Author: Alison Clancy

Enterprise 2.0: We’re Shipping Up To Boston

LiquidPlanner will be exhibiting at Enterprise 2.0 in less than a month, and we couldn’t be more excited for our big trip to the east coast. Enterprise 2.0 is THE conference to see the latest collaboration tools and technologies. We can’t wait to show off LiquidPlanner 3.0: our upcoming newly redesigned and updated version of LiquidPlanner, making online project management radically simple. We’ve also got some more announcements up our sleeves, plus tons of schwag (yep, the larger-than-life LiquidPlanner pens are back in action).

Having just moved from Boston to Seattle a few months ago, I have to admit: I’ve been feeling a bit homesick for that dirty water (that sounds a lot weirder on paper than it did in my head).  Although I may be biased, I think Boston is pretty great town. And in the summer? There’s no other place like it. Here are just some of the places that LiquidPlanner will be checking out while we’re stomping around Beantown:

Sheraton Boston Hotel

Sheraton Boston LiquidPlannerThis will be our home away from home for a few days. Not too shabby, right? You’ve got all of downtown Boston just outside your door. I remember walking by the Sheraton on a daily basis when I used to work not too far from there, and I always wanted to see the view from one of the top floors. Oh, and also: I know our LiquidPlanner customers love us, but don’t try to get our attention by holding up a boombox outside of our hotel and playing Peter Gabriel songs. It would be easier just to show up to our customer meetup…

(image via The Improper Bostonian)

Back Bay Social Club

…which will be held at Back Bay Social Club. I’ve heard rave reviews of BBSC, mainly about their cocktail menu, which I’m more than happy to research. By the time the LiquidPlanner team gets there, the patio will be open, and their infamous Social Burgers will be on the grill.

(image via Giant Bomb)

Hynes Convention Center

Hynes Convention CenterEnterprise 2.0 will be happening at Hynes Convention Center, and we hope that everyone in attendance will make time to come visit us at our booth (#218). For me, the word “Hynes” use to only symbolize a stop on the Green Line, but I’m excited to actually check out this 4,000 person stadium.

(image via Guest of a Guest)

Newbury Street

Newbury StreetNew York City has Madison Avenue. LA has Rodeo Drive. Boston has Newbury Street. Filled with boutique and designer stores and beautiful people dining al fresco, Newbury Street is one of the most vibrant streets in the city and only a few blocks away from Enterprise 2.0. One of the things I love about Newbury is that you can window shop in Versace and then get a $10 manicure next door. Newbury is also famous for its amazing restaurants (check out Piattini and Sonsie if you get hungry while you’re exploring). But don’t stroll – this is Boston. Walking slow is considered a federal offense.

Will we be seeing you Enterprise 2.0? Leave a comment or tweet us to let us know!

LiquidPlanner Case Study: Tangent Engineering Increases Productivity by 30-40% Using LP

John PersonFor Tangent Engineering, ensuring transparency and information exchange amongst its project teams (8 core engineers split into virtual teams of two to four depending on need) is critical, and can be particularly challenging when trying to balance a number of complex projects simultaneously against the changing needs of different clients.

“The nature of product design is you’re constantly waiting for input from clients and fabricators. Obviously knowing what stage you’re at is important, but if the project schedules are not dynamic or fluid, you can’t really track projects properly,” says John Person, Vice President of Engineering for Tangent Engineering. “When you’re working on product development there is a lot of interaction upfront, which then moves to design and analysis work, followed by points of milestones and decisions. One product might be held up waiting for client feedback, so how do you know what to work on next?”

Tangent had been using a job spreadsheet for tracking, but “there was no feedback or metrics for how close we were to the end of the project, or if it ran under or over budget. Obviously this can easily get out of hand with multiple projects and people.”

Now, bottom-up participation is the mantra of the day for Tangent. “LiquidPlanner’s realistic scheduling engine is the opposite of a Gantt chart, which requires users to set up a static plan in the beginning, with all direction and input from above. Our engineers know best how long a project will take, so all hours and estimates are driven by the active participants in the project. Instead of having ‘project robots,’ we put the onus of ownership on them (and the results are better follow-through).”

Thus John’s role as manager has now changed, too. Instead of having to “whip” projects into shape, “my job is to confirm their estimates are reasonable and nudge them to stay on track.”

