We all want to be more productive. And we definitely want our teams to be more productive. That's why so many productivity tools exist.

But which tools are right for you? One way to answer that question is to find out which tools some of the top startups use.

That's what Ryan Robinson did. Ryan is a content marketing consultant to the world's top experts and growing startups, teaching over 200,000 monthly readers how to start and grow a profitable side hustle on his blog and podcast.

When working on your project management tools becomes more work than the actual project itself, you know you're in trouble.

Modern businesses live and die by their ability to zoom out to 30,000 feet to get the big picture and then come back down to solid ground and put in the work. Especially for technical teams, where one small misstep can bring the whole thing down, the ability to keep on track with your projects and know what to do next is essential.

As consultant and author Jim Rohn put it, "Either you run the day, or the day runs you." And without the right tools in place, it feels like the day's running you over with a steamroller.

So, how do we give ourselves the seemingly superhuman ability to see all parts of a project at once and make the right calls at the right time? Enter the almighty project management tool.

The right project management tool lets you organize your team to do its best work. It lets you plan sprints or tasks and track who's doing what to make sure you're working in the most efficient way possible. In short, it lets you keep your head above water no matter how high the waves are coming crashing in.  

Let's take a look at some of the popular tools actually being used by top teams around the globe and then dive into the more important part: why they use them.

To stand out in the modern business world, you need to be unique and exciting. But the way you run your business certainly doesn't need to be. That's not to say we should all run out and copy what Apple, Facebook, or Amazon do--but rather that there's no shame in taking inspiration from how the greats plow through massive projects and stay on deadline and budget.

"Businesses should follow and learn from others' successes and failures in order to better understand and predict their own," wrote Ben Mezrich in The Accidental Billionaires--the book of Facebook's origin that was later adapted into The Social Network.  

So, let's start by looking at some of the biggest names today and what tools they're using to keep their teams on track.

1. Uber

How do you keep track of millions of drivers across the globe, build the best tools for them, and manage the day-to-day operations of a $69 billion company? For the technical team at Uber, that all comes down to Asana, a project management tool founded by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.

With Asana, you get your basic project management needs done in a clean and clear way. The web-based tool lets each of your teams create its own individual workspaces and then fill them with ongoing projects and tasks. Each task is tracked and users are notified of updates and changes that affect them with the ultimate goal of making sure every task has a clear next step ready.

While Asana is a very capable all-around project management tool, it has particular emphasis on tracking everything from projects to hiring to bugs in the code, which is why it's also being used by teams at fellow billion-dollar companies like AirBnB and Pinterest.  

2. CNET

With over 200 million monthly readers across the globe, CNET is the highest-read technology news source on the web. Founded in 1994, CNET quickly grew from a handful of tech-themed TV shows into an online empire of review sites, blogs, videos, and podcasts, and was acquired by CBS in the late 2000s for a multibillion-dollar deal.

Any major media network needs a serious project management tool to keep them running. And for CNET this is Planio, an extremely flexible project management tool built on top of the Redmine open-source project and optimized for technical teams with integrated Git and SVN repositories, additional security, team chat, and help desk.

"I need to make sure our projects are moving forward, and Planio's road-map view gives me an at-a-glance update," explains CNET senior solutions consultant Luis Ferrao. "Everything our team does is now done in Planio. It's our main workflow tool. At this stage, we've created tens of thousands of issues."

3. Dribbble

The original online show-and-tell platform for the design community, Dribbble now hosts close to half a million design portfolios and has become one of the biggest sources of leads and contacts for freelance designers. To service a community as picky as designers, Dribbble uses Flow to keep their projects in order.

Flow is specifically designed to be simple and quick. The company describes the product as "a happy middle ground between what you're doing right now, and an expensive enterprise project management system." It's very UX and design-focused, making it a perfect partner for Dribbble.

"I wanted a tool that did product management well (for my use with our CEO), but more importantly, one that would make the day-to-day work for individual team members really straightforward," explains Dribbble's director of product, Sarah Kuehnle.

"Flow does the latter really well right now and they are making the product's management/ road-map side better every day. I also love that it looks great, as I have my eyes on this thing all day long."

4. Dropbox

With over half a billion users, the technical team at Dropbox needs to do everything in its power to keep the service up and running. Its choice? Dropbox Paper.

Paper was (as the name implies) built as an in-house solution to help the company's project managers capture, organize, and prioritize issues, plan sprints, and get real-time reporting on the work being done. And while not the most flexible project management system, it allows the team to work quickly and keep all its docs, files, and images in a central location.   

