How 5 Top Project Management Tools Onboard Users (to Win Over Their Whole Team)

Written by: Julia Chen Julia Chen 

Keep tabs on our content. One or two emails a week:

Onboarding individuals can be hard enough. Most users who sign up won't stick around long enough to achieve meaningful value with the product.

When you're onboarding for a project management tool, you're playing a whole different ball game. Not only do you need to convince a particular user to like your tool—you also need to get their whole team on board.

This goal brings with it some challenges:

  • First, you need new users to invite their team members to try your tool. If the whole team isn't on the tool, there's no reason to use it.
  • Project management tools are the backbone of a team. You need to reduce logistical friction when helping teams set up your system or they'll find a tool that's easier to use.
  • Not only do you need to make sure individual users can be successful with your app, but you also need to make sure the whole team can thrive.

The upside here is that once you get an entire team on board, your revenue will reflect that. Per-seat pricing—used by most of the tools in this category—means that revenue growth is all about onboarding, engaging, and retaining every user that you can. Targeting the team rather than the individual is how apps like Slack experienced their exponential growth trajectory.

In this article, we look at the ways some of the most popular project management tools onboard a team along with the individual.

Airtable: Use templates to set up new teams quickly

At first glance, Airtable looks more like a spreadsheet than your standard project management tool. It makes sense; it's a broad-spectrum product with a lot of use cases.

Airtable's broad applicability makes it an incredibly powerful tool, but that's also what makes onboarding extremely challenging. Every department in your company could find a different use case within Airtable that works for them. It could be used for anything from keeping track of your hiring process to managing the plant watering schedule in your office.

airtable desktop onboarding 1airtable desktop onboarding airtable desktop onboardingairtable desktop onboarding airtable desktop onboarding

Knowing that this aspect of the first-time customer experience could be a major drop-off point, the Airtable team ran dozens of user studies, which gave them a major insight: “Templates are really freaking important.” To a new Airtable user, the app is whatever template they happened to pick.

If users chose a project management template, then Airtable was a project management app. If they chose a content marketing template, then Airtable was a content marketing workflow app.

That insight prompted the team to build out a comprehensive library of templates that let users jump in and get started immediately. Once the first user in an organization got started, they could populate the app with data, customize it to their precise needs, and invite the rest of team to collaborate.

Asana: Match new users with an existing team

When you say project management, one of the first names people think of is Asana. Over 140,000 businesses use Asana, and the app uses that widespread adoption to its advantage when onboarding new users.

Asana asks users to log in with their work email because that allows them to know which company you work for. If your email domain is ford.com, the app knows you work for Ford Motor Company, which lets it onboard you into an active organization account in the product.

When users first log in, they see a list of existing possible teams to join. You can bet that Asana has run extensive testing to determine which teams should appear above the fold in what order so as to drive long-term user retention.

asana onboarding 1asana onboarding 2asana onboarding 3asana onboarding 4asana onboarding 5asana onboarding 6asana onboarding 7asana onboarding 8asana onboarding 9asana onboarding 10

Once users select a team, they're prompted with hotspots to start contributing to the team workflow. Did you catch that? Not just their individual workflow—the team's.

Team activity has the greatest leverage because it can be used to drive retention for the whole team, not just for the individual trying the product out. Projects are added to a shared dashboard so that everyone on the team has a full view of everything that's happening. That means that existing and new usage drives more usage in a virtuous cycle.

Basecamp: Demonstrate the product through a sample team

Basecamp is an incredibly product-focused SaaS company. They look for every opportunity to showcase their product, and that happens as early as the product tour during onboarding.


When they do feature their product, they always show it off full of real data in a real use case. Even during the product tour, Basecamp displays a full-screen sample of Basecamp in active use by a team. This hands-on demonstration immerses users in the product and gets them thinking about they ways their team could use Basecamp. 

basecamp desktop onboardingbasecamp desktop onboardingbasecamp desktop onboardingbasecamp desktop onboardingbasecamp desktop onboardingbasecamp desktop onboarding
After signing up, you need to invite your team to join you on Basecamp. This is a major drop-off point for two reasons:
  1. You might not know the best way to sell the product to the team, in which case you may invite few people, none at all, or even just churn from the product right then and there.
  2. You're putting yourself out there by inviting your teammates to the product. You're not going to do that unless you feel confident that the app will treat your invitees well.

Basecamp offers pre-drafted messages to remove friction and make it easy for you — and your team — to get started with using the tool. That saves you the hassle of having to write a personal note and put yourself out there. Plus it allows Basecamp to get its honed messaging in front of your invitees with your name on it. Because you see how the app is holding your hand, you know that it will also hand-hold your teammates through the process, incentivizing you to welcome them into the app.

Teamwork Projects: Focus on the core value-revealing tasks

Even though Teamwork Projects currently has more than three million users, the brand clearly understands the importance of the first interaction an organization has with a project management tool. That's why their onboarding flow is all about getting the first user to complete two critical steps: invite their co-workers and create at least one project.

teamwork projects web onboardingteamwork projects web onboardingteamwork projects web onboardingteamwork projects web onboardingteamwork projects web onboarding

Teamwork Projects uses a short onboarding tour, which comprises a modal window with a 3-step flow. This flow includes a short video, a screen to invite project contributors, and instructions on how to set up your first project. The short tour keeps users focused on the tasks they need to complete to experience the value of Teamwork Projects.

After the initial tour is over, users are reminded to finish their account setup through a checklist they see every time they visit the dashboard. This constant reminder makes sure users are always aware of the next step they need to take.

Trello: Educate customers by making them use the product

Trello started primarily as a personal and group-centric productivity tool. Today, over 19 million people use it to organize their lives. Since Trello's business model is freemium, the app monetizes on teams that use it for business. Over time, Trello has shifted its focus from people and small groups to entire companies.

That explains why it's so important for Trello to promote team use cases. On the app's marketing site, users can find the “Trello Team Playbooks” that onboard them onto that specific use case, rather than the product in general. These playbooks are similar to Airtable's templates that reach farther back into the onboarding process.

trello playbooks

During the actual onboarding, Trello does a great job of educating users by making them use the product. Instead of using other onboarding UI patterns, the app welcomes new users on a Trello board that instructs them how to use Trello. It's brilliant. Getting users to perform the most common actions early in the process means they'll be able to internalize them sooner. From this point on, using Trello becomes natural.

trello onboarding.pngtrello onboarding.pngtrello onboarding.pngtrello onboarding.pngtrello onboarding.png

Another thing to note is that Trello doesn't try to demonstrate every aspect of the product during onboarding. Instead, it looks to get new users comfortable with the most common actions, like adding and moving cards, adding people, etc. It shows users just enough, so they can start using the tool comfortably. For those who want to learn more, additional information is just a click away.

Onboard the team and you'll get the individual

Targeting each individual customer and making onboarding super personal tends to be the best way to increase your activation rate. But when it comes to project management tools, the process happens a bit in reverse: if their team isn't using the product, there's no reason for an individual to use it either.

Each of these examples puts the focus where it matters—on the team. By targeting the collective during onboarding and creating a product that helps the whole team thrive, these apps addressing the biggest point of friction head on and succeeding.

user onboarding academy

The User Onboarding Academy

Everything you need to know about user onboarding in 7 weekly emails.

Recommended reading