Moving from Gantt charts to LiquidPlanner also engendered a “whole different mindset” for Tangent when it comes to balancing workloads. “When you have to build something, there is always lag time. The ability to balance out holes in the schedule by mixing and matching engineers for specific tasks and projects is a huge boon for us.”

Now Tangent can keep its engineers moving forward on multiple projects much more efficiently, because as individuals they know what their next tasks are regardless of project.  “We needed a tool that would put everything in one centralized place so we can literally drag and drop resources to fit changing priorities and needs. Tasks, assignments, priorities — it all becomes intuitive. If it’s on the top of my task list than I should do it first!”

For Person, it’s all about eliminating waste in the system – the company has been using LiquidPlanner for two years and, “We’ve never had anybody say, ‘I don’t want to use this!’ They like knowing what’s on their plate, and what they are responsible for completing.”

Since using LiquidPlanner, Person estimates that Tangent has seen a 30-40% increase in the amount of projects it can handle. “We had a project recently that normally would take three to six months to complete, but with LiquidPlanner we laid out the plan and executed and delivered in six weeks. Best of all this was for a ‘prototype design,’ where the client gave us a napkin sketch and we had to deliver a functional prototype. These type of projects can be difficult, and there is no way would we have committed to a six week delivery prior to LiquidPlanner!”

John Person’s three keys to a successful project management initiative:

  1. Project transparency
  2. Ownership in tasks and schedules
  3. Ability to collaborate instead of dictate

Project Management Acronyms Debunked

PM Acronyms TermsUsing acronyms in every day conversation has become par for the course. Just a few weeks ago, LOL and OMG were added to the Oxford English Dictionary, officially inducting these terms into the English language (which is either interesting or terrifying, depending on your perspective). Project managers have been using acronyms for years, but it can get a little confusing for those of us who haven’t gotten our PMP Certification yet. Don’t have a dictionary handy? LP (that’s LiquidPlanner if you didn’t catch it) is here to help.

AF (Actual Finish Date)

We’ll start off simple: The Actual Finish Date is the exact point in time when work ended on a scheduled activity. Sometimes, “substantially complete” can also count for saying a project is “finished.” In LiquidPlanner, you just check off the “Done” button on any individual task and your AF is logged and your supervisors are notified. You can also go back and change the “done date” to keep your records accurate. Easy!

WBS (Work Breakdown Structure)

As any project manager knows, a project can be made up of various levels, tasks and subtasks, which is where a Work Breakdown Structure comes in. Tasks are commonly organized by using a hierarchical tree structure and broken down into smaller tasks, like you can do in LiquidPlanner. Some teams like to have a sub-folder for each phase of a project, while others prefer to have a flat list. Either way, it’s important to document all the work that needs to be done so you can create an accurate schedule.

PERT (Program or Project Evaluation and Review Technique)

This is a project management technique designed to analyze and represent the tasks involved in a project. This can be especially helpful in identifying how much time will be needed to complete each task and also to determine the overall amount of time needed to complete the project in its entirety. PERT time estimates are broken down into three levels:

  • Low (seen as “optimistic”)
  • Medium (“most likely”)
  • High (“pessimistic”)

I like the idea of having a visual representation of a project, but I think this technique can only provide a false sense of comfort. PERT tries to capture uncertainty but overall, it won’t really help you manage your project. There are better ways to visualize critical path, especially with LiquidPlanner where you have access to schedule bars that show uncertainty and critical path highlighting in the same view.

CCPM (Critical Chain Project Management)

This is basically the anti-PERT method. This approach to project management puts a major focus on theresources required to finish a task in a project. Introduced in 1997 by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, CCPM includes three stages: Planning, Executing, and Monitoring, the last stage being what some consider as the greatest advantage to the CCPM method.

We love the fact that this method accepts that people can’t be overloaded at 300%, which is what a lot of tools will let you do. In LiquidPlanner, you can’t overload somebody. If an employee has some free time, we try to give them lower priority work, which is a more realistic approach to planning. One of the things we like in CCPM is the idea of tracking buffers. LiquidPlanner doesn’t have a built-in feature for this, but it’s easy to work around by dedicating a task as a tracking buffer and managing it that way.

