At hooox we constantly keep our eyes open for solutions to improve our services. Sometimes that may be small things such as feedly or netvibes , two services which allow us to find interesting articles worth sharing on our real estate news site scooop.
We are also big advocates of the open source content management system WordPress as it empowers our clients to independently update the content of their websites. Frequent visits to the plug-in page mean we are often among the first to work with some great new options to extend the functionality of our client’s websites.
Once in a while we stumble upon something which REALLY shakes things up and forces us to re-examine our way of working. This was the case with LiquidPlanner, an on-line planning system which we were quick to integrate into our daily work routine.
For the past couple of years we obviously also planned our projects! We accomplished most of our work using a variety of tools such as Basecamp, Tick, Teux Deux and Google Tasks. Each of these systems has its obvious strengths and some are complementary. What we were missing was a holistic approach, allowing for more efficient project management, allocation of resources, planning, reporting and communication towards our clients.
Having devoted considerable time to this endeavour we came upon LiquidPlanner . A few things immediately set it apart from the competition:
- the ability to plan projects in a framework of a best and worst case scenario
- the automated calculation of the workload for the following weeks
- the option of allocating tasks to people outside of the organisation (including clients)
- the way in which production problems can be spotted, even weeks beforehand
Let us have a quick look at these items and why they convinced us to drop other systems in favour of LiquidPlanner.
1.Best and worst case planning
Every single project planning tool we examined used the same single principle: you estimate how long a task would last and then tell someone to do it on a specific day. LiquidPlanner understands how such an approach is often impossible in everyday working conditions. No matter how good your estimate is it often does not correspond to the reality of changing wishes, client perception or unforeseen circumstances. What happens it that the task is not completely done and “spills over” in the next day(s), thereby pushing other tasks further along the timeline you had so carefully “planned”.
LiquidPlanner differs in this approach by asking you to define - in minutes, hours or days – the best and worst case scenario for a given task. The best case scenario is the amount of time you hope the work can be done in. The worst case scenario reflects the time it would take if things progress in a far from ideal way. Obviously, in real life you would end up somewhere in the middle of these extremes. This is referred to by LiquidPlanner as the Expected duration of a task or the Expected date a taks, project or subproject will be finalised.
This is crucial for getting more accurate estimates for a project’s duration!
The best case and worst case estimates tie in nicely with the second core element which we at hooox find so useful in LiquidPlanner.
2.Automated workload calculation
Based on the values entered for task duration and the priorities you assign to tasks, LiquidPlanner will automatically suggest a planning for the following weeks, attempting to balance urgency with importance. This needs to be further tweaked by the project manager to achieve the best work schedule for all employees.
Nevertheless, it significantly reduces the time needed to get an accurate estimate of who should be working on what during the following weeks.
During real life projects a lot of time is often spent waiting for input from various sources. This brings us to the third item we want to discuss.
3.Allocating tasks to people outside of your organisation
Let’s face it: projects are not only slowed down by the work being done in your own company. Sometimes you are waiting for quotes from suppliers and need to put work on hold until you get hold of that information. Waiting for feedback or validation from multiple points of contact in your client’s companies can also be a time-consuming factor.
None of the other project management tools we tested offered a solution quite as elegant as the one which LiquidPlanner has integrated.
It allows you to create a Virtual Member for each person or company you need something from. Then you simply add tasks such as “Waiting for feedback on the first design” to such a Virtual Member.
By entering a best and worst case timeframe this allows you to get a clearer picture of how your project’s flow evolves and which outside party influences the duration of your project.
In the end, off course, every efficient planning system needs to be judged on its ability to alert you of impending problems such as missed deadlines. This will be our fourth and final topic in this quick overview of LiquidPlanner.
4.Spotting problems beforehand
In hindsight it is often clear what you could have done to prevent a project from slipping further and further away of its intended deadline. However, what you need is a system which can warn you about such upcoming issues at a time when you can still do something about them.
This is an area in which LiquidPlanner excels.
Some projects have a clear deadline, such as a corporate event or an official launch. These can be added in LiquidPlanner as milestones. The system also works well for “minor” deadlines, such as the promise one makes to send a preview or a status update of the work which has already been done. As a business you need to be sure not to miss these deadlines either as this can cause great frustration by the clients as well as by the business developers who have to break their promises.
As mentioned above, LiquidPlanner automatically calculates the best planning for all the tasks given the priority which you have assigned. While juggling multiple projects consisting of various interconnected tasks it can happen that you start piling so many tasks onto someone’s agenda that they simply cannot get everything done by the dates you had set as milestones.
The clever thing about LiquidPlanner is that you can spot this a lot sooner than you can with other project management tools, often few days or even weeks in advance. As soon as you start changing the priority of tasks or start adding new tasks the system will compare this new data with the milestones it needs to adhere to.
Should it notice that you are pushing the Expected finishing time of tasks beyond their initially set deadline a red flag is raised and you are warned on the dashboard of LiquidPlanner.
This feature brings with it more peace of mind, both for the project manager, as well as for the employees and the client.
Although real life is infinitely more complex than any system could hope to fully grasp, the planning tool in LiquidPlanner can help you avoid nasty surprises in your production workflow and can significantly contribute to spotting future issues early on.
This allows you to search for alternatives: re-allocating tasks to other team members, searching for other means of getting the work done or even communicating openly and up-front to your client about re-assessing deadlines.
A project management and planning system is only as good as the data entered. At hooox we are fully aware that a technological solution, even one as polished and powerful as LiquidPlanner, can never be the one and only cornerstone of your work day.
Nevertheless we are convinced that projects run a lot smoother if there is a fast and effective way of getting a bird’s eye view over all the running projects.
The planning based on a best and worst case scenario, the automated workload calculation, the allocation of “waiting for”-tasks to virtual members and the ability to anticipate production problems before they become a huge stress factor in your organisation have led us to adopt the LiquidPlanner system.
We look forward to integrating it further into our workflow and diving into the other features contained in this polished web application.
Ken Lawrence – Project Manager at hooox