Author: Alison Clancy

How to Tell LiquidPlanner That You’re Going on Holiday

Ah, holiday. Vacation. Time spent not working. No matter how you say it, the concept of getting away from your project management duties and instead, taking tightrope walking classes in Paris, for example, is incredibly exciting. Or maybe your idea of a perfect vacation is to spend 48 hours straight in your living room catching up on Downton Abbey. There’s no judgment here.

However, before you pack up and head off for distant, unknown lands, there’s one thing you need to remember to do: tell LiquidPlanner about your upcoming absence. Why? LiquidPlanner is constantly trying to predict and build the most accurate schedule it can for you and your team.

Events

So if you’re not available to work at some point, LiquidPlanner needs to know so that it doesn’t schedule you for work during those dates. You wouldn’t want LiquidPlanner to think you’re working on those website specs when you’re actually perfecting cannonballs while cliff diving in Fiji, right? To tell LiquidPlanner about your holiday, you’ll need to create an event. Many teams like to do this by creating a package called “Events,” and then having each team member put their own personal events in that same package. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Go to the Add button at the top of your Projects page. Click “Package.”
  2. An edit pane will pop up. Call the package “Events.”
  3. After it’s added to your project plan, the Events package may drop to the bottom of your page. For ease of reference, drag and drop that package to the top.

Now on to adding the event itself. You say you’re climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in June? Sounds a little insane, but good for you! To add this event or so called “vacation” (did I mention I think you’re nuts?) to your new Events package:

  1. Go back to the Add button and select “Add an Event.”
  2. The edit pane will pop up. Rename the event something like “Mt. Kilimanjaro” or “Someone Please Talk Me Out of This.”
  3. Double-check that the event is assigned to you.
  4. Enter the calendar dates in which you’ll be gone. This is one of the only times that LiquidPlanner will ask you for hard dates.
  5. Hit save.

LiquidPlanner will automatically recalculate your project plan, flowing work around your holiday. You’ll know instantly if your little jaunt will cause any project deadlines to become at risk, and you can go put out those fires before the big day comes.

And no matter where your travels take you: Bon voyage!

Related stories:

How to Track Time and Log Progress With LiquidPlanner
Using LiquidPlanner to Manager Marketing Projects
LiquidPlanner’s Getting Started Guide: An Easy Way to Onboard

All New LiquidPlanner Online Project Management Training Videos

Last year was a huge year for us, but I’ve got a feeling that 2012 is going to be even bigger. And what better way to kick the year off than with a full set of brand new training videos for you and your team to enjoy?

Start with Part 1 as an introduction to LiquidPlanner, and proceed through to your desired topic (we’ve got everything from “Logging Progress” to “Multi-Project Management” covered). Whatever questions you may have, our Support Manager Mary Ellen will walk you through the steps needed to get your work done in LiquidPlanner. Whether you’re a Workspace Owner, a individual contributor, a trial-er or a longtime LiquidPlanner user, we can guarantee that you’ll learn at least one new thing from these videos.

Part 1: Introduction to LiquidPlanner

Part 2: Creating Project Plans

Part 3: Date Calculations and Scheduling Tools

Part 4: Multi-Project Management

Part 5: Events

Part 6: Logging Progress

Part 7: Command Menus and View Gallery

Part 8: Filters

Part 9: Recap of Key Concepts

You can watch these videos any time on our website or on the LiquidPlanner YouTube channel (don’t forget to subscribe!). What is the next training video we should produce? Give us your thoughts in the comments.

The Project Manager Gift Guide

It’s December 1st. You know what that means: You have exactly 24 shopping days left until Christmas. That sentence alone might be enough to send you into a violent panic. But fear not! We’re here to help. Even if you don’t know someone with the official title of project manager, these gift ideas work for anyone who needs to get stuff done. Whether you need a present for this year’s office Yankee swap, or you have no idea what to get your project manager son or daughter-in-law, we have a few ideas for what to put underneath the Christmas tree.

1. Motivational Poster

Project managers work hard, and they need a pick-me-up every once in a while. But since you can’t always be there physically to cheer them on, why not get a poster that will help them focus and get their energy up? After “Everyday I’m Hustlin,” my favorite posters from this hip hop inspired line by Arianna Orland includes “Today Was A Good Day,” “Can’t Touch This,” and appropriately, “Thinkin’ of a Master Plan.”