EVM (Earned Value Management)

This project management technique tracks project performance and progress by combining measurements of range, schedule and cost in a single incorporated system. Interest and use of EVM has increased in the last few years because when done right, it can accurately predict project performance problems. And who doesn’t need that?

This technique is interesting to me, but I feel it’s a lot like PERT where it will be essential on big projects but overkill on everyday projects. From a LiquidPlanner perspective, we want to take these ideas and make them appropriate for everyday projects, not just projects that are large-scale. You shouldn’t have to have an advanced degree to figure out how to manage a project portfolio.

Did I miss any especially confusing project management acronyms? Feel free to add your favorites (and not-so-favorites) in the comments!

Employee Q&A: Jennifer Ash, Sales Manager at LiquidPlanner

Jen AshToday, we’re turning the Q&A tables on one of our own: the lovely Jennifer Ash. If you’re a customer of ours, there’s a good chance you spoke with Jen during your free trial period. She spends most of her time answering all kinds of questions about online project management. Now we’re asking her questions of a different sort: what’s it like behind the scenes of the LiquidPlanner Sales Department?

Q) Let’s start things off right: who are you and what do you do at LiquidPlanner?

A) My name is Jennifer Ash and I’m the Sales Manager on the LiquidPlanner team. I provide pre-sales customer support and help teams determine if LiquidPlanner is the right fit for them. In a nutshell, my weeks are filled with demos, informational calls, support emails and the occasional training.

Q) How do people like to be trained? Over the phone? In person?

A) Webinar trainings are by far the most popular. Since LiquidPlanner is a web-based tool, the majority of our customers feel comfortable with our online sessions. Personally, even though 99% of the training is virtual, I love it when I get the chance to do face-to-face training.

Q) What are the most popular questions you get from customers?

A) The kinds of questions I get from customers seem to ebb and flow. Some weeks, I have tons of people asking me when the Android app will come out, and the next week everyone seems to be focused on bug tracking. Do all Project Managers talk to each other and come up with the “Question of the Week”?

Q) What’s the craziest question you’ve ever gotten?

A) I don’t know about crazy, but I do get calls from people looking to order plumbing supplies. Apparently LiquidPlanner is a little too close To “LiquidPlumber.”

Q) The most frequent question?

A) “Will you extend my trial?” These are the kind of people who really need LiquidPlanner.

Q) I know LiquidPlanner customers are located all over the world. What’s the most exotic country you’ve connected with?

A) We have users in 37 countries across 6 of the 7 continents, so I’m constantly talking to people across the globe. We have some great LiquidPlanner “gurus” based in Greenland. Considering they have freezing arctic temperatures the majority of the year, I consider that pretty exotic.

Q) What makes you passionate about sales?

A) Before I joined the LiquidPlanner team, I did project management consulting for a traditional project management solution that was clunky and highly complex. In my sales role at LiquidPlanner, I’m still problem solving with customers and teaching them every day (which I love!), but the best part is that I’m now advocating for a solution that I truly believe in.

Q) What’s your favorite feature in LiquidPlanner?

A) I am a big fan of details, so our collaboration page definitely strikes my fancy. It lets you add every bit of information possible at any level in your project plan!

Q) You know I had to ask this question – what’s the best thing about working at LiquidPlanner?

A) Well, besides the fact that I have a great team, I really love that our kitchen is stocked with an endless supply of coffee. It makes our rainy Seattle mornings much livelier!

The Social Network (For Project Managers)

Twitter Search
A wise person once said, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” In any profession, it’s important to get out there and join the conversation, most of which is happening online at an ever-increasing rate. However, with an entire World Wide Web at your fingertips, figuring out where to start can be daunting. If you’re a project manager looking to meet other technology-savvy, forward thinking experts in your field, here’s a starter guide to the best sites around.

1. The Project Manager Network on LinkedIn

Touted as the “#1 Group for Project Managers,” this LinkedIn group is the mother lode for all things project management. As of Friday afternoon, the group had a whopping 157,731 members participating in online discussions (“What Three Words Describe Your PM Style?” being among the most popular with 302 responses), posting job ads, and connecting with each other from every corner of the earth. Also as of December 2010, the group became public, meaning non-LinkedIn members can now view and share any content presented on the site. Whether you’re looking for advice on getting your PMP certification or if you just want to see what other PM’s are talking about, this is the place to be.

