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Improve project collaboration with LiquidPlanner

LiquidPlanner's collaboration features and its approach to scheduling make it a standout tool for project execution and delivery. A project manager discusses his favorite features of LiquidPlanner.

I'm a fan of Microsoft Project, but that doesn't mean it's the only tool in my project management (PM) toolbox. LiquidPlanner is another one of my favorite go-to PM tools.

LiquidPlanner is a Web-based project scheduling and collaboration tool that provides task management, scheduling, and effective team collaboration in an integrated environment. In this follow-up to my TechRepublic article about LiquidPlanner's scheduling capabilities, I highlight LiquidPlanner's collaboration features.

Project collaboration features in LiquidPlanner

As more projects are delivered with distributed and virtual teams, the need for an effective collaboration platform at the task level is more important. Integrating a project schedule with a Web-based collaboration tool isn't an easy task because tools such as Project Server and Clarity have different integration points with different scheduling packages. Since LiquidPlanner is a Web-based platform, the team collaboration features are already integrated with the scheduling engine. I recently managed a Web development project using LiquidPlanner, and these are the tool's collaboration features that I found most useful.

My Tasks view I like being able to log in to a Web site and see my view of the tasks that I need to accomplish. The My Tasks view (Figure A) lists all my assigned tasks and my planned start and finish dates -- it even includes timers to track time on each activity. The application supports a list view and a calendar view if you like to plan your work across a calendar view. Figure A

My Tasks view. (Click the image to enlarge.)

LiquidPlanner now offers desktop integration with your Outlook calendar or your iPhone or iPad calendar application. With other applications, I've been hesitant to integrate project task activities with my meeting calendar, but this approach highlights the tasks planned for the time period. From a collaboration perspective, the task view provides timely information without requiring a separate review of the project schedule.

Collaborate tab

Projects are social engagements; tools and processes are useless unless you have an engaged team using them. LiquidPlanner provides a social collaboration feature across tasks and at a project level.

Task completion often requires input from other team members even if that task is assigned to one person. LiquidPlanner's Collaborate tab (Figure B) lets you provide detailed descriptions about a task, conduct threaded discussions, add links, and attach project documents at the task level. Figure B

Collaborate tab. (Click the image to enlarge.)

For document-centric project organizations that require a lot of documentation, sign-off, and approval of project deliverables, this collaboration feature will be a pleasant surprise. Instead of obtaining physical signatures, saving e-mails into a special sign-off folder, or creating a separate document, the task or work product approver can simply log in and add a sign-off comment to the task. If your organization requires a sign-off document, you can upload it to the specific task in the schedule. By using a tool to manage the PM process, you reduce the administrative tax that affects all projects.

Dashboard view Similar to a Facebook or Twitter microblog, LiquidPlanner provides a dashboard view of the project chatter and further enables engagement from all team members (Figure C). Each user's homepage displays the project chatter and comments for the entire project or just for a specific resource. Figure C

Dashboard view, which shows project chatter (Click the image to enlarge.)

Instead of receiving one-off e-mails, project team members can organize the workspace chatter to specific tasks and still view the tasks across the micro-blog collaboration stream. If a stakeholder needs to sign off on a deliverable, the chatter feature will record the sign-off and maintain it within the chatter stream.

Client portal Every LiquidPlanner project comes with a project portal that you can share with clients; this is my favorite feature. The project manager can control which tasks are published to the portal and set permissions for task sharing, viewing estimates, file sharing, commenting, and real-time status and trend reports (Figure D). Depending on your client's management and communication needs, you can use some or all these features to share project status and collaborate across the project. Figure D

Project portal, which enables you to collaborate with clients. (Click the image to enlarge.)

In my project, I needed several Photoshop files loaded into the project environment. I could have used e-mail, but it was so much easier to have my client load files into the collaboration environment.

LiquidPlanner also has built-in change notification, so as project activities change, I am notified whenever a new task is added, a task is completed, a comment is made, or a file is added in the portal.

iPhone application With LiquidPlanner's iPhone application (Figure E), team members can interact with the collaboration platform and initiate tasks, track status, track time view notes, and send chatter messages all via their iPhones. See also Figures F and G. Figure E

iPhone app, which offers collaboration on the go.
Figure F

LiquidPlanner's iPhone application
Figure G

LiquidPlanner's iPhone application

Conclusion

I'm intrigued by true collaboration platforms, but I wasted weeks resolving Microsoft Project .mpp file integration issues with Web-based solutions. LiquidPlanner's collaboration features and its human-thinking approach to project scheduling make it a standout tool for project execution and delivery.

I encourage you to check out LiquidPlanner's 30-day free trial and give Web-based collaboration and scheduling a try.

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About

Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager and is the author of How To Use Microsoft Project and Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy. For more project management advice visit http://www.tacticalprojectmanagement.com.

