Unique from other PM tools, the Airtable collaboration software boasts itself as a low-code relational database for building team applications and my experience is that this is perhaps the most undervalued project management solution on the market. Backed up by extensive configurability, affordable plans and innovative features, Airtable’s workflow capabilities can enhance nearly any team or project’s prospects.
- Review methodology
- Airtable alternatives & competitors
- What is Airtable?
- Airtable overview
- Airtable features and capabilities
- Airtable use cases and audience
- Pros & cons of Airtable
This review is based on my experience registering, configuring and executing a project in Airtable. The sample project I built in the tool is a three-month application development timeline with six sprints and over 20 core tasks.
SEE: Hiring kit: Project manager (TechRepublic Premium)
Below is the sample project (Figure A). The columns listed include task name, start and end dates, assigned contact, status, duration, completion percentage and notes. Meanwhile, rows organize sprint tasks and subtasks into sprints. Two sprints contain multiple subtasks.
To add additional context, I familiarized myself with Airtable’s product documentation, demos, industry reviews and recognition and a comparative analysis with alternative software applications. I ran a free trial of the Pro plan to test this tool.
Airtable alternatives & competitors
What is Airtable?
Airtable is a company and project management software for viewing project data and enabling collaboration between stakeholders through a central cloud-based platform.
Airtable launched in 2013 and has gone from SaaS startup to unicorn IT company in the span of a decade. Headquartered in San Francisco, California, Airtable’s growth has been steady with its Series F in 2021 bringing the total amount raised to $1.4 billion. With the company’s first two acquisitions in 2021 (no-code platform Walrus.ai and data visualization startup Bayes), a robust platform and over 300,000 teams for clients, Airtable shows no signs of slowing down.
The Airtable platform and features are available through a tiered pricing plan varying by options for views, automations, extensions, syncing, customization, permissions and security.
Airtable is a cloud-based project management solution available as a free trial, free plan, or premium SaaS subscription. Users can access the platform via web browser, desktop application, or mobile application through the Apple and Google Play stores for iOS and Android devices.
Start with the Airtable desktop or mobile application
From the Airtable homepage, I created a free account with my business email, full name and password. Additional prompts ask registrants to invite team members to Airtable and the industry-function of the team. And finally, the last step allows users to import existing project data or jump right into the platform.
Airtable features and capabilities
Import an existing project
When prompted in the initial registration for an import, I selected an Excel upload from my computer, while other options include pasting a URL, uploading an Excel or CSV file, or pulling the file from Google Drive, Dropbox, Box and OneDrive subscriptions.
In Figure C, the first look at imported data looks remarkably similar to the original spreadsheet with options to select different sheet tabs, field values and edit field types to reflect value.
As everything appeared to match my sheet, I confirmed the import and voilà. With only three clicks — selecting the file, uploading the file,and pressing “Import” — the existing project data was live within Airtable.
Trying to import the same file across other top PM tools, none compare to the speed and accuracy of Airtable’s import engine. Most all require some level of reconciliation after import to ensure existing data matches the parameters of the platform, however, Airtable immediately recognized every field and required no additional action before moving forward.
Other tools are good about catching dates and text values (e.g., Task Names) but rarely allow the addition of team member names without requiring an invitation and registration. While I get the project rolling and configured on Airtable, I can avoid dragging other stakeholders into every step of the team onboarding process.
For teams looking to import an existing project, Airtable hits the mark with an invaluable capability for avoiding duplicative work and manual inputting of project data.
Visualize, change and collect project data
Change how you view project data with a handful of options to create different perspectives, including a classic grid, calendar, Kanban-style board, Gantt chart and task gallery.
Grid view: A familiar spreadsheet
Like other PM tools, rows represent core records like tasks, ideas and clients with corresponding column values providing details like status or deadline. Users can click on columns or rows for additional options to edit, duplicate, insert, delete, sort and group fields.
Notably, there is not an easy way to create subtasks from the Grid view. According to Airtable documentation, teams have two options for creating subtasks, however, neither is very intuitive.
Caution: Primary column is protected
A testament to Airtable’s accuracy in importing data, the first column upon seeing my Grid view contained the “At Risk” value for rows. This matters because the first column, or Primary Column, can not be deleted or dragged to other places in the Grid view and the Task Name column is more appropriate for the PC.
