Kanban, Six Sigma, the Deming Cycle.
If you’re not familiar with lean project management, these terms might sound like they come from that crazy new vidya game that your kids can’t stop playing.
But if you’re a project manager, there’s no doubt you know exactly what those terms mean.
Pop quiz, hot shot!
Answers: 1. B, 2. C, 3. A.
Did you ace the quiz? If so, congratulations! You are the intended audience for this guide, which will look at the top five lean tools on the market.
What are “lean tools?”
Greg Jacobson, CEO of KaiNexus, outlines the defining features of lean management software in 6 Critical Features of a Best-in-Class Lean Management System as software that includes:
- A way for employees to enter opportunities for improvement whenever they see them
- Some sort of digital whiteboard for daily huddles
- Improvement scorecards and reports to quickly identify bottlenecks
- Comprehensive search so that all team members have access to all information
- Active alerts and notifications to keep every informed and productive
- Collaboration capabilities to allow everyone to work together across boundaries
You may ask yourself, “what is the difference between lean and agile?”
According to Abby Fichtner, “Agile’s values & principles work because of the science behind Lean and so you’ll see a lot of similar themes repeated in agile.” In other words, agile was born of lean methodology.
For the purposes of this article, we looked for the project management software that is built around lean principles, targeted at small businesses—though it could be scaled up to large companies—and is priced appropriately.
Why is lean management software important for small businesses, especially in software development?
A February 2016, Gartner report suggested that “Limiting software to short projects focused on the most significant business issues is the best way that Gartner has seen to prevent the building of software that will never be used.”
The Top Five Lean Tools
We picked these five solutions because their features adhere to lean principles, and pricing starts at $20 or less per user, per month.
They are listed in alphabetical order.
Kanbanize (no, not Kanamit) boasts its ease-of-use and an eye-opening “300% improvement on end-to-end project efficiency,” according to their website.
With plans starting at $9 per month, per user, after a 30-day free trial, Kanbanize is easy on the bottom line. And with its sleek, colorful user interface, it’s also easy on the eyes.
A few of Kanbanize’s hallmark features include if-then branching rules, email integration, and time-tracking.
New features include deeper analytics, Spanish internationalization (to go along with English and German), inherited card parameters, and walkthrough tutorials.
- Multilingual support (English, Spanish, German)
- Easy to use, colorful interface
- Robust analytics
- Lacks requirement and resource management
- Does not offer Gantt Charts
- No budget management
Used Kanbanize? Leave a review!
2. KPI Fire
The primary objective of KPI Fire is to align employees and teams with company goals. KPI Fire is built on a Lean Six Sigma framework and, unlike Kanbanize, doesn’t rely on kanban cards.
KPI Fire takes goal setting and project management and brings them together with a dashboard interface.
It may lack some of the advanced features of more project-management-oriented tools, like analytics and customizable boards, but if you just need something to stay on track for annual and quarterly strategy goals, KPI Fire fits the bill.
Plans start at $20 per user, per month.
- Includes Gantt Charts
- Ideal for multiple projects
- Excellent customer service
- Lacks advanced features, like analytics and custom boards
- At $30 per user, per month, the premium plan could be too expensive for some SMBs
- No phone app
Used KPI Fire? Leave a review!
It’s like a kit for lean project management, hence the name.
LeanKit claims to be the “only lean-based enterprise platform that helps you deliver customer value faster.” A dubious claim, but there’s plenty to like about LeanKit.
Plans start at $19 per month, per user for unlimited, customizable kanban boards.
Advanced features include metrics, work in progress limits, and advanced filters.
Premium plans for enterprise-sized companies include multi-team relationships, an integration hub, custom fields, and a private cloud.
Reviews praise the number of features available in Leankit, though some had trouble with the learning curve.
- Simple, clean interface that cuts out the clutter
- Highly customizable boards and tasks
- Best-in-class customer support
- Assigning user workloads can be difficult
- The server can slow down and become overloaded for enterprise-size businesses
- Lacks time tracking features
Used LeanKit? Leave a review!
Not to be confused with the Samsung content sharing app, SmartView is a Canadian-developed app which combines user story maps, kanban boards, and cumulative user metrics to improve team productivity.
SmartView’s boards are customizable, and the program runs detailed reports upon a project’s completion to show how efficiently it went with graphics that identify bottlenecks.
SmartView integrates with Slack for communication and is optimized for Google Chromecast to broadcast reports to any TV or monitor.
The app is free with limited features for a single user (which somewhat defeats the purpose of team productivity), but teams of up to ten members can start using the program for $50 per month. It is available on Android.
- Teams of ten can use SmartView for only $50 per month
- Integrates with Slack and Chromecast
- Offers customizable boards
- No iOS app (Android only)
- Lacks time tracking and budget management features
- Free version only allows one user
Used SmartView? Leave a review!
TeamPage is the flagship product of Traction, a software company founded in Providence, Rhode Island in 1996.
The program attempts to combine the best aspects of social media, project management, and content tools to build an efficient work environment for teams of one up to 1,000 or more.
TeamPage focuses more on tasks, milestones, and timelines as opposed to kanban visuals, setting it apart from some of the other products on this list.
If your team works better with to-do lists and calendars, TeamPage is a good choice. The basic plan starts at $4 per user, per month for teams of up to ten.
- TeamPage is very affordable
- Offers live online or in-person training
- Non-profit discounts are available
- Lacks budget and resource management
- Requires an annual agreement and minimum of 25 users
- No kanban boards or Gantt charts, uses to-do-lists and calendars instead
Used TeamPage? Leave a review!
More Top Lean Tools?
Do you know about an awesome lean project management program that we missed? Please let us know about it in the comments! Also, if you have used any of these tools and had a memorable experience, please share it in the reviews.
Looking for IT Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best IT Management software solutions.