One of the best ways to get project teams off email and into a space where real work can get done more efficiently is to use an online collaboration tool that centralizes tasks, communication, and workflow management. From this perspective, Mavenlink (starting at $19 per user per month for its Teams edition) is a straightforward service that combines good permissions levels, a very professional user interface (UI), and a few tiers of service. It’s quick to set up, but doesn’t have the easiest navigation.
Aside from collaboration, these types of tools generally add several other kinds of feature silos to flesh out their offerings. Mavenlink is no exception, focusing on project management (PM) and time tracking. However, while Mavenlink is a decent choice for online PM, it doesn’t beat out PCMag’s two recommended Editors’ Choices in that category, Teamwork Projects and Zoho Projects—both of which offer small businesses a little more in terms of features and value. Similarly on the time tracking side, Mavenlink is a capable solution, but its price and features don’t quite match up to our Editors’ Choice pick in that category, TSheets.
One other work management tool earned PCMag’s Editors’ Choice, though it’s more suited to midsize to large organizations that want to completely change the way they work. LiquidPlanner is a fantastic option, but it requires total buy-in and a lot of training to fully reap its benefits.
Pricing and Plans
Mavenlink offers four tiers of paid service, plus a free level that’s slightly hard to find. You can try any of the paid account types for 10 days with no credit card required. The free Mavenlink plan lets you manage an unlimited number of projects with an unlimited number of teammates, but you only get 500 megabytes (MB) of storage.
Among Mavenlink’s paid accounts are Mavenlink Teams, Professional, Premier, and Enterprise. For any account type, you can invite outside collaborators to have limited access to your Mavenlink account, which lets you, for example, share project progress with clients.
A Teams account gives you 10 GB of storage and all of the basic tools for collaboration and PM, with a few exceptions. You don’t get tools for managing portfolios or change requests, however. You also don’t get tools for accounting, resource planning, or business intelligence. The price for a Teams plan is $19 per month for up to five users when paid annually, which comes out to $228. Remember, that’s the price for five people. To add more users beyond the first five, you’ll pay an extra $4 per user per month, which comes out to an extra $48 per person, based on paying for a year’s worth of service in advance.
Mavenlink Professional includes 50 GB storage and adds a few more features, but it costs a lot more. With this tier, you get project accounting tools, meaning time and expense tracking as well as budgeting tools for projects, plus change request management tools. The Professional plan costs $39 per user per month with an annual contract and no month-to-month option. So you’re looking at $348 per person for the year. That can get expensive pretty quickly.
Mavenlink says Premier is the most popular tier of service, and it comes with plenty of storage (100 GB) and extra features, including time and expense tracking, invoicing, rate cards, project budgets and margin tracking, resource planning, analytics, and utilization- and resource-related reports within Mavenlink’s business intelligence tool, Insights, which offers 40 pre-built reports and custom reporting. The Enterprise level offers 1 TB storage plus advanced services, such as real-time analytics and custom reporting tools. Neither of those tiers of service have list prices; you have to contact the company for a quote. Premier and Enterprise range from $59-$79 per user per month depending on if users opt for Insights and Proofing feature, which lets you annotate projects and provide feedback. Mavenlink was a bit vague on how the Insights and Proofing features affect the pricing in this range.
As a point of comparison, Teamwork Projects and Zoho Projects each cost about $600 per year for an unlimited number of users. A Mavenlink Professional plan for 10 users would cost $3,480 for the year. Those estimations are based on Teamwork Projects’ $49-per-month plan, which includes support for up to 40 projects and 20 GB of space, and Zoho Projects’ $50-per-month plan, which allows for 50 projects and comes with 15 GB of storage space. Depending on the size and needs of a small business, Zoho Projects and Teamwork Projects may offer the best value.
A few services that charge per user per month are Volerro ($7.99 per user per month for its Business Teams plan), LiquidPlanner ($45 per user per month with a 5-user minimum), Comindware Projects ($28.49 per user per month), and Easy Projects ($24 per user per month). Often, the per-user-per-month fee structure is an indication that the tool is better suited to larger businesses and enterprises than small or micro businesses.