2. Twitter Hashtags

Love it or hate it, Twitter hashtags are a great way to monitor and track conversations of interest. Missing out on the hot tradeshow of the month? Follow the event’s hashtag and you can keep up with the key takeaways virtually. For project management, you’ll want to keep track of the following:

Third party Twitter apps like HootsuiteTweetdeck, or even Twitter Search can make tracking these tags easy, so why not give it a try? You never know who you’ll meet today.

3. Question and Answer Sites

Sounds like a simple idea, but question and answer sites are all the rage lately. Sites like Quora are reveling in the spotlight, mainly because you might ask a question about the company Kayak and immediately have the CEO’s response within a day. You can also “follow” topics and set it up so that new questions related to that topic are sent to your email. Another site to keep your eye on: Focus.com.

4. Project Management Institute Facebook Page

You can’t talk about social networking without mentioning Facebook. The Project Management Institute has an incredibly active page, with over 47,000 likes and a very vocal community.

5. Suggestions for Your Google Reader

I’m not ashamed to admit that I would be lost and helpless without my Google Reader. Using Google Reader to organize all of your favorite blogs by category will help you get your information fix fast without making your head spin. Need some suggestions for who to follow once you sign up for your account? Here are some project management blogs that you should start reading ASAP:

Once you’ve subscribed to these all-star blogs, leave some comments! Social networking is just that – in order for it to work, you need to be social. So don’t be shy: join the conversation and start making those connections. Speaking of connecting, go ahead and leave your favorite online resources for project managers in the comments. As always, we love hearing what you have to say.

DEMO Class of 2008: Where Are They Now?

Last week, the team at LiquidPlanner closely followed the events taking place at DEMO Spring 2011.  We have a special place in our hearts for DEMO, since that’s where we debuted in 2008. And as you know, the rest is history. But LiquidPlanner wasn’t the only product unveiled under the DEMO spotlight that year (there were 77!). In fact, our fellow DEMO-ers were a pretty innovative bunch, and in the spirit of the big event last week, I thought it would be fun to check in with some of them to see what they’re up to.

YouChoose, LLC

You Choose LogoAs someone who works in online marketing, I can tell you firsthand that creating an online community is no easy task. YouChoose, LLC claimed it could help by replacing the comment section on a customer’s blog with a widget that would appear on all other websites that hosted that same widget. As stated on the DEMO website, this “creates a shared global conversion across a distributed social network, enhancing community and activity on each host site.” Sounds cool, right?

Fast forward to 2011. When you visit www.youchoose.net, the company summary seems to have more of a humanitarian ring to it. “YouChoose.net is a community of passionate individuals who create and participate in Campaigns that empower them to accomplish common goals.” So it seems that YouChoose still rallies around the idea of community, though it has evolved into a site about social change and not just social networking.

Toktumi, Inc (@toktumi)

Toktumi LogoToktumi is a great name to know for those of us who work from home or from the Starbucks down the street. By using a PBX phone service, Toktumi connects an employee’s computer to their laptop to their cell phone and so on. This creates a unified communication system that helps professionals connect with their coworkers and clients. The company also just released a feature called Line2, which adds a second phone line to your Apple or Android phone. Judging by the praise they’ve received on Twitter so far (“RT @toddlucier Using #line2 by @toktumi – friggin’ amazing”) it seems that Toktumi is doing just fine.

Blist (@socrata)

Socrata LogoWe spent lots of time at DEMO with our fellow Seattelites, Kevin Merritt and the team at Blist. When Blist took the stage at DEMO 2008, they had one goal in mind: become the “world’s easiest database.” And it seemed like they were pretty on track. With a drag-and-drop user interface, the use of visuals within the database, and the ability to insert anything from icons and large selections of text, Blist appeared to be a force to be reckoned with. Now, three years later, if you Google Blist you will be redirected to Socrata, the new name of the company and the result of a complete product overhaul. Instead of calling itself the “world’s easiest database,” Socrata is now dubbing itself “the world leader in social data discovery.” Cheers to reinvention!

Education.com (@Education_com)

Education Dot Com LogoOtherwise known as the “WebMD of education,” Education.com is chock full of resources for parents who want to learn how to support their children’s educational and developmental needs. In 2008, Education