When it comes to managing a business, there are a ton of helpful SaaS tools. This is a good thing of course, but it can come with a price, literally and figuratively. From managing tasks to invoicing; time tracking to resource management; and several other universal needs — most organizations deal with a lot of similar challenges. When companies seek to solve many of these issues, it's easy to get overwhelmed by all the solutions out there. And while sometimes having single purpose tools are the way to go; in a few cases a unified solution can have significant benefits.
Running multiple projects simultaneously can be really challenging. There are a lot of moving pieces to stay on top of. And with limited resources, small or medium sized orgs aren't often able to maximize efficiency. Paymo recognized the commonalities among such companies and developed a solution that works universally for just about any business in any market. And the product is really well built.
The thing about Paymo is that it does a lot, a whole lot. It's actually pretty impressive how they packed in so much functionality into a software solution and still managed to make it easy to use. The tool spans several key functional areas including:
- Project Planning & Scheduling - milestones, gantt charts, critical paths, etc.
- Task Management - dependencies, kanban views, priorities/alerts, estimates, etc.
- Financial Management - budgeting, expenses, etc.
- Team Collaboration - activity, discussions, notifications, etc.
- Resource Management - calendars, workloads, etc.
- File Management - storage, organization, etc.
- Time Management - time tracking tools, timesheets, etc.
- Reporting - time reports, user reports, report sharing, etc.
- Invoicing - estimates, invoices, payments, etc.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. If I were to do a complete deep dive into every aspect of the Paymo platform, I'd probably be writing for weeks. And I'm not sure that would actually be that useful. Instead, I'm going to cover some unique and useful features from each of the categories listed above. And given the target audience for this article is small and medium sized businesses, the goal here is to showcase Paymo's ease of use as much as its utility.
The Home Screen
I'm loving the layout of Paymo. It's so clean and easy to consume. As soon as I sign in, I'm dropped into a home screen where I get a birds eye view of my own tasks, my teams tasks and a dashboard that gives me a high level picture of my business and project performance.
When viewing my teams tasks, I have the option to look at all tasks by status, but also grouped by assigned user. This is particularly helpful for larger organizations and creates the perfect amount of visibility when looking at a lot of projects, tasks and team members.
I've found that SaaS companies often go overboard with dashboards. I get it, dashboards are some of the most useful sales tools, but in my experience many dashboards end up unused by customers. For me, more is less, and Paymo gives me just a few high level metrics that are actually useful, but not over-bloated. The design of the solution is to push users into the workflow. Whether I'm an individual contributor, a manager or owner, the power of the product is in using it rather than just monitoring it.
Of course, there is a ton more I can do from the home screen, but a few things stand out and are worth mentioning. Navigation between clients, projects, users and more is at my fingertips. And Paymo has a clever little shortcut module that lets me create an instant link to any page within the platform.
Love This: But the real slickness is the integrated time tracking module on the bottom left of the nav bar. From here I can instantly start real-time tracking by project and task. So cool.
Projects & Tasks
This is the heart of the Paymo system — managing projects and tasks. Projects generally consist of tasks, milestones and timesheets as well as a concept called Discussions which I really liked. Discussions are sort of a mini-wiki page that groups together chat conversations around a particular topic related to that project. I found it to be very helpful in keeping important discussions (hence the name) saved in one place vs. having them in email or Slack for example.
Creating a project is simple but also leverages some of the customizability of the system which I discuss later in this article.
Similar to the client or home view, I can get an instant picture of what's happening within the project view. I'm able to quickly toggle between tasks, milestones, files, discussions and a general activity log (Paymo impressively logs everything for me). I really like how so much information is elegantly packed into the projects view. For some clients it might be the milestones or timesheet management, but for me, task management was the area that really resonated.
I can view and filter tasks with ease. And I have four different view styles: list, table, board and gantt. At first I thought this was overkill and I would just use the list model. But after playing around with a few different types of projects, I realized that the views are quite useful. Boards are great for task only projects like dev initiatives. Whereas the gantt view is great for planning and hitting timelines.
Adding tasks can be done from several spots. In fact, there is a persistent action menu for creating tasks, projects, time entries and users. So no matter where I am and at any time I can take several of the most commonly used actions.
In Paymo, tasks are organized not just by project but also grouped together by a Task List. Logically tasks have start and end dates, assigned users, comments, files and time logs. But tasks can also have independent billing settings from the project settings and preset alerts based on due dates or time budget allotments. Of course, tasks are associated with a status (that is unique to that project as I describe later) and a priority rating which is used when filtering the task list grouped by priority.
When creating a new task at the project level, I'm presented with a modal window but when creating a task within a task list I can do it inline which is even faster.
And finally, tasks can have sub-tasks when granularity is important. This sounds like task management overload, but like the rest of the solution, Paymo has elegantly packed a ton of functionality into a manageable interface. This is probably one of the most appealing aspects of the platform — it's deep but simple at the same time. Everything is optional, so for internal projects I might just use tasks and comments without assignments, due dates and the rest. But for billable projects I probably would opt to use some of the power features.
