Best Kanban Project Management Tools in 2021: Organize Your Workflow

A kanban board is a practical and hassle-free way of keeping track of tasks. In this article, we’ve selected eight project management tools that offer the best kanban project management experience for beginners and veterans alike.

Fergus O'Sullivan
By Fergus O'Sullivan (Editor-at-Large, Writer)
— Last Updated: 2021-05-24T10:35:31+00:00

The core of most of the best project management software is the kanban board. This handy tool gives you a graphical presentation of all your tasks, with the freedom to move them around as you see fit (we have a guide to kanban if you need to know more). In this article, we’ll go over the best kanban software, and which one is the best fit for you.

Key Takeaways:

We’ve selected eight providers from among our project management reviews, all with their strengths and weaknesses, but our favorite kanban tool is Trello. It offers great usability, is free to use and looks great. 

However, for a comprehensive suite where kanban is just one tool among many, our vote goes to monday.com, which is the best overall pick when it comes to project management.

  • There’s more than one answer to that question, but overall, we think Trello outshines all other standalone kanban systems. It’s easy to use and is free, to boot.

  • Trello has the best free plan of all the kanban tools we’ve tested. Not only do you get the best board, but you don’t need to spend a penny.

  • Microsoft Teams has kanban boards available as a plugin, but we weren’t too impressed with it. Google does not have a board available.

  • Notion: as far as we know, it’s also the only note-taking app with a kanban board. Though it takes final place in this roundup, Notion is still a powerful little app, and we recommend you check it out (it’s free).

What Makes the Best Kanban App?

To pick the best kanban apps, we kept a few factors in mind. Most important was the usability of the board: did the dragging and dropping work smoothly, and were we given enough space to see what was happening? Another major criterion was the presentation; a good kanban board is a colorful one.

Lesser criteria included price and what other features the software offers. However, as kanban boards are standalone tools, that counted less heavily than you may think. The end result was the following ranking:

  1. Trello — The best kanban software and entirely free, to boot
  2. Wrike — A solid runner-up, with great reporting
  3. monday.com — The best all-round tool with a solid board
  4. Asana — A colorful and versatile kanban app
  5. Jira —  A good kanban board, and an even better scrum app
  6. nTask — The cheapest app around, with a decent board
  7. ClickUp — A solid option for software development teams
  8. Notion — A note-taking app with a small, useful board

What Is Kanban?

The kanban method was first developed in Japan, in the Toyota factory, where managers kept track of how things were going by moving cards through lists on a board. As this was the ‘60s, they used pins and physical boards. However, nowadays, we use computers to do the moving for us, with probably less RSI as a result.

best kanban trello example
Though simple, this picture gives an idea of the basics of kanban.

The method to the kanban madness is to have tasks, represented by cards, move around a board across columns, which represent different stages of the task. Usually these stages are “to-do,” “doing,” “done.” However, we’ve seen others used as well; another popular triplet is “planned,” “work-in-progress,” “finished.”

What Are the Benefits of Using a Kanban Board?

The main benefits of kanban boards are twofold: overview and simplicity. Even in a busy environment where there’s lots going on, one quick glance at the lists and cards is all it takes to see how a project is progressing and who is performing what task. Also, because it’s so easy to grasp the principles of kanban, this experience translates well for everybody.

The 8 Best Kanban Apps & Tools for Project Management

Now that we know what makes a good kanban board and which project management software qualifies, let’s take an in-depth look at our picks. We’ll start with Trello, as it’s our favorite, but do read the whole list, as it could be that another contender is a slightly better fit for you and your organization.

1. Trello

best kanban trello
Trello is our top pick, thanks to it being entirely focused on kanban.

More details about Trello:

  • Pricing: Free or $9.99 per user per month for the Business Class plan
  • Website: www.trello.com

Pros:

  • Excellent free board
  • Offers great oversight
  • Very user-friendly
  • Easy to customize

Cons:

  • Paid plan is expensive
  • Doesn’t offer anything except the board
  • Integrations are hit & miss

Trello is without a doubt the winner when it comes to the best kanban board out there. We use it ourselves at Cloudwards to keep track of our editorial calendar and never had any trouble with it; we doubt anybody else will, either. It’s easy to use (read our Trello tutorial to see how easy), gives you better oversight than any other board out there and does all this for the grand price of $0.

