Teams can spend tens of thousands of dollars per year on project management software. If you’re looking to get the best project management app for a small team on a budget, however, you really don’t have to spend that much, because Zoho Projects is both a very good option and totally affordable for even the most boot-strapped teams. Zoho Projects has a wide array of effective features, even if it doesn’t include everything under the sun. For example, its highest tier of service includes time tracking, resource management reports, and the ability to track project budgets, and it costs just $6 per person per month. You don’t get automations, invoicing and billing tools, or other advanced features, although you can connect with other apps that provide those capabilities. Overall, Zoho Projects provides a lot of value for a low price, making it an Editors’ Choice winner for project management for small and growing businesses.
We have given two other Editors’ Choice awards for project management software. One is to Teamwork, which costs a little more but comes with extra features that mid-sized businesses might want, such as invoicing. For large organizations managing hundreds or thousands of employees and projects, LiquidPlanner is our top pick. It’s more adept at handling multiple projects and shared resources, and it has impressive tools for automatic scheduling and resolving conflicts.
What’s New in Zoho Projects?
In 2021, Zoho Projects will release a new version of its software with updated pricing. The images in this review reflect the look of the new app, but because not all details of the new release have been made public yet, all other aspects of this review are accurate as of the time of this writing. We intend to test the new version once it’s is publicly available and will update this review accordingly.
Other updates to Zoho Projects since we last reviewed it in 2019 include new integration options, the ability to create custom fields and layouts for timesheets, and several minor changes to Gantt charts, including an undo button for when you make mistakes. New integrations let you connect to Microsoft OneDrive, Toggl Track, SugarCRM, Insightly CRM, and Zoho Expense.
How Much Does Zoho Projects Cost?
Zoho Projects offers five plans, including a free plan. You can get a 10-day trial of the top tier plan for free. All the paid plans are competitively priced, though the Premium and Enterprise plans offer the features that most organizations will want.
Free: The free plan lets you have three users (previously it was five) and three client users. This tier limits you to managing two projects. You get 10MB of storage space, which is a very small amount. Few features are included in this account type, as you can see on Zoho Projects’ comparison page.
Standard: The Standard plan costs $3 per person per month or $30 per person per year, with a minimum of six users and a maximum of 10. You can manage 10 projects, and you get six client users, 5GB of storage space, five project templates, and a few other limited features. Similar to the Free plan, the feature restrictions are numerous. You can view Gantt charts, but you can’t edit your project or tasks from this view. You don’t get recurring tasks, time sheet approvals, project budgets, critical path views, custom fields in tasks, the ability to create and manage teams, and more.
Express: The Express plan costs $4 per person per month or $36 per person per year, and you must keep your team size between 12 and 50 people. You can invite 12 client users; if you need more, you can pay $10 per month for every five additional clients. This plan type comes with unlimited projects, 20GB of storage space, 10 project templates, and a lot more features. These include timesheet approvals, recurring tasks, the ability to set business hours (including for weekends and holidays), and some issue-tracking tools. You still don’t get project budgets, custom task fields, or critical path and baseline views, among other features.
Premium: The Premium plan costs $5 per person per month or $48 per person per year, and you must have between 15 and 100 people. You get 15 client users, and if you exceed that number, you pay the same fee as Express members. Premium comes with unlimited projects, 100GB of storage space, 20 project templates, and more features, including everything in Express plus project budgets, a resource utilization chart for each project (but not across projects), task roll-up reports, a report for planned versus actual hours worked, and more.
Enterprise: The Enterprise plan costs $6 per person per month or $60 per person per year, and you have to pay for a minimum of 20 people, with no maximum. You can contact the company for a customized quote. You get unlimited projects, 20 client users (with the same fees as the other tiers of service for more), 120GB of storage space, 30 project templates, and all the features mentioned so far. You also get resource utilization charts across projects, and one unique feature: the ability to have task dependencies across projects. For example, if your company is internally building a tool that will make something possible in multiple projects, you can create dependencies to show those relationships.
How Do Zoho Project’s Prices Compare?
Zoho, the company, specializes in providing low-cost, cloud-based, business software. It has an entire suite of business apps that are competitively priced. So it makes sense that Zoho Projects has such a low price, too. It has consistently been the lowest-priced project management app we’ve seen.
To give you an idea of what other project management apps charge, let’s look at them in three tiers. First are low-cost apps, which are usually best for small businesses. Alongside Zoho Projects, GanttPRO (from $4.50 per person per month) and TeamGantt (about $11 per person per month) fall into this level.
Next up are the apps with a mid-range price tag. These apps sometimes offer more than others, although exactly what they offer varies. If you’re shopping for project management software that does something specific, such as include billing and invoicing or offer tools for proofing, you can usually find it within this mid-tier. These types of apps cost roughly between $15 and $35 per person per month. Some examples are Celoxis (adept at time and resource management), Smartsheet (lets you build automations), and ProofHub (includes tools for proofing files).