Looking at column configuration options, options to change the primary column seemed bleak. I read through a community post discussing the topic and resolved the problem by:
- Copying At Risk contents to a new column.
- Delete the values from the PC.
- Copy the Task Name column and paste into the PC.
- Rename the PC to “Task Name” and delete the former column.
Kanban and Gallery views: Drag-and-drop flexibility
Both Kanban and Gallery views offer a flexible way to drag-and-drop and modify tasks within the platform tab. These views offer a different orientation of tasks for team members’ visual appetites, but the biggest difference between the two is the use of lanes to structure tasks by condition on the Kanban board.
In Gallery view, all cards sit as tasks in a grid with the option to sort, but without much other structure. I struggled to find the benefit of this view. For the Kanban view (Figure D), I appreciated the ability to drag and drop columns when initially re-ordering the different task statuses. This view otherwise offered the same functionality as other Kanban boards to modify and customize task data shown.
Calendar, Timeline and Gantt views: Watch those date fields
The Calendar, Timeline and Gantt views all over their own perspective of project data over time. Unfortunately my own experience implementing these views wasn’t seamless.
When creating my calendar, the prompt asked me to create a new date field for my project. This struck me as bizarre because it was the second time an Airtable widget seemed to jump over the start and end dates listed in the first few columns of my project. Upon opening my Gantt and Timeline views, the same roadblock presented itself. If I wanted to view a feature involving dates, I wasn’t able to select the existing date column values.
Troubleshooting this, users can create a new column in their base project for dates, then copy and paste the start dates over to the new column. Even better — and overlooked when reconciling an imported project until this point — my date columns listed in the Grid were set automatically to data type of “single-select” after import. Airtable’s date-related features only asked to create new columns because my existing columns were not set as a date field type.
After returning to the Grid view and converting my Start Date and End Date columns to date field type, I was able to reset the configurations for Calendar, Timeline and Gantt views to the appropriate date columns. As seen in Figure E, it worked well and my Gantt view is colored to show the different workloads of team members based on Grid data.
Extensions: Connecting critical apps and workflows
Upon finishing the five-step onboarding process, I became familiar with the different views, options to create dashboards and automate tasks. I was then redirected to the Airtable Extensions page, which the company just renamed last week from “Airtable apps”.
The Extensions Marketplace offers teams over 40 Airtable-developed extensions, 20 scripts, or the option to build a custom extension. From the “All extensions” tab, teams can access more than 150 open source extensions through GitHub.
Notable third-party integrations
For teams with needed integrations, Airtable’s extensions include a number of third-party applications for different functional teams:
- Miro: Brainstorm and work together through collaborative whiteboards via Miro.
- Jira Cloud: Import tasks and epics from Jira into project data.
- Google Workspace: Connect the team’s video conferencing application.
- BaseQL: Integrate the GraphQL API into Airtable project pipelines.
- Loom: Preview screen and video captures using Loom within the project.
- Tellephant: Connect the team’s WhatsApp Business Account to the platform.
- Typeform: Build and share forms and import responses into the Airtable platform.
- Formito: Transform project tables into data collection forms and chatbots.
- Data Fetcher: No-code integrations for several additional applications.
Scripts: Execute built-in and custom workflows
The Scripts tab of Airtable Extensions provides users with several options to deploy pre-built automations that validate emails, extract project metadata and assign team members tasks based on availability via a shift scheduler.
One such example is converting URLs in a table column to a file in another column (Figure G). As my project entails work on a third-party application, I can set guidelines for the team to paste the URL to finished documents in the Notes field of the table and the script will convert URLs to an attachment in a separate column. In this case, I can proof files as attachments within Airtable instead of jumping to the URL.
Automations: Create seamless workflows
Automation capabilities extend the speed and usability of PM tools, and Airtable offers the features a team needs to automate project workflows. Teams can choose from a number of pre-built automations or start from scratch. My first automation (Figure H) tracks when a task changes status from “In Progress” to “Complete” followed by set actions.
As shown, this trigger induces three selected actions: an email, a Slack message and the creation of a record within the project. Other options for actions include connecting Microsoft apps, Google Workplace apps, GitHub or Salesforce, for different team use cases.