We’re happy that Mavenlink offers a truly free account that you can use for an unlimited amount of time just to get familiar with the basic service and UI. A few other online PM service still offer free accounts, too. They include Volerro, Teamwork Projects, Zoho Projects, ProofHub, and Wrike. They all have limitations, too. With Volerro, you can only manage three projects or 100 MB of stored files, whichever ceiling you hit first. Teamwork Projects only supports two projects for free, while Zoho Projects and ProofHub only support one each. Wrike supports unlimited projects and five users in its free plan, but it slashes features, so you don’t get subtasks, time sheets, Gantt charts, or even dashboards. Basecamp, once a leader in free PM, no longer has a free plan, unless you’re a teacher or have a Basecamp Classic account, in which case you’re grandfathered in, but you’re stuck in the old UI with no access to new features.
Mavenlink works like most traditional PM services. It’s online and updated in real time, so you’ll need an internet connection when you use it. To get started, we set up a few demo projects, and turned one of them into a template so that we could reuse its basic structure again.
For every project, Mavenlink lets you decide whether the project is for the provider or a client. You can also adjust the visibility to make a project open to everyone within your organization to join, open only to those with administrator privileges, or private and accessible to just those you invite to join it. Likewise, discussions can be set to open or private as well.
Mavenlink’s UI is fairly clear and straightforward. We faced some trial and error in figuring out how to join a project that was open to all. When you invite people to join a project, they receive an email invitation, and we eventually learned that the best way to join a project was to simply click the link in the email. Simply scouting around inside Mavenlink to find the project we were supposed to join didn’t work for us. Without an email invitation to join a project, the client view is blank. Although the project list was blank in the employee view, we saw a full list of projects in the administrator account.
Mavenlink looks serious. It’s a far cry from the sticker-laden, color-coded bonanza of Trello, a lightweight, Kanban-style tool for managing work. Still, you get some color coding as far as projects with a default color of blue. You can mark projects as Active, Submitted, Needs Review, or On Hold.
Once you start assigning tasks to people, scheduling deadlines and milestones, and uploading files to your project in Mavenlink, you can look at your project in a few different views, such as a Task Tracker view or a Gantt chart view. Each project also has an Activity Feed, in which you can see every detail about the project as it occurs, as well as an activity feed across all projects to which you are attached. The Activity feed allows for @ mentions, which means you can direct colleagues to projects and tasks. The Activity feed allows for dropped files from Google Drive, and approval functionality for time- and expense-related requests.
To any task you can add a good amount of detail, such as assignee, due date, tags, subtasks, and even a checklist. A handy taskbar on the right side of the Activity view lets you see everyone’s tasks or only tasks assigned to you. To get more advanced filtering, such as seeing only tasks assigned to a specific person that are completed, you’ll to switch to the full Task Tracker view.
Mavenlink seems like a good fit for bigger organizations and enterprises because users can have different roles with different permissions. Such specific permissions aren’t often needed in very small businesses. The permission options for projects include Admin, Project Lead, Project Creator, and Collaborator (we won’t bore you too much with all of the permissions details).
As an example, a Project Lead can direct financial projects, create projects, and collaborate on projects, but cannot manage account members, edit billing information, edit account details and plans, or change custom branding. A Collaborator can only collaborate on project and can’t touch anything else.
We like the permissions levels because they do a fine job of helping a business manage access without going overboard. Setting up permissions is an intuitive process. Once you select roles like Admin or Project Lead, Xs and checkmarks will show up next to features to show what’s activated for a particular user. To view analytics reports, you need access for the Report Viewer level and up. There are enough options, but they aren’t overwhelming. Some enterprises may need a high level of detail for permissions, however, and for those organizations we’d recommend Workfront. In Workfront, depending on your role, you even might see an entirely different UI than what other users see.