Hustlin' Poster

2. Clocky Run Away Alarm Clock

Do you keep missing those early morning meetings or international conference calls? It’s true that when “you snooze, you lose.” Well, your project managers will never have that problem again with Clocky, the alarm clock that runs away from you while beeping loudly at the crack of dawn. Clocky won’t just get you up; you’ll burn some calories too, meaning you can skip the gym (right? Isn’t that how it works?).

Clocky Alarm

3. Software Estimation: Demystifying the Black Art, by Steve McConnell

Everyone needs something to read on the plane ride home, right? This book inspired us to build an online tool that allows for estimating in ranges. Maybe it could inspire the PM in your life as well and change the way they approach estimates all together.

Software Estimation (McConnell)

4. Mini Nerd Power Vinyl Pocket Protector/Business Card Holder

Since the project manager in your life is also probably a big ol’ nerd (I say that with love), why not go right for what they really want and get them a pocket protector? I like this one especially because it has multiple uses. When you’re flying your Geek Flag high, it’s a pocket protector. When you’re trying to look smooth at a conference or on a date, it’s a business card holder (and only really cool people have those). You can’t lose.

Pocket Protector

5. Sticky Notes

We meet a lot of recovering Sticky Note-aholics at LiquidPlanner – those project managers who write down and organize all projects and tasks…on sticky notes. (Help our fight against Sticky Note-ism at www.liquidplanner.com). Hopefully the PM in your life uses sticky notes responsibly, and since they are indeed very important individuals, they should have sticky notes that broadcast that fact to anyone who will listen. Confidence is always important.

Sticky Notes

What do you want for the holidays this year (onilne project management-related or not)?

Update: What’s Happening with the LiquidPlanner Android App?

Android WallpaperRemember choosing teams for kickball back in the day? There was always that one small fry kid from the neighborhood who was dying to play with the older, bigger high school kids. You had your doubts about his athletic abilities, but still, you picked him for your team. Both you and Small Fry really tried to make it work – you spent months helping him practice and defending him while the other players got impatient, and while he was definitely getting better, he just couldn’t hack it when it came to the first big game.

We here at LiquidPlanner just had a similar experience, except the kid’s name was the HTML5 Mobile App, and the big game was called, “Making Our Android Customers Happy.”

Whether it’s on Twitter, or on our user forums, or on the phone in the support department, one of the most common questions we get from our customers is this: “When will LiquidPlanner be available for Android?” And we hear you guys loud and clear. After spending months on building a quality HTML5 Mobile App, you can imagine how disappointed we were to find that it just did not perform to the level of our high standards. So we’ve made the decision to pull the HTML5 app from our roster.

However, there’s some good news here. We’ve learned a lot from our mistakes, and we’re leveraging that knowledge to build up our newest recruit – the native Android App. We’re already deep into the process of getting this ready for release, and we can’t wait for all of our Android customers to be able to access LiquidPlanner on the go.

We really appreciate your patience, but don’t worry: the Android Native App is on deck, and it’s almost game time.*

*We also appreciate your patience while we make as many sports comparisons as possible in this blog post.

Case Study With LiquidPlanner: How Optix Solutions Uses LP to Maximize Resources

Nick WatsonOptix Solutions, one of the UK’s leading and most innovative web design and online marketing agencies, needed an online project management tool that would help them deliver the goods –on time—to their various customers. Nick Watson, Head of Development (and one of our favorite people to follow on Twitter), answers questions about how LiquidPlanner helps them get things done and why other agencies should give it a shot:

What three challenges you were looking to solve with LiquidPlanner?

  1. Ability to schedule multiple and concurrent tasks efficiently. It was exhausting when we tried to do this ourselves.
  2. Reduce the use of paper. We had a paper-based system before that got very messy and time consuming!
  3. Maximize resources and use of time.

What other products did you look at?

Here are just some of the other tools we looked into:

  • Microsoft Project 2010
  • Basecamp
  • Producteev
  • 5 PM
  • Zoho

What three LiquidPlanner features do you like best?

  1. Resource leveling (automatic scheduling): very few online task tools do this!
  2. Time estimates (we like the whole worst case/best case estimating)
  3. Integrated timers

What other competitive advantages or ROI does LiquidPlanner provide?

LiquidPlanner gives us confidence that we are providing our customers with realistic project/task delivery dates.

