“I lay a lot of blame on the tools,” says Charles Seybold, when he talks about why projects fail. The CEO of LiquidPlanner believes Microsoft Project is too complex and it’s too easy to lose sight of what is going on – and then you sum up all the mess with a percent complete. “How do you manage from that?” he says. “Other tools have been built to solve a calculation problem, what you need in a modern team is way beyond that.”
The new version of LiquidPlanner is designed to be ‘way beyond’. This latest release includes project portals which allow subscribers to create an unlimited number of private project portals for their customers at no extra charge. It’s functionality that has been designed for agencies, consultancies,
and professional service organisations who need to collaborate with multiple clients but more importantly, need to tailor the view of what those external groups see. The team at LiquidPlanner thinks this offers the best of Basecamp (simplicity of design, collaboration, and private workspaces) with ‘advanced’ project management capabilities including scheduling (is this really an advanced project management function?), time tracking, and so on.
The mantra of the new release is ‘manage more, see less,’ as in see less data so it becomes more meaningful. Basically, targeted views. “At one moment [the software] makes something very simple in digest form, and in the next moment someone else on team has to see a broad picture of things,” Seybold explains. It’s addressing the problem of ‘duality’ that he believes projects suffer from: the more you do, the more data you create and the harder it is to manage.
This current release has more than just portals. The list of new features includes:
- Advance filtering and bookmarks
- Usability and performance enhancements
- Scheduling enhancements
- Graphing enhancements
- Rate sheets
And they also have an iPhone app in the pipeline, along with better reports and budget management.
The LiquidPlanner team – as you might expect – use LiquidPlanner to manage all their releases and projects. “We have biggest workspace of everybody,” says Seybold, but there are other companies catching up. The filing structure and the way tasks appear makes it a popular choice for a variety of types of teams. “Agile teams like this kind of thing,” he adds. The software can show you views per sprint, so it’s very flexible.
It might be flexible, but as it tries to do more, LiquidPlanner may be straying away from purist project management software. The company’s own workspace is 3 years old and stores a massive amount of data. But the way it works allows them to do ‘the day job’ and it’s not many day jobs that operate as projects. The software may allow you to manage large chunks of data relating to many projects without having useful information isolated, but if it’s a day job tool then it’s not really a project tool.
Even so, it has some nifty features, and essentially, application is up to the end user. You don’t have to use it for managing the day job just because LiquidPlanner do themselves. I liked the customer filtering, and the fact that you can take a snapshot of the schedule and save it as a .pdf – always useful for stakeholders who are allergic to plans.
All the improvements mean that LiquidPlanner is popular with customers, as you can see from the feedback I’ve had (unprompted) on Twitter.
“We have a lot of international cutomers,” says Seybold, “Australia is big for some reason.” About 30% of LiquidPlanner’s client base is outside the US. I still feel that there is more than can be done to improve the internationalisation of the software, but that can wait. In the meantime, there seems to be a growing group of people who can’t manage projects without it, so watch out Microsoft.