Lastly, there are software products on the top end of the price scale. They’re built to handle hundreds of projects and thousands of team members, and they run upwards of $40 per person per month. Examples include LiquidPlanner, Mavenlink, and Clarizen. These high-end tools often come with advanced features, such as automatically rescheduling work when a deadline slips or when a team member is unexpectedly unavailable. Zoho Projects does have a feature that’s similar, but more lightweight, that you can optionally enable: When the due date of a predecessor task is extended, you can have the system automatically shift its successor tasks by the same amount of time. Similarly, if a task is moved back, there’s an optional setting to automatically shift dependent tasks back accordingly, too.
To get going with Zoho Projects, you go to the website and sign up for a plan. As mentioned, every new account gets a free trial first. Zoho Projects works best as a web app, and there are apps for Android and iOS mobile devices for keeping up with work when you can’t be at your computer. There are no local desktop apps, however.
The site looks friendly and contemporary. It’s intuitive enough that if you can use most basic online apps, such as webmail, you’ll be able to get around Zoho Projects in a few minutes. It may take longer to learn all of its rich features, but simply navigating the site takes no time. This ease of use and simplicity is necessary for small businesses that don’t have a dedicated project manager on staff.
Business owners and team leads will appreciate that Zoho Projects prompts people to enable two-factor authentication to help keep accounts safer and more secure. Two-factor authentication helps to keep all the company information you put into your Zoho account more secure.
Some of the basic features and views of your data that Zoho Projects offers include dashboards, tasks, Gantt charts, reports, documents, milestones, timesheets, forums, and pages, among others. I cover some of the more relevant features in a little more detail further on.
Setting up an account, creating your first project, adding milestones and tasks, and inviting more people to join you takes minutes. When new people join, the site gives them hints about how to get started and what to do next.
A customizable dashboard lets you see whatever is most relevant to you so that when you log in, you get a snapshot of the projects, statuses, or budgets that matter to you. For example, you can add a Task Status widget that shows both a pie chart and a raw number count of how many tasks are open versus closed. Whether you’re concerned with time sheets or individual workloads, you can modify your dashboard accordingly.
Working With Tasks and Milestones
To start managing projects in Zoho Projects, you have to create a new project, give it a name and description, and add some tasks and milestones. While some project management apps, such as Smartsheet, come packed with templates, there are none in Zoho Projects. With this software, you can build your own templates or start from scratch.
Tasks can have a lot of detail. Every task can have a start and end date, rather than just a deadline, though you can’t assign a task to be completed by a specific time of day, only the date. You can assign how many hours per day someone should dedicate to the task. You can assign multiple people to be responsible for a task, and more.
With Express accounts and higher, every task has a built-in timer for tracking time spent doing the task. You also have the option to allocate that time as either billable or non-billable. As assignees work on tasks, they can enter a percent completion to show their progress. Another option lets you set a project as being on a strict timeline, meaning you cannot assign due dates for milestones that are outside the time scope of the project.
Zoho Projects has dependencies, which are easiest to create from the Gantt chart view. Gantt charts are interactive, meaning you can drag and drop elements on the timeline to change when they’re due or how long they should take. If you drag a task and its dependents too far so that the project won’t get done on time or you create some other conflict, the affected tasks turn red. To create a dependency among tasks, you click and drag to draw a line from one to another and let go when you see a line appear indicating the two are now connected.
Project Views and Resource Management
In addition to Gantt charts, Zoho Projects also has a task list view and a kanban board view. The kanban view lets you see tasks as cards in columns. The column headers in the kanban view match up to the statuses available to tasks. By default they are Open, In Progress, In Review, To Be Tested, On Hold, Delayed, Closed, Canceled. You can change them to be whatever you like, but whatever you put will be the options for task status everywhere else they appear, too.
Another key project management feature in Zoho Projects is a resource management report called Resource Utilization (for Premium and Enterprise only). This helps you see which team members are tasked with too much work, not enough work, or just the right amount during different time periods. Most project management apps show resource reports as a table. Zoho Projects shows it as a timeline, with spanner bars appearing in different colors (gray, green, blue, and red) to show when someone is unassigned to work, has adequate assignments, is nearly over-assigned, and is over-assigned work. Hovering over the spanner shows more detail in a pop-up. It’s a little unusual compared with the table that other project management apps create. Large teams in need of solid resource management tools should take a look at LiquidPlanner; it’s one of the app’s strengths.
There are some tools for limiting the number of hours employees can report working, which I explain in the Time Tracking section. Administrators can also set the working hours and days of the week and enter which days team members have off for holidays. You have to enter holidays manually, however, which is laborious considering there are freely available lists that one could import for observed holidays in different countries. So while I like the ability to enter custom holidays and days off, it would make the process faster if there were an option to select default holidays first and customize it from there.
Communication and Collaboration
Some of my favorite Zoho Projects features relate to communication and collaboration. The app gives you ample tools, some of which you can opt to include or exclude during the initial setup. One reason you might exclude some of these tools is if your team uses some other apps for team messaging, such as Slack, and you don’t want to confuse people as to where conversations should take place.