How does having your project schedules and to-do lists change as priorities change optimize team performance?

When done properly, it can make your teams much more efficient, and also removes the need to constantly sit down and re-shuffle fixed dates every time.

LiquidPlanner enables team members to “drive the schedule” through task estimating, ultimately creating a realistic and updated to-do list. How important is it to get “bottom-up input” to optimize team performance?

Getting bottom-up input is something we’ve always done and I feel it is essential. It helps provide more accurate time estimates and as such, a more accurate schedule so we can be confident with our delivery dates.

LiquidPlanner allows us to react quickly if priorities change. We quite often have situations where a client has to have work done faster. We can essentially re-prioritize and immediately see the knock on effect.

Nick’s Three Keys for Success:

  1. Use a tool like LiquidPlanner to handle resource leveling and task scheduling.
  2. Implement a process alongside the tool to make sure everyone is using it the same way.
  3. Get everyone involved and take the time to explain how the system works. We found a lot of people had a hard time putting trust in a tool that does everything for them!

What Your Avatar Says About You

Picking an avatar can not only help distinguish who you are when you’re collaborating with your fellow team members, but it can say a lot about your personality as well. Read on to find out what your avatar says about you (and yes, these are all real life examples from the LiquidPlanner team!):

1. Headshot

Headshot AvatarThere you are, looking straight into the camera, in a flattering light, no red eye to be seen. Headshot avatars convey that you are professional, concise and to the point. You want people to know exactly who they’re talking to in the LiquidPlanner comment stream. Sure, these avatars might seem a little formal, but they get the job done, a project manager’s very motto.

2. Cartoon Character

Blossom AvatarYou are incredibly “animated.” People are naturally “drawn” to you. You’re really good at Name that “Toon.” (I can keep going, folks). The most popular cartoon avatars can range from South Park characters to Anime to original hand drawn creations, but they always seem to say, “I take my work seriously, but I still know when to have fun.” I picked Blossom from The Powerpuff Girls as my avatar because she’s a butt-kicking redhead. The resemblance is uncanny.

3. Animal

Animal AvatarYour LiquidPlanner avatar is the perfect way to express your affection for the animal kingdom. Because boy, do you love animals. You’ve contemplated bringing your dog to the office with you. You frequently take videos of your cats and upload them to YouTube. Your favorite place to go in the city is the zoo, and you volunteer on the weekends at a pet adoption center. You are cute, cuddly, and caring, and both people AND animals like having you around.

4. Celebrity

Celebrity AvatarLet’s face it: You probably chose to use this certain celebrity’s mug because you 1) admire them or 2) you’re trying to be ironic. I know you told the rest of the office that you picked Justin Bieber as a joke, but everyone knows the real deal. One of our developers has actually written a code that changes his avatar to a new celebrity on a daily basis. It’s kind of fun to see what gets picked next.

5. Symbol

Clover AvatarMaybe it’s your favorite sports team’s logo, or your family crest. Or maybe you just picked something random because you really don’t want to use a picture of your face, or anyone else’s face for that matter. You are a private person, but fiercely loyal, and you know what you like.

What’s your LP avatar, and why?

How to Add Multiple Tasks in LiquidPlanner

Has this ever happened to you? You’re sitting at your desk in the morning, plodding through your email, and you become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of work. You have a million and one things to document, track, and actually DO. Panic sets in, but then you remember that once you add these new tasks to LiquidPlanner, you can get them organized and prioritized in seconds flat. However, adding each task one at a time isn’t going to cut it. What to do?

Don’t fear! There are three ways to add multiple tasks at a time in LiquidPlanner. Now you just have to decide which one is right for you.

1. Multi-Add

Multi Add Newest Update

This option is right for you if: You like simple lists or dumping all of your thoughts in one place at one time.

Say you need to add several tasks to one of your existing projects or packages. Simply right click the project or package and select Add Item –> Multiple Items.

From there, just jot down the tasks (one per line) following this format:

Task Name, Owner, Best Case – Worst Case Estimate

Click Add and voila! Your to-do list has now been transferred from your brain to your workspace, freeing up valuable mind space to do some actual work.  Who knew adding multiple tasks could be so easy?