As you can read in our Trello review, the core features of Trello are free; in fact, we recommend against upgrading it, as that’s when some issues appear. Functionality is added through integrations — “power-ups” in Trello’s lingo — but to get more than one, you’ll need to upgrade (check out all the details on Trello pricing).

However, the upgrade is expensive, and we’re not sure it’s worth it. You’re much better off using Trello as a standalone board and integrating it elsewhere, like our overall top pick monday.com (read our Trello vs monday.com article for more on that).

What’s Better Than Trello?

That said, few apps can stand against Trello on the strength of its kanban board alone. It is the best standalone kanban project management software out there and takes the prize in this ranking with ease. If all you need is cards and columns, this is the project management tool for you.

Free
  • 10 boards, Unlimited users, 1 power-up
Trello Gold
  • Unlimited personal boards, 1 user, 3 power-ups
Business Class
  • Unlimited boards, Unlimited users, Unlimited power-ups, Added views
Enterprise
  • Enhanced security options

2. Wrike

best kanban wrike
Wrike’s kanban board is as user-friendly as Trello’s but doesn’t look as good.

More details about Wrike:

  • Pricing: Free or $9.80 per user per month for the Professional plan
  • Website: www.wrike.com

Pros:

  • Great kanban tool
  • Full suite of features
  • Easy to use
  • Tight security

Cons:

  • Color scheme is a bit grim
  • Brief tutorials
  • Iffy privacy policy

Wrike is the runner-up, and just a few minutes of using it will tell you why. While the interface is as intuitive as Trello’s and gives you the same feeling of space, it’s a bit rough on the eyes. We go into detail in our full Wrike review, but it is just too ugly to be on the top of anybody’s list. Get past that, though, and you’ve got one of the better kanban boards out there.

Wrike seems to have taken a leaf or two out of Trello’s book (we compare the two in this Trello vs Wrike article) and offers a comparable kanban experience with large cards and plenty of negative space to keep order. However, unlike Trello, it offers a very versatile work management tool and is a much more complete solution.

For one, Wrike has some of the best project reporting we’ve seen, with reports for all kinds of eventualities. For another, it has a great built-in time-tracking tool, making it ideal for accountants, lawyers and anybody else who bills by the hour. If you’re in either of those groups and need a kanban board online, Wrike is worth a look.

Free
  • Maximum of 5 users. Basic features.
Professional
  • Price is per user. Plans for 5, 10 and 15 users.
Business
  • Price is per user. No monthly option. Plans for 5 to 200 users.
Enterprise
  • Plans for 5 to an unlimited number of users.

3. monday.com

best kanban monday com
Colorful and easy to use, monday.com is our favorite project management tool, bar none.

More details about monday.com:

  • Pricing: $10 per user per month on the Standard plan
  • Website: www.monday.com

Pros:

  • Very user-friendly
  • Solid kanban tool
  • Full suite of excellent features
  • Good pricing

Cons:

  • No free plan
  • Low-end plan is a joke

monday.com is a great project management tool that can do a little bit of everything, and do it well. While its kanban boards are less spectacular than Wrike’s or Trello’s, they still beat the rest of the competition with relative ease, thanks to the wonderful color scheme and smooth drag-and-drop functionality (read more about this in our monday.com review).

If we’re looking beyond the kanban board view, though, monday.com shoots to the top of any other list (like our best project management software for small business ranking), thanks to its versatility. Unlike, say, Trello (read our Trello vs monday.com article), it has a built-in calendar, so you can see how any due dates affect workflow.

Managing Projects, Gantt Charts and More

As well as that, monday.com offers Gantt charts (though, as you can read in our monday.com vs Wrike article, Wrike’s are better), a workload calculator and a very nice list view of tasks. Another strength is monday.com’s many ways to graphically represent the progress of both individual team members as well as the business as a whole. 