An excellent feature in Mavenlink is called Smart Snips. This lets you make highlighted comments on uploaded files right in the browser. It’s a simple way to mark up any file that’s attached to a task or project by drawing a box around a section you want to discuss and adding a comment. Volerro has similar markup tools, but it limits you from doing anything more than circling an area of the document and adding a comment. If your team frequently discusses artwork or presentations, Mavenlink’s Smart Snips is a priceless feature. Mavenlink Proofing is also a key tool. It has all of the benefits of Smart Snips, but lets you review assets directly in the console. You can annotate file types, view a complete editing archive, and work alongside colleagues for more immediate oversight.
The reports in the Premier account are worth having because they include financial information and time sheets. At the lower tiers of service, you don’t get any reports, other than the ability to export project data to a CSV or Microsoft Excel file.
If reporting tools are what you need, we’d recommend looking at LiquidPlanner, which offers both PM and work management tools. LiquidPlanner has extensive features for keeping track of billable versus non-billable hours, and other expense-management features. Mavenlink offers a Time Audit Summary, which shows the actual hours worked compared with “workweek capacity,” or the amount they could possible work in a week. It also tracks the status of approved time sheet hours.
Though Mavenlink keeps team members connected and communicating while working on a project, it doesn’t have a built-in chat app, which is one thing we like to see in any work-management system. People sometimes need to ask one another quick questions that don’t necessarily need to be archived alongside a project (“Are you at your desk?” “Can we jump on a phone call right now?” “Did you reply to the client’s email?”). Zoho Projects and Volerro put a chat app right inside the workspace, as does the workplace service Podio. Teamwork offers a free chat app, but it’s separate from the Teamwork Projects workspace, which is less than ideal. You might as well just use Slack or Google Hangouts or some other chat app.
Apps and Extras
Mavenlink, unfortunately, doesn’t have dedicated mobile apps, but it does have a mobile-optimized website that you can view on most mobile browsers. The mobile site ensures you can see the activity feed on projects, access your task list, track your time, and even log expenses from wherever you are.
Trello, while much lighter on features, offers a wide array of mobile apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and even Amazon Fire. Zoho Projects and Teamwork Projects, our Editors’ Choices in PM, both have mobile apps for iOS and Android.
In terms of connecting to other apps and services, Mavenlink does much better. You can integrate it with Google Apps, PayPal, and QuickBooks. There’s also API documentation that lets teams build whatever apps and integrations they need.
For those who aren’t code-savvy, Mavenlink is also supported by the Zapier network. Zapier is something like the IFTTT of business apps. It’s a tool that anyone can use (even if you have no programming experience) to create quick automations between two business apps. For example, you can connect Mavenlink and GitHub using Zapier, such that when a certain type of entry is created in Mavenlink, a new GitHub issue is automatically logged.
As with stand-alone time tracking tools like VeriClock and TSheets, the timer in Mavenlink is prominently displayed in the mobile app. The Start button is well designed, as is the blue Save button. However, it’s missing the well-designed Clock In, Clock Out, and Take Break features of TSheets, our Editors’ Choice in the time-tracking category. The mobile browser is a convenient and easy way to log time for Mavenlink and is easy to use like VeriClock.
Time Tracking for Large Companies
Although you’d never use Mavenlink as a stand-alone time tracking tool, it offers a wide variety of time and expense management features. Unlike tools such as Hubstaff and TSheets, which are pure play time tracking tools designed for workers and managers, Mavenlink’s time tracking functionality is built to help provide managers with better oversight regarding how much work is being done, how much money is being spent, and how better to forecast for similar projects in the future. As a result, some features, such as call-in to check-in, SMS check-in, photo or video check-in, custom fields creation (for things such as mileage and quantity-based tracking), are not available. However, if you’re looking for a tool that combines time tracking with employee monitoring, then Mavelink probably isn’t your best bet. But before we dive too deeply into what Mavenlink doesn’t have, let’s discuss the user experience (UX).
As a worker, you can access the time tracking features in Mavenlink by either drilling into a project or by clicking on the track time button, which is always at the upper right-hand side of the console regardless of which module you’re in. The time track button is the quickest way for workers to hop into Mavenlink’s time tracking console. There’s a little stop clock next to the “Track Time button. This is a nifty feature that you won’t find on tools such as Wrike, in which you’re forced to hop into a task before you can begin running the clock. Time entries also appear in the app’s dashboard. A strange thing in Mavenlink is that you can start tracking time before you indicate what project you’re tracking. Once you specify the project in the Time Entry pop-up box, you can save the information in your time sheet. Adding time entries in hours and minutes in the Time Sheet page is a similar process as in TimeSolv Pro.