Among other bells and whistles, I noticed that I could make a task recurring which is super useful for ongoing projects. And in cases where a subtask gets out of hand, I can one-click convert it to a stand-alone task. So clever. And of course, Paymo makes it dead simple to add tracked time to a task. In fact, I can add time tracking from the task screen and a dozen other places.
Accounting, Time Reporting Timesheets and Team Scheduling
At the moment I'm not running a lot of projects where I need to create estimates, invoices and bill clients. So I didn't spend a ton of time digging into this capability, but I've been there before. Jumping between a project management tool, Quickbooks and some time tracking app is frustrating and error prone. Paymo is pretty clear on that pain point and makes a great case for the one tool to rule them all approach. I do want to touch on the team scheduling feature however as I immediately appreciated it from a managerial perspective.
Often when I have a ton of simultaneous projects, and people are running around like chickens with their heads cut off, I want a way to get a handle on who's doing what. Paymo team scheduling does that. Moreover, I can mouseover any activity to see details and add/modify bookings associated with projects and tasks right from this screen.
Clients and Users
By now it's probably clear that Paymo has thought of just about everything. So as it relates to managing clients and users, I don't need to spend a ton of time here. But there were a few things worth pointing out. First, at the client level I'm able to get an instant picture of all projects, timesheet activity, invoices and some dashboard metrics. Of course there are filters on the home screen and project screens to only show by client, but I found it quite convenient to dig into this information directly from the client screen in many cases.
This would be particularly useful for organizations with lots of clients and multiple projects per client. Similarly, in the users section I'm presented with a view of all of that users activity and projects they are associated with. Again, I found this to be faster in some cases to find information I was looking for vs. the project view. For example, I setup a team member to be part of several projects and assigned a handful of tasks. I'm able to see that info from the projects screen, but it was easier to get a birds eye view of everything that user is working on from the user screen.
Very Smart: Paymo has really thought through (or maybe just talked to enough clients) how teams actually work and give people multiple paths to the same data.
Settings, Project Workflows & Templates
Finally, for those who just love tinkering with software to get it just right, the tool has a ridiculous amount of settings and configuration options. This includes appearance related customizations, integration settings, email templates and more. But Paymo also has two really unique aspects: Templates and Workflows.
With every project I create, I choose a template which includes the basic structure. Paymo lets me choose between 9 pre-designed templates at sign-up, but I can customize and create from scratch as well. This is extremely useful when some projects have similarities, but also have unique aspects. For example, some projects, such as consulting, I might have a research phase which includes certain task types. Whereas an engineering project might have a competitor analysis stage and related tasks. This will save me a ton of time when launching new projects as a lot of known requirements are pre-defined for me. This makes using Paymo more realistic for even more projects vs. only using it for my biggest ones like client launches.
Secondarily, Paymo has a concept of workflows. Workflows define the status progression for a particular project. This is incredibly flexible and was the first thing I was looking for when playing with the test project. I thought "how do I edit statuses" but it's way more than that. Each project I create can have a unique pre-defined template and set of statues.
Would Be Cool: When building a status workflow, it would be nice if a change in status could trigger a series of actions/events like creating tasks for example. I suspect this is already on the Paymo roadmap.
I've covered a lot here, but by no means have I shown every nook and cranny Paymo has to offer. In a nutshell I can sum up the solution with these five core value propositions (below). And as someone who has run a bunch of small or medium sized businesses, achieving these goals is a lot harder than one might think.
- Get a birds eye view of all areas of your business
- Manage multiple projects from start to finish with ease
- Keep everyone up to date and on task
- Centralized data eliminates inconsistencies and reduces costs
- One cost effective tool to replace many
It's hard enough to build a product that does one thing great. And tools that do a lot often get bloated and overwhelming. So I've always been a little skeptical of software that tries to do too much. Paymo does a ton, but they've made the tool so incredibly well organized I didn't feel overwhelmed.
Some years ago I ran a consulting shop. I had about 20 employees and over 100 active clients. Keeping everything on the rails was the hardest part of my job and the source of the significant stress. Managing projects, assigning tasks, tracking time and invoicing was a daily activity. I didn't have Paymo, but man, I wish I did.
Hopefully I've pointed out a few things in this review that showcase the power and flexibility of the solution. As usual, I used Markup Hero to create the screenshots and product annotations in this article. Please give Markup Hero a try for your next how-to or product review article and share them with us, we'd love to post about them!
In the process of testing Paymo I noticed a bunch of little things that make the software that much cooler. Here are a few.
- All comments fields add breaks on RETURN or send on CMD + RETURN
- Menus are saved to cache so always right back how I left things
- Mobile apps for iOS and Android
- Desktop app on Mac, Windows and Linux for manual tracking automation
- Desktop app for Mac and Windows for automatic tracking (this is really cool beyond assigning hours to project but just to see what I'm spending my time on all day)
- Tons of 3rd party SaaS integrations like Google Apps, Slack, Adobe, Quickbooks and more