For one, Zoho Projects offers you a chat box that’s built right into the workspace. That way, you can ask colleagues questions about the projects or tasks you’re working on without having to flip to another app. Forums are another option, which are better than chat when it comes to asynchronous communication. There are also status updates to tell your colleagues what you’re working on and an activity feed where you can see all activity across a project in reverse chronological order.
Another communication tool I like is near-seamless integration with Zoho Meeting. On certain pages, you see a button that says Meet Now at the top. One click and it creates an online video or audio meeting in a new tab. Before the meeting starts, an invite prompt appears so that you can add people to the meeting. Your colleagues receive a notification containing the invitation and link to the meeting in real time. They can join without having to open any other extra apps or type in a meeting ID.
I also like that some notifications are interactive. For example, you can reply to or comment on important matters from the notification box, rather than needing to follow a link to the page where the original information appears.
Some project management and work management software comes with time-tracking tools, including Zoho Projects (for Express accounts and higher). We have evaluated some of these products for their time-tracking and recording capabilities alongside other employee time tracking apps.
In Zoho Projects, a built-in timer appears inside every task that you can start and stop to track how much time you spend doing the task. If you accidentally leave a timer running, it will alert you the next time you see it and will cap the number of hours you can log for the day if you’ve exceeded an amount set by the account administrator. You can also log time manually. Time can be classified as billable or non-billable.
A Weekly Log Time option, found in the Timesheet area, makes for an easy way to track time, too. Here, you can easily type in the number of hours spent on each project.
One unique feature in Zoho Projects is the ability to clock in on multiple tasks at once. You can’t do that in any other time-tracking apps we’ve reviewed, including Hubstaff, VeriClock, or TSheets. Bear in mind, however, that these other apps are dedicated time tracking services, whereas, in Zoho Projects, time-tracking is merely one element meant to fit into the context of project management.
For admins, Zoho Projects has strong time-tracking features, too. You can track approvals by looking for the small icon next to the Timesheet module. If you click the icon, then you’ll see all of the tasks and approval requests. Admins can also adjust some of the rules for timesheets, such as the maximum number of hours someone can log having worked in any given day or week. Admins can also choose to allow other members to log past time and future time.
Unlike TSheets, Zoho Projects doesn’t let you separate accounts to track time for an admin or an employee. The only permissions you set are for who can view what. Zoho Projects does provide impressive configuration options like VeriClock does. You can block employees from adding a timesheet or you can set permissions so they only have view access to their own.
You can manage employee time logs from Zoho Projects’ mobile apps, too. To change time from the mobile app, select Timesheet and select a task to edit. Click Edit and then you can adjust the time. There isn’t a stopwatch timer in the mobile app, although employees can always log their time afterward. Still, we’d like to see a mobile timer to make it easier to record time spent working no matter where you are.
Overall, I found the time tracking functionality in Zoho Projects to be slightly more difficult to navigate than Hubstaff and TSheets. That’s why Zoho Projects gets an Editors’ Choice for project management, but not for time-tracking, where TSheets is the Editors’ Choice.
Bug and Issue Tracking
If you’re a software development team in need of rigorous bug tracking as part of your project management app, Zoho Projects gives you a few options. For one, you can import bugs into Zoho Projects from CSV, XLS, and XLSX files, as well as from JIRA. A second option is to use the included IssueTracker that comes with Zoho Projects. This tool helps you submit, track, organize, and fix whatever problems crop up in a software development project. Not everyone in your account may access the details kept in the IssueTracker. Only admins and managers are allowed to configure the status and workflow of issues.
Zoho also sells IssueTracker as a standalone app called Zoho BugTracker. There’s a free version for very small teams, but otherwise, you can expect to pay $480 per year for up to 15 people, plus an additional $36 per year for each extra person.
Integrations and Apps
As mentioned, Zoho makes a whole suite of business apps. As a result, many of its own programs are tightly integrated with Zoho Projects, or at least they can be.
I mentioned earlier that an integration to Zoho Expense was added in 2020, and that you can use the video conferencing tool Zoho Meeting easily from the project management app. You can also integrate Zoho Projects with Zoho Books and Zoho Invoice to manage your accounting.
Zoho Projects works with Google Apps, too. When they’re connected, you can upload files directly from Google Drive and export calendar events from one to the other. You can even use Gmail to create tasks and log hours worked.
Other supported integrations now include Dropbox, Box, Evernote, GitHub, Microsoft OneDrive, Bitbucket, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Harvest, GitHub, GoToMeeting, Zendesk, Zapier, and others. This is an area where Zoho Projects has shown a lot of recent growth and I’m happy to see it.
A Well-Balanced Project Management App
Zoho Projects is a well-balanced project management app. It offers all the core tools needed for managing projects, such as Gantt charts, basic resource management tools, and timesheets, for a price that’s more than fair. It’s especially attractive for small and growing businesses that are managing a few projects and people, but not hundreds of either. Getting started with the app is fairly easy, although it takes a little time to learn its finer points. Overall, Zoho Projects is an excellent project management tool and continues to be a PCMag Editors’ Choice winner. We recommend it for small teams on a budget, in particular.