You can track the time for the day as well as a bar chart of time worked for the week. The dashboard also provides a helpful view of how much billable time has been used. Mavenlink gives you access to a punch clock that lets you start working and check back to see how long you’ve worked once your task is complete. Or you can add a duration, if you know for a fact that you’ll be working, say, 8 hours and 25 minutes. In this view, you’ll be able view all of the projects on which you’re working, choose the project for which you’re going to be tracking time, and select the specific task, role, and associated expenses for your current time tracking period.
The weekly schedule lets you see the hours and tasks on which you’re working. You can adjust and edit any shift from within the time sheet, which is a huge benefit for employees that like to switch around projects and tasks, or workers that don’t work on a strict 9-5 schedule. You can also add shifts to your time sheet, view pending approvals, as well as rejected entries. Anyone with access to the tool can message users using @ mentions to ask them why they haven’t submitted or why they haven’t clocked in and out. The mention will show up in the user’s activity feed, and they’ll receive an email about the mention.
As an administrator, you’re able to view all of the hours assigned to one project during a given week in your weekly schedule viewer. You can approve or reject shifts from here. You can get a breakdown of time entries by project or by tasks. You can see what hasn’t been submitted and what’s pending. Mavenlink has gone above and beyond to align hours worked with payments associated with a given task, so much so that a specific person who is registered in Mavenlink can be automatically set to pay a different rate for a different task. Wrike won’t let you automatically assign rates to anyone, and billable versus non-billable hours must be added as a custom field. With Mavenlink’s reporting feature, you’re able to see how many hours have been logged, how many are billable versus non-billable. You can compare and contrast projects based on how time was tracked and how hourly expenses were paid.
Using the Insights tool, you can see how many things have been logged, approved, and rejected over a particular time frame or project. You can also look at what you’ve scheduled versus what is projected to schedule. Integrations with Concur and Expensify make this an excellent tool for companies that use software to automate time tracking, billing, and payments. The integrations are organic, so data flows back and forth between the systems with no data blindsides. In addition, Mavenlink lets you schedule when reports go out and they can be sent automatically via email for a particular project. You can view reports that show which time sheets have been approved. You can now also schedule when reports go out via email based on the needs of a certain project. You can pick a time like 10:30 a.m. and have them sent automatically each day at that time. We created a report for performance analytics and were able to view time entries that were billable or nonbillable.
As we mentioned, you won’t want to purchase Mavenlink solely for its time tracking prowess. Other tools, like Hubstaff, TSheets, and VeriClock are designed as pure play time tracking tools. They’ve fine-tuned tracking in a way that’s near draconian: TSheets and VeriClock let you see the GPS location of smartphone check-ins and automatically clock in when you reach the geofencing radius. They also let you block IP addresses so that employees are working only in the area in which you want them to work, and can be set up to force employees to snap a selfie in front of the work site to prove attendance. Mavenlink isn’t built for that level of oversight. Rather, it’s designed for larger organizations to track, manage, and forecast project attendance to improve operations. If that’s what you need, then Mavenlink’s time tracking can only help your company.
A Solid Choice
Mavenlink is a solid PM service. The interface is not as attractive as the pure play time tracking tools like TSheets or other PM tools like Zoho Projects, but the functionality is robust. The Premier tier of service offers a useful set of features, including reporting tools, financial integrations, and so forth. Still, for small businesses, PCMag recommends Editors’ Choices Zoho Projects and Teamwork Projects because they offer a lot of productivity value for growing teams, especially because their per-month price supports an unlimited number of users. Larger organizations that are considering Mavenlink might want to also investigate LiquidPlanner, which is an Editors’ Choice, too.
For more background on Mavenlink and CEO Ray Grainger, check out our interview, Mavenlink’s Adventurous CEO Set His Sights on the East.