11 comments
Jaqui
Jaqui

1) it, like every other pm app, focuses on the timeline, making nothing but an expensive calendar app. 2) it adds insult to injury by having a monday to friday 9 to 5 type work period. in a globally distributed online project, the workday is 24 hours and the work week is 7 days. then, why should I pay $x.00/mo per person for an online pm tool when there is TRAC? [ http://trac.edgewall.org/ ] edit to add: and TRAC does have easy integration with version control.

bobk
bobk

Nice thorough article. I like the iPhone app. Brightwork ( www.brightwork.com ) also has a cool collaboration project management tool that sits on top of SharePoint and allows for very similar capabilities as Liquid Planner. It's called pmPoint.

EvaGoyena
EvaGoyena

I, too was stuck with a few MS file integration issues and I started looking for web-based solutions that will make project scheduling easier. But what I got is more than just that ---I found an integrated tool called Worketc that has the functionalities of a crm, project management, collaboration, helpdesk and billing. Though helpdesk isn?t something I needed most, it isn?t an overkill to be included in the package. What I love most is the combination of crm and project management tools that makes collaboration with employees and clients a breeze. Worketc gives unlimited logins for clients so they can easily collaborate with you on documents, interact by putting comments, and view and pay invoices online. Here?s a link to this project management software http://www.worketc.com.

mlstark
mlstark

Dr - I appreciate the collaborative nature of LiquidPlanner but did not see a clear path to MS project task/event integration unless manually entered. Did I miss it or it's not there. Red

amakar
amakar

Actually you can set your resource availability in your profile section. It also has a daily start that you can set so supporting 24 hour projects is easy to do. It is a scheduling tool so it would be appropriate to focus on the timeline but the article really highlighted all the collaboration features that you don't see in a lot of industry applications...or I should say you don't see well implemented in an industry application. I'll check out Trac...looks interesting!

amakar
amakar

You can import a MS Project file into Liquid Planner using the process below. http://www.liquidplanner.com/help/importing-and-exporting-data/importing-from-microsoft-project-or-excel.html However, the real value is in building your schedule in LP. I am a huge fan of Microsoft Project but Liquid Planner simplifies the planning process and eliminates the resource leveling issue. Combined with the collaboration features, it makes it a useful tool for teamwork and execution. Give it a shot and you'll see a different approach to scheduling. It works the way humans think :-) Andy

lsievert
lsievert

I believe you can import an MS Project file, but project managers should think of Liquid Planner as a replacement for MS Project, not as a Project add-on. The value of Liquid Planner comes from living in the application, using it every day. It's a different approach to scheduling. Liquid Planner forces you to think in terms of ranged estimates -- best case and worst case. MS Project forces you to pretend that there isn't uncertainty on the project. I use Liquid Planner every day, and have done so for well over a year. I can't imagine working as a project manager without Liquid Planner.

Jaqui
Jaqui

there are a number of Free, open source web based collaboration tools out there. most default to the 24/7 schedule, since they assume web based means globally distributed team membership. the best known one of them all, is Sourceforge. [ http://sourceforge.net ] there used to be a commercial version of it, but with the sourceforge system having migrated to all open source web2.0 scripts I'm not sure if they have the commercial version any more. The main benefit to the sourceforge system, cvs, subversion and git source repositories all supported. The drawback to sourceforge is they don't have any non-open source projects allowed. But any reasonably ccompetent website developer could easily duplicate what sourceforge has created for a company to use for their own projects. Trac will easily work with git, and I believe subversion. I doubt it would be difficult to get cvsweb to tie into a Trac installation, so adding cvs to the supported version control systems wouldn't be out of the question.

casey
casey

I have to disagree with the statement that MSP (or any sophisticated PM/modeling tool) "forces" one to think in any one way. One of the key objectives of using a planning tool like MSP or LP is the ability to predict the future. Each tool allows the construction of models to achieve this result, irrespective of the amount of uncertainty. There is nothing to stop anyone from using PERT estimates (pessimistic, optimistic and probable) in MSP, other than understanding the fundamental concepts and how they are implemented in the tool. The same is true for tools like Primivera, Artemis, Planview, etc. In fact, one could argue that any use of PERT automatically focuses on recognizing uncertainty as that is PERT's sole purpose.

casey
casey

Andy - Let me clarify - I don't disagree with your premise related to collaboration. And let me add, I am no fan of MSP - in its native form it is in many ways inflexible, clunky and counter-intuitive. My objection was the inference that the tool forces behavior which does not properly acknowledge uncertainty in the planning process. I have used LP on small projects with limited resources where clients did not dictate the use of specific planning and collaboration tools and found it easy and useful. - Cris

amakar
amakar

A tool is just a tool and keep in mind I am still a huge MSP fan...but MS Project isn't as intuitive and has a learning curve to use it properly. Liquid Planner also has a small learning curve as PMs will be experiencing a different approach to organizing and prioritizing work. You can apply the same PMBOK Time Management steps to each tool. PERT in MS Project is an advanced concept that a lot of PM newbies (an advanced ones) don't understand or implement. One reason is the design of the PERT tool in MSP. Liquid Planner incorporates it into the basic planning process so you intuitively think about the ranged estimates. The point of my article was to highlight the collaboration features because when they are combined with the scheduling features, it really helps with the overall team delivery and collaboration. Just being able to have a business customer sign-off on specific milestones or collaborate via the LP Portal is useful feature. Lower PM administration = a happier PM Have you tried LP yet? Andy

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