Once all action properties are configured, users can test their automation and enable and disable the automation as necessary. In my example, the only thing preventing me from finalizing and turning the automation on is the red warning alongside Slack, prompting me to connect to my account and select a recipient channel.
Note: When working on the project, I received an email informing me the automation failed in action. The email provided a quick link to the automation and upon testing the automation again, I could see it failed because the email address used for notifying the project manager is a non-collaborator. After team onboarding is complete, this shouldn’t be a problem.
The interface designer: Build internal and external apps
Through the banner menu, teams can navigate to the Interfaces tab, a unique feature to Airtable that I haven’t seen quite replicated on other project management tools. While the Interface Designer is still in open beta, I was able to choose a layout, customize the positioning and conditions of data, and preview the page before sharing the project view with teammates.
The top PM solutions, including Airtable, offer a customizable dashboard or whiteboard where teams can add custom widgets for a central view of multiple project data points. Within the Interface Designer on Airtable (Figure I), “elements” offer many of the same types of data points and visualizations (numbers, charts, timelines), but also carry the designed template across the project tasks featured below.
While teammates for this project can access this view, I can create and customize other interfaces for different teams and projects. Similarly, I also have the option of building custom web applications for external stakeholders without the same access privileges.
Note: While designing my layout I ran into the below warning (Figure J) on multiple occasions. The interface designer is no doubt an innovative part of Airtable’s platform, but since it is a beta feature, teams should be ready for occasional disruptions and kinks as it’s improved over time.
Project templates: Setup project parameters fast
Airtable offers a number of cross-industry templates on the platform. In Figure K, the template categories on the right-hand side shows Airtable’s functional range while the cards featured are templates ideal for software development.
While there is plenty to appreciate for general and niche uses, I was disappointed to not see more developer-oriented templates. Navigating to the Airtable Universe (bottom-left) offers more to consider from a range of community-published templates, but notably lacks a “Software Development” category.
Airtable use cases and audience
A decade after its founding, Airtable serves more than 300,000 teams through its cloud-based collaboration platform. Through exploring the company’s website and using the platform personally, Airtable has a universe of potential use cases and clients, including:
- Bug tracking for software testing engineers and quality assurance analysts.
- Content calendar to create and manage editorial tasks for content production.
- Product launches with timelines, checklists, stakeholders,and milestones to launch.
- Product operations to collect feedback, improve products and manage releases.
- Product roadmapping with a business value vs. implementation complexity matrix.
- User research for tracking data, scheduling UX tests and analyzing insights.
Teams and clients
- Creative production and marketing
- Engineering, IT and customer support
- Finance, legal and HR
- Operations and manufacturing
- Product and design
- Sales and account management
Pros & cons of Airtable
Airtable advantages and benefits
- View, collect and modify data across multiple views with remote teams.
- Import process took a few clicks, loaded fast and accurately reflected existing data.
- A handy help menu and chat box when starting different tasks for the first time.
- All plans come with the Interface Designer to build and customize apps for internal or external use.
- Changing the primary column and adding subtasks in Grid view could be more intuitive.
- Import reconciliation required later to manage column types
- Lagging when moving between views with extensive data or position movements.
- Limited extensions for two of the three business plans (3 per Plus, 10 per Pro).
- Not a niche pick for software development teams.
- User-friendly interface and fairly intuitive for teams managing project records.
- Substantial import, scripting and automation capabilities.
- A top contender for best project management software on the market.
I was thoroughly impressed using Airtable from the accuracy of the import to managing the programming of platform scripts and advanced features. The cloud-based project management solution offers teams a clean and customizable interface backed by all the tools needed to enable collaboration and productivity.
Teams considering Airtable can try the platform’s unlimited free plan or choose from three tiers of plans (Plus, Pro and Enterprise). Airtable’s pricing is in the middle of the road relative to competitors but I found its capabilities just as powerful as enterprise picks like Wrike and Smartsheet.
While I did run into a few hiccups, Airtable’s depth of capabilities offers teams across industries something to consider.
Pull up a chair and get reading. There’s more info about Airtable with these articles on how to use it as a project management tool and how to use it to make an online form.