2. Import

Import New Step 1 XML

This option is right for you if: You need to attach a bunch of additional information to your tasks, like descriptions, reference information, or promise dates

Did you know you can import tasks from a spreadsheet (in CSV format) or from MS Project (as XML) into LiquidPlanner? Up to 500 of them at a time! To make this process as smooth as possible, read our Help Guide articles on importing data here and here. 

3. Duplicate

Duplicate

This option is right for you if: You already have a project or a set of tasks in LiquidPlanner that are similar to the new ones you need to add.

We’re all about making online project management radically simple here at LiquidPlanner, which is why we created the Duplicate feature. You can duplicate plan items instead of creating new ones, saving you a lot of time and effort. Select the desired items, then right-click > duplicate, or edit > duplicate.

When you duplicate an item, a minimum set of information is automatically transferred to the new copy. This might include: name, owner, description, estimates, delays, dependencies, etc. By checking the appropriate boxes, you can also choose to duplicate notes, documents, links, comments and restricted member access.

What’s your favorite way to add multiple tasks?

Top Seattle Interactive Conference Influencers: Day One

SIC LogoHave you ever seen a cooler (or cuter) conference mascot before? Meet Timmy, the owl. No one knows why his name is Timmy; that’s just how it is.

Yesterday, Liz and I got to attend the Seattle Interactive Conference, the first ever two-day event celebrating the coming together of online technology, creativity and emerging trends. As LiquidPlanner employees, we’re always looking to learn and be inspired by leaders in technology, especially when they’re giving out advice in our fair city of Seattle.

With this crowd of speakers and attendees, it’s hard to single out the few who really made an impact yesterday, but shoot, we’re going to try! Here are the top influencers (according to us) who really rocked the conference stage yesterday and created a ripple effect on the World Wide Web:

SIC Talk1. Shauna Causey (@shaunacausey) – If there’s a social media/online-related event happening in the Seattle area, then you can bet that Ms. Causey will be there. After working for Comcast for eight years and watching their understanding and use of social media explode into an effective vehicle for customer service, Shauna has taken her talents to Nordstroms, and now plays an integral part in their online presence. She is also the Vice President of the Social Media Club (Seattle Chapter). My personal favorite part of her talk, “When Conversation Sparks Innovation,” was when she brought up certain companies (*cough*CHAPSTIX*cough*) and their bad habit of deleting negative comments on their social media channels (a BIG no-no). She also remained totally poised when the lights went out in the middle of her presentation. Twice. So kudos to you, Shauna.

2. Scott Macklin (@scottmacklin) – A favorite of Liz’s, Scott spoke about community centric storytelling through digital means. His presentation, which you can see in full here, really emphasized that a good story isn’t good just because it starts out with “once upon a time…,” but because it builds trust and makes the audience feel comfortable engaging and interacting with the creators of the story. Scott currently serves as the Associate Director of the Masters of Communication in Digital Media program at the University of Washington, and uses social media as a tool for learning and building meaningful relationships.

3. Josh Fruhlinger (@fruhlinger) – An all-around crowd pleaser, Josh Fruhlinger, the Editorial Director for Engadget, spoke about how Engadget went from a technology blog to a media powerhouse. With 20 million readers, Josh discussed how ethics, journalism, and monetization have all affected the once tiny operation. He also wasn’t shy in pointing the spotlight on the growing pains that the company has had to go through to get to where they are today.

Engadget Tweet

So there’s our Day One Seattle Interactive Conference wrap up. Have there been any knockout presentations on Day Two so far? What’s been your favorite presentation overall?

LiquidPlanner Case Study: How Impact Analysis Helps Schawk Get It Done

Schawk Logo BWSchawk Digital Solutions is a premier provider of brand management technology, including workflow and collaboration software, digital asset management technology, and graphics lifecycle management software.

Michael Burnham is in charge of managing the development and product lifestyle for Schawk’s flagship BLUE™ product, a fully integrated suite of web-based enterprise software solutions.

Michael’s team had been using Microsoft Project but found it to be awkward and difficult to extract data from, especially real-time impact analysis. It also offered no real pathway to align resources with priorities and optimize team performance.

Realistic Schedules and Simple Prioritized To-Do Lists

Real time scheduling and the ability to reforecast when emergencies, contingencies and daily snafus happen can really impact priorities across multiple projects. For managers like Michael, having quick access to true impact analysis is invaluable.