Trello is a great one-trick pony, but monday.com is a solid workhorse. If your company needs more than just kanban cards to get by, checking out its 14-day free trial should be at the top of your list. However, avoid the Basic plan, as it’s a lemon; depending on the size of your business, the Standard and Pro plans are your best bet (read more about monday.com pricing).

Free
  • Maximum users: 2, Kanban Board, & list
Standard
  • Minimum users: 3, Price per user, Expanded features
Enterprise
  • Enterprise-level features.

4. Asana

best kanban asana
Asana has an almost clownish color scheme, but it works wonders with the kanban method.

More details about Asana:

  • Pricing: Free or $10.99 per user per month for the Premium plan
  • Website: www.asana.com

Pros:

  • Excellent free version
  • Very colorful
  • Very user-friendly
  • Many different views

Cons:

  • Pricey
  • Weird plan progression
  • Security is a bit iffy

Asana ranks second as an overall project management solution, but in this ranking it falls behind a bit due to the strong showing of Wrike and Jira. However, if you’re looking for a product like monday.com, with even more high-level task management features that also has a solid kanban board tool, you may want to check out Asana’s 30-day free trial.

As you can read in our Asana review, it offers a wealth of basic features in its free plan (it may even be the best free project management software out there). However, it really starts to shine at the higher end, with its Business and Enterprise plans.

That level is where you’ll run into features that even put monday.com to shame (read our Asana vs monday.com article), like the option to easily manage multiple projects in real time and the ability to set company-wide goals to strive toward. However, as you can read in our article on Asana pricing, these features do come at a premium. 

If all that sounds like something for the more fancy type of project manager, the free version of Asana has access to its colorful and intuitive board if that’s all you need. Give it a spin; there’s a good chance you’ll like it.

Free
  • Up to 15 users
Premium
  • Price is per user. unlimited users, expanded features
Business
  • Price is per user. unlimited users, even more features
Enterprise
  • Custom pricing, advanced security features

5. Jira

best kanban jira
If you like white backgrounds, Jira is the tool for you.

More details about Jira:

Pros:

  • Excellent free version
  • Cheap paid plans
  • Tailored to software companies
  • Great kanban & scrum boards

Cons:

  • Not very useful if you don’t use Agile
  • Lots & lots of jargon
  • Discounts need 100+ users

If Agile project management is the name of the game, Jira is where it’s at. While plenty of other project management tools have taken a stab at the title of best scrum software, Jira has them beat thanks to it being tailor-made for software development companies and anybody else looking to sprint their way to project completion. Read our full Jira review for all the details.

Jira ranks fifth here because as an online kanban solution it’s good, but lacks the depth of Trello and the overall versatility of monday.com (read our Trello vs Jira and Jira vs monday.com comparisons). Also, its main strength is its biggest weakness: while Jira is a great fit for teams using the Agile methodology, if you’re not, it’s just an OK free kanban board, nothing more.

However, if you are developing software or the like, you want to check out Jira. It’s kanban and scrum boards operate on the same principle and are very user-friendly. Also friendly is Jira’s pricing: its free plan has all your basic needs covered, and an upgrade to the Standard plan is only $7 per user per month.

Though you could opt for even higher tier options, like the Premium or Enterprise plans, most companies should be fine with just the lower-end plans. Whatever you decide, all of Jira’s paid plans come with a generous one-month free trial, no credit card required.

Free
  • Max. 10 users
Standard
  • Annual price is for 10 users; with more than 10, annual pricing changes based on the number of users. Monthly pricing changes with teams over 100.
Premium
  • Annual price is for 10 users; with more than 10, annual pricing changes based on the number of users. Monthly pricing changes with teams over 100.

6. nTask

best kanban ntask
If you like your lists with big borders, nTask is where you need to be.

