields feature allows you to add a custom fields of type text, number, select, or date.
You can give these different roles the ability to view tasks, view projects, create, and edit projects. There is a team feature for Zephyr, that allows you to create projects for a team. However, there are no fine grained permissions for particular tasks or projects.
WP Project Manager has similar user management functionality to Panorama. You can set “project managing” and “project creation” capabilities, by project, which is nice.
There is also team/group management with “clients,” and there are some permissions controls for them. They can be restricted to create or view “private” items. However, that’s the extent of the user management features of WP Project Manager. There’s no fine-detailed object permissioning.
For customization, WP Project Manager seems to lag behind the others, with no discernable way to create custom fields. There is a customizer module, but you can’t add or edit fields using it.
The Winner: UpStream
UpStream was the only tool with a full set of features for custom fields, as well as detailed permissions. In this category, UpStream far outpaced the other options.
WP Project Manager has a specific menu item in the WordPress admin dashboard devoted to a calendar with the ability to chart tasks, color coded by whether the task is incomplete, complete, outstanding or a milestone.
Here’s an example — take a look below:
What’s really nice about WP Project Manager is that it has time tracking and invoicing on top of the calendaring functionality.
When you open a task, you can click a button to start a task, and then it will record the time until you end the task. You can also enter custom times, and see a log of what was done when. These tools are really nice to have.
Perhaps we’re totally daft, but we couldn’t figure out how to get the calendar on Panorama to work properly. When we tested it out on our site, we kept getting blank pages, no matter what we put in for dates:
When we tried to use it on Panorama’s demo site, we had a different problem. The calendar showed up, but nothing appeared on the calendar, and nothing could be done.
Panorama has some nice embedded timelines and charts within tasks and projects, which help keep you apprised of the calendar. Check this one out:
While again it looked really nice, this definitely wasn’t our favorite calendaring tool.
UpStream has a nice calendar, which is pretty similar to that of WP Project Manager. All of the expected functionality is there, like color coding of items, click to create and edit, and filtering.
UpStream’s Gantt charts are also pretty nice, and they allow editing of tasks within the chart. Although Panorama has prettier charts, this one definitely gets the job done.
Zephyr has a nice calendar that has most of the standard features that you would expect with a calendar, but isn’t quite as functional as its competitors.
What we liked about Zephyr’s calendar is how easy it was to use, and how nice looking it is, compared to the others. Here’s an example of what it looks like:
The Winner: WP Project Manager and UpStream
WP Project Manager has slightly more functionality in its calendar than the others, but we had trouble getting it to work as expected. UpStream, meanwhile, wasn’t quite as functional, but it did everything we expected, and it did it properly.
At first glance, WP Project Manager’s reporting functionality seems pretty intuitive. Here’s a screenshot at the initial navigation page to reporting:
WP Project Manager enables you to track and create reports for example functions like overdue tasks, unassigned tasks and tasks according to milestone.
When you click through to explore what each of these enables you to do, however, the interface for these functionalities seems a little busy to us. Check it out below, where we took a look at a report we generated of all user activities.
WP Project Manager has the most reports of all of the options, with all sorts of printable reports that you can filter and sort.
The three other competitors in this roundup all have relatively basic reporting.
For example, Zephyr has a nice reports generator, but really only one report. Panorama’s reporting functionality is mostly embedded into its other components, such as through “tasks.” Take a look below:
UpStream has some basic reports, plus a bunch of export options, which allow you to use any reporting tools to create a report that you want.
The Winner: WP Project Manager
WP Project Manager has the best reports of the group. If reporting is your #1 priority, you should definitely go with WP Project Manager.
When it comes to generating discussion on WP Project Manager’s plugin, we got a little hysterical hunting for the discussion feature, because it’s different depending on whether it’s a project, task, etc.
But the discussion feature is nice once you figure it out, and we were pleased by how it worked.
One nice thing about WP Project Manager is that it has some Slack integration.
Panorama integrates its discussion feature directly into its “projects,” a style we appreciated since it seems more intuitive. Simply enter into “projects” and scroll down.
Discussion is really nicely presented and easy to follow.
Upstream’s discussion is much like the others. On the back end, it’s built into the project pages, like so:
On the front end, UpStream has discussion integrated into a tab for every object. We found that nice, and very easy to use.
Zephyr has a similar discussion function to UpStream and WP Project Manager. You can see how it looks here:
All of these tools have pretty similar discussion capabilities. We found all of them to be useful and functional.
Document management has to be one of the more critical functions of a good project management software. You may not need to know the sundry commentary of everyone on the team in a discussion about a minor topic, but you need to make sure to read any key documents, especially legal ones!
Let’s take a look at how our competitors fared on this.
There seems to be a theme here where WP Project Manager is concerned, which is that attempting to do a lot can sometimes cause what you do to be a little more complicated than it should be.
It wasn’t totally clear to us, in which section of WP Project Manager we’re supposed to be able to upload attachments and share which documents. However, eventually we figured it out, and were happy with the results.
Panorama had a pretty fluid process to get to file sharing.
All you need to do to add documents for a project is use the center navigation to be able to upload any documents or review anything else about the project.
With UpStream there’s a clear files section in each project. We appreciated how simple that was, and how clearly it was laid out, which added to our ability to stay organized with the project. Check it out below:
Zephyr puts files in tasks, instead (at least we couldn’t figure out how to do so) of putting them in projects. However, this was pretty intuitive, and we had no problems using the file upload and download functions.
All of these tools have pretty similar file upload and document management capabilities. We found all of them to be useful and functional.
And the Winner Is…UpStream!
All of these tools are pretty good, but we liked UpStream the best.
WP Project Manager has all of the best features, but considering that UpStream with all of the addons costs as much as $175 per year less than WP Project Manager, and it’s got all of the same major functionality, we decided to go with it. In fact, we liked it so much that we use it as our own internal project manager for article/review planning.