“We needed to find a replacement for Microsoft Project, which had proven to be not only very expensive, but unable to provide us with the proper data that would allow us to better track where are our developers spend their time. We needed a platform that would give us a more efficient way to do real impact analysis, versus the ad-hoc analysis we had been forced to rely on.”

For Burnham, simple but accurate schedules and prioritized To-Do lists are where LiquidPlanner really shines. “We evaluated products like AtTask, Basecamp and Jira, and we failed to find another product that would enable real-time scheduling and re-forecasting like LiquidPlanner does at its price point. For example, let’s say we got our developers working on our new product upgrade but somewhere along the line we need to fill a patch. If we pull a developer off for 48 hours to fill that request, LiquidPlanner will auto-balance the schedule.”

Burnham loves the fact that, “if you take a task off a list, the things that are due next automatically move up to the top of the list. Just like in real life, you can organize all your priorities into one big list, and clearly see what, where and when the vesting tasks are. This seems so basic: it’s all about impact, but other products don’t let you visualize that impact.”

Optimizing team performance also means better communication and clarity between Michael and team members: “LiquidPlanner really narrows the gap between ‘what I think you’re working on’ to ‘what you should be working on.”

Growing with LiquidPlanner

Since deploying LiquidPlanner in 2010, Michael’s team has had zero date slippage, and to that end he’s expanded LiquidPlanner from an initial deployment of 8 seats to approximately 30 today.

“In the past, we may have had slippage because we couldn’t properly gauge the impact of other projects on one another, such as when our testing team gets pulled off onto another project. Now we plug that data in and get instant impact analysis,” says Burnham.

Impact Analysis

Instant impact analysis is especially important in today’s world of distributed teams and outsourced third-party vendors. “With LiquidPlanner, we keep our User Acceptance up-to-date, and they are integrated into the schedule and everything is communicated in real time. The bottom line is you end up working with real dates and real updates versus theoretical plans, and that means you can better manage expectations and deliverables.”

Using LiquidPlanner, re-estimation becomes the workflow driver, as developers communicate up to management on-the-fly about the remaining workload.

This can become extremely critical. For example, when new concept features are added to a project, each developer can go into the system and put in their re-estimates.

Continues Burnham, “If you suddenly have five or six new features to add, I can still look at the ‘Big Picture,’ but independently this empowers the developers to make their estimates and move forward on the work. Contrast this to what we did previously with Microsoft Project, which was more guesswork coupled with the inevitable lost data stuck in your email box.”

Proper impact analysis also enables Burnham to optimize peak performance for his team by better evaluating who is busy and when, then “shuffle them around the board’ to match “peak and priority zones.”

Ultimately, the goal for Burnham is to make sure his team is focused on meeting goals for that year/project.

“You must have up-to-date estimates. LiquidPlanner enables us to narrow that cone of uncertainty. As projects progress, as you get more details into LiquidPlanner, you can get even more accurate.  Really as infinitely accurate as you want to.”

{Pop Quiz} How Well Do You Know LiquidPlanner?

Game Show HostRemember those 70’s game shows where they would test a married couple on how well they knew each other? Well, this is kind of like that. Whether you’re a LiquidPlanner guru or you’re doing your free trial with us, we want to see just how far along we are in our relationship.  Make sure to let us know how you did in the comments –you could win a free LiquidPlanner goodie bag! (Say that in Bob Barker’s voice, and you won’t regret it).

1. True or false: LiquidPlanner’s “Parcels” feature helps you schedule multiple concurrent projects.

2. True or false: You can create new tasks via email.

3. True or false: LiquidPlanner will warn you in advance if you are going to miss a deadline.

4. True or false: You can’t hide or expose columns in your project plans.

 

Scroll down for the answers! (Sorry, no car included with this quiz.)

 

Game Show Car

 

1. False. It’s “Packages” that can be used to create priority overrides for individual tasks to facilitate cross-project prioritization. SO much easier than picking start/end dates for each task in each project, no?

2. True! Send tasks into LiquidPlanner without ever leaving your email! (Insert the crowd “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing.”) 

3. True! By setting up deadline dates, LiquidPlanner will let you know when your work is starting to slip past your deadline.

4. False. You can customize columns by clicking View > Customize Columns.

Thanks for playing! How did you do? Don’t forget to let us know in the comments so you have a chance to win one of our famously humongous LiquidPlanner pens!