"We needed a way to quickly convey our ideas with words, images, code, and references to other documents and software tools," explains Dropbox product manager DJ Chung. "Paper allows us to do that natively. It also integrates with other tools we use everyday like Slack, InVision, and Trello, and allows our teams to stay on top of project decisions and tasks through a built-in task management feature that allows you to assign people and due dates to important tasks."

5. Kickstarter

From the projects being completed and launched on Kickstarter to the community of thousands of backers, the world's biggest crowdfunding platform puts an obvious emphasis on collaboration. To keep its own teams on track, however, multiple groups within Kickstarter use Trello -- a Kanban-style project management tool that lets you create boards and cards to track the progress of your projects and teams.

Unlike more robust project management options, Trello is more visually based and focuses on clarity, making it easy to quickly see who's working on what and understand where any part of the project is in the pipeline. Each project or team is assigned a "board" in Trello, which you can then fill with vertical lists full of cards. As projects progress through their development, each card is moved to the next list.

For example, if I were using Trello to track my progress on this blog post, I might have lists for "Ideas," "Researching," "Writing," and "Published," so I know where I'm at and what needs to be worked on. Trello is great for visually keeping track of your projects and a favorite of Silicon Valley, with companies like Medium, Buffer, and Producthunt also using it to run their projects.  

6. Ghostery

Ghostery is on a mission to make browsing the Web suck a little bit less. The company's free browser plug-in detects and blocks tracking technologies on the websites you visit to speed up page loads, eliminate clutter, and protect your data and privacy. To keep its product up-to-date with the ever-changing Web, Ghostery primarily uses Roadmunk and Jira.

Roadmunk is a web app that makes it easy to create visual road maps and Gannt charts, while Jira is a feature-rich Agile project management tool built by Atlassian.

"We use Roadmunk to create our product road maps, which are essentially broad-stroke product strategy plans that extend 6-12 months into the future," explains Jeremy Tillman, Ghostery's director of product management.

When it comes to day-to-day project management, however, Ghostery turns to Jira.

"In particularly, we use Jira to create and manage our product tickets, which can be anything from a new feature, product improvement, bug fix, or task," explains Tillman, who adds that, while they chose Jira for its comprehensive features, "it can be a heavy tool whose heft and somewhat steep learning curve might be a poor fit for smaller teams."

7. WeWork

WeWork's massive $20 billion valuation hinges on its ability to bring progressive, data-focused insights into the classical (and, let's be honest, boring) world of rental office space. To do that, it needs a project management tool that offers a high-level overview of every project across many different teams, to see how they all work together. WeWork's choice? Jira.

Jira's focus is on clarity and collaboration, and while you can get granular into each task, the big benefit is a broader view of the progress of your project.  

"We have a lot of needs from a project management tool--assigning tickets to team members, categorizing by type and tagging with priority, setting statuses, and on and on," explains WeWork software engineer Alex Choi. "After trying multiple options, we went with Jira. Not because we love it, but because it does everything we need."

8. Groupon

Despite its slow decline over the past few years, Groupon -- the daily deal site -- was once one of the industry's fastest growing companies, hitting a $1 billion valuation in just 16 months from launch. Today, you can find thousands of discounted offers from local companies, manufacturers, and getaways on Groupon, with billions in sales being processed on the site every year.

For managing this level and volume of growth, Groupon uses a number of different project management tools to stay organized, including Basecamp.

Basecamp was one of the first project management software solutions released and has been helping teams for over 10 years. While not necessarily optimized for technical teams, Basecamp does give you a quick view of what you're working on by splitting your communication and project tracking into an HQ (main overview), Teams, and finally, projects. Basecamp boasts thousands of users including companies like 9GAG and Harvest.  

9. Netflix

As one of the world's largest content platforms and producers, it's safe to say Netflix has more than a few projects they need to keep track of. From commissioning and producing billions of dollars' worth of original content, to maintaining streaming services for close to 100 million users in pretty much every country in the world, the teams at Netflix have their hands full when it comes to project management.

For their technical teams, they chose Confluence -- a project management and team collaboration tool built by software makers Atlassian. Confluence is aimed at Enterprise companies and built around adding transparency to your team.

It allows you to create documents as a team, provide feedback in context, and iterate until the work is finished.

Want to know what project management features you need most in the tools you use? Check out this follow-up article, Project Management Tools: 7 Features You Need Most.

Published on: Jan 24, 2018
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