Vendor Showdown: Comparing the 5 Best Project Tracking Software Dashboards

Project management (PM) dashboards are a central component of most project tracking systems. Dashboards provide managers with an overview of a project’s progress: They capture data about team performance and achievement of milestones, then collate that information in an easy-to-scan display.

While many prominent PM systems include project dashboards, the functionality and pricing of these systems varies greatly.

To help buyers better understand the similarities and differences between dashboards, we took a closer look at the top five vendors identified in our Most Popular PM Software report.

In this article, we’ll explore the dashboard offerings for each of the following products:

Microsoft Project

Project dashboard overview: In the MS Project platform, dashboards are located under the “Reports” tab. This tab includes additional report options detailing resource, cost and in-progress metrics (e.g., overallocated resources, cost overruns and critical tasks). Meanwhile, the dashboard reports offer higher-level project summaries, such as:

    • Project overview: Tracks percentage complete, upcoming milestones and late tasks.
    • Cost overview: Tracks planned versus actual costs, remaining costs and percentage complete.

Both the on-premise and cloud-based versions of MS Project include reporting and business intelligence features.

Pros: MS Project is one of the leading solutions in the PM marketplace. This is due in large part to its feature-rich platform and easy integration with other Microsoft products, including Excel and business intelligence platform Sharepoint.

Cons: This solution is geared toward organizations that are managing projects at the portfolio level. For businesses not at the portfolio level, there are less expensive alternatives.

 

Project Overview dashboard in Microsoft Project
(Image used with permission from Microsoft)
 

Price: $$$

Deployment: On-premise and cloud-based

User Rating: (5 reviews)

Most Positive User Review: “Microsoft Project is a great tool to use for keeping an accurate schedule of any type of project. The product can be used to manage projects within any industry, whether IT, finance, aerospace, food services etc. …” – Janet from SITA

Most Negative User Review: “This product is outrageously expensive. Worth the money if you have a lot of clients, but for us, it was too much.” – Chris from Project World Impact

Asana

Project dashboard overview: In Asana, the dashboard acts as the user’s homepage. On the dashboard are thumbnails, or cards, representing different projects the user is involved with. These cards contain:

    • A high-level overview of completed and remaining tasks in the project, displayed as a progress chart.
    • A colored status bar across the top of the card indicating if the project is on track (green), at risk (yellow) or needs attention (red).
    • Status updates or more detailed notes about recent activities, posted by the project owner.

Projects the user is the “owner” of are automatically added to the dashboard. However, users can customize their display by adding or removing cards for other projects they’re a member of, and by reordering cards to prioritize them. Users can click on any card to be redirected to that project’s main page.

Pros: Asana’s greatest strength is as a task management and collaboration platform. Users can comment on tasks and invite guests outside the organization to collaborate on the project.

Cons: The platform lacks project planning capabilities, such as Gantt charts, as well as more sophisticated resource scheduling functionality (i.e., staff forecasting for future projects).

 

My Dashboard in Asana
 

Price: $

Deployment: Cloud-based

User Rating: (49 reviews)

Most Positive User Review: “It’s a great way to coordinate efforts on a project and break down and track its progress. Search functions are really great!” – Michael from SpareFoot, Inc.

Most Negative User Review: “Although the product is designed to reduce the amount of emails, the default settings actually increased the amount of emails in my inbox.” – Justin from Sebo Marketing

Basecamp

Project dashboard overview: Similar to Asana, the homepage in Basecamp also displays cards for each project the user is involved with. However, while Asana includes a progress chart on the card itself, Basecamp has a separate page showcasing “progress” for all projects the user is involved with (see screenshot below).

Using this “progress” page, managers can:

    • Track progress via a timeline of updates and changes made within each project by different users.
    • Access a record of communication surrounding important project decisions.

As Basecamp is a cloud-based product, this section is updated in real time and acts as a virtual project history.

Pros: With its latest release, Basecamp 3, the vendor has taken significant strides to collect project and team data automatically (the main goal of project tracking software).

For example, with the new “automatic check-in” tool, managers can set up a recurring check-in notification: This prompts teams with different questions and organizes their responses into a weekly report.

Cons: While Basecamp excels as a team collaboration and communication platform, it lacks some traditional resource management capabilities, such as skills and availability tracking.