More details about nTask:

  • Pricing: Free or $2.99 per user per month on the Premium plan
  • Website: ntaskmanager.com

Pros:

  • Streamlined interface
  • Cheap
  • Fast & easy navigation

Cons:

  • Kanban board isn’t on the free plan
  • Security & privacy aren’t great

With our top five out of the way, let’s take a look at three task management tools that didn’t quite make it. That’s not to say they’re bad by any stretch of the imagination, but rather it’s more that their online kanban boards have flaws that prevent them from rising higher. A good example is nTask, where the board is good, but it’s not quite as responsive as we’d like (read our nTask review).

That’s a shame, too, as other than that, we really like the board. Unlike most other kanban software, nTask draws distinct lines around lists. This seems strange at first because so few others do it, but it makes for a nice, clean aesthetic that is very different from any other collaboration tool.

However, nTask does not offer the kanban app on its free plan; the only project management tool to not do so. This isn’t all bad, as nTask is ridiculously affordable at only $3 per user per month, but it may deter you if you’re looking for a deal.

Free
  • Maximum 5 team members.
Premium
  • Minimum 3 team members. First three users are only $36 per year for all three.
Enterprise
  • Self-hosted option. 50 team members minimum.

7. ClickUp

best kanban clickup
ClickUp is another tool that offers a very clean, white aesthetic.

More details about ClickUp:

  • Pricing: Free or $5 per user per month for the Unlimited plan
  • Website: www.clickup.com

Pros:

  • Clean, sleek look
  • Simple pricing options
  • Great at all core tasks

Cons:

  • Advanced tasks can be lacking
  • Easy to get lost in detail

Our next-to-last pick is ClickUp, another project manager popular among software development teams. While its overall functionality is pretty solid and we like its sleek look, it falls a little short as a kanban app due to some odd delays when moving cards around. It’s nothing major, but it does keep ClickUp from ascending the rarefied air of this list.

Still, as you can read in our ClickUp review, there’s a lot to like about it, especially its pricing. The free version acts like an extended trial, so to get anything out of it, you do need to pay. However, the cost is pretty low: the lowest paid tier is just $5 per user per month, which is only outdone by nTask. Software companies that aren’t into Jira may want to give ClickUp a try.

Free
  • Basic functionality with some limitations
Business
  • All prices per user; extra features added, especially security
Enterprise
  • Even more features added

8. Notion

best kanban notion
It’s not a great looker, but Notion hides some power behind its note-taking exterior.

More details about Notion:

  • Pricing: Free or $8 per user per month on the Team plan
  • Website: www.notion.so

Pros:

  • Integrates note-taking & task management
  • Wiki functionality
  • Full usability on the free plan

Cons:

  • Primarily note-taking app
  • Not a dedicated project manager
  • Some usability issues

We finish our list with Notion, the only app we know of that combines note-taking with task management, and does so quite well. Though we quickly ran into its limits while putting together our Notion app review, we can definitely see how certain companies would benefit from it, especially smaller ones where the software development team works closely with other departments.

As for its kanban features, they’re a little stiff and could do with some work. However, they’re there, and they do pretty well. Though it’s a far cry from the top entries of this list, Notion brings enough individuality and unique features to the table that we recommend small companies and freelancers try it out (it’s also our top pick for the best project management for freelancers).

Personal
  • 1 user only, Up to five guests, 5MB file upload limit
Personal Pro
  • 1 user only, Unlimited guests, Unlimited file uploads, Version history
Team
  • Unlimited users, Unlocks workspace, User permission settings
Enterprise
  • Advanced security features

Final Thoughts

There you have it: our selection of the best kanban boards out there. Though there are other services that offer kanban features, like Zoho Projects or ProofHub, this list of eight providers represents the best boards we’ve seen while reviewing project managers. Also, note that we left out providers like Basecamp that have easy kanban plugins (read our Basecamp review).

Overall, we think Trello does the best job when it comes to team collaboration using the kanban method. Though if you need a full suite, monday.com is the far better option. Wrike came in second, but that’s mainly due to its free plan, which monday.com lacks.

What do you think of our ranking? Useful, or did we miss a vital piece of software you’re burning to tell us about? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thank you for reading.