 

Progress screen in Basecamp
 

Price: $$

Deployment: Cloud-based

User Rating: (35 reviews)

Most Positive User Review: “I love the ease of use and layout of Basecamp. Everything is organized in a manner that is intuitive and simple, so that you never have to waste time trying to figure out how to do what you need to do. In addition, the ability to upload documents and have your to-do lists in the same location make any job/project easier!” – Erin from Wofford College

Most Negative User Review: “Tracking what’s done and when it’s due is less than ideal. Conversations stay connected, organized, and centralized well, but true project management alignment is not necessarily its strength.” – Colleen from Nashville Technology Council

Mavenlink

Project dashboard overview: Mavenlink’s dashboard acts as a user’s command center. The dashboard is broken down into several sections, including:

    • Tasks: Shows the user’s task assignments due over the next week.
    • Activity feed: Contains the latest status updates, changes, notes or files added to projects
    • Invoices: Highlights any pending invoices that are open across projects.

From the dashboard, users can reply to comments in their activity feed and drill down into a task’s details to update statuses or invite other team members to collaborate.

Mavenlink includes two major project tracking capabilities in its basic package: dashboards and Gantt charts. However, it reserves reporting and analytics for the top-tier packages only.

Pros: Mavenlink can be used for basic time management and collaboration. However, its strengths lie in the more advanced project accounting and business intelligence capabilities it offers: time and expense tracking, invoicing and online payments and real-time analytics.

Cons: Although Mavenlink is priced on a per-user, per-month basis, users cannot pay subscription costs monthly—instead, they must commit to an annual contract.

 

Dashboard view in Mavenlink
 

Price: $$

Deployment: Cloud-based

User Rating: (36 reviews)

Most Positive User Review: “I really like seeing where we are at with the budget on a project in real time, and also having an estimate of how many hours are remaining. The Gantt charts are better and more practical than a lot of other ones I’ve tried.” – Bryce from Issimo Productions

Most Negative User Review: “The better functions are only available at the higher-priced levels.” – Melody from ProSoft Technology

Smartsheet

Project dashboard overview: Smartsheet is designed in a spreadsheet format, similar to Microsoft Excel; users perform different functions, such as project planning and tracking, in different “sheets.”

Managers can flag critical tasks and milestones on the project plan sheet, and the software mirrors that information onto the project dashboard. As progress is made on flagged items, it’s also reflected on the dashboard. This allows managers to use one dashboard display for all their active projects.

From the dashboard, managers can:

    • Customize the information featured on the dashboard using the report builder (a filtering system allowing users to identify specific criteria to highlight across multiple sheets).
    • Set up recurring dashboard reports to be shared automatically with stakeholders.
    • Create a link back to the project plan so stakeholders can access necessary details.

Smartsheet is currently in beta on a new dashboard display, with the testing session ending in spring of 2016. Users can expect improved visual displays and project tracking functionality.

Pros: We know from previous studies on software buyers that the majority of businesses use manual methods (e.g., email, spreadsheets) to manage projects.

Smartsheet’s success can be attributed in large part to its medium: It’s a cloud-based spreadsheet tool that allows teams to collaborate in an environment they’re already familiar with. This makes it great for first-time buyers.

Cons: Conversely, as a PM platform designed with a look and feel similar to Excel spreadsheets, the user interface (UI) design may not be as aesthetically pleasing or as modern as other solutions on the market.

 

Project rollup dashboard in Smartsheet
 

Price: $

Deployment: Cloud-based

User Rating: (1 review)

Most Positive User Review: “I really enjoy the personal support and the ability to adjust the product to fit my individual needs.” – Kristin from Colliers International

Most Negative User Review: “As with any data-based platform, the information is only as good as what is put in from the client.” – Kristin from Colliers International

Next Steps

As you can see from the above comparisons, dashboard functionality varies greatly from product to product. If you’d like more information about these and other PM platforms, here’s what you can do:

    • Read more reviews: The reviews listed above are just a few examples of what real users have to say about these platforms. To see how other users have rated each product’s quality and ease of use, visit our market page for additional reviews.
    • Demo products: Researching a platform’s functionality is just the first step. Next, you’ll need to vet products to ensure they support your needs and drive your business goals.
    • Call our PM experts at at (855) 998-8505: Our experienced PM Software Advisors can provide you with additional information about the platforms listed above. If these five vendors don’t fit your needs, they can provide you with a short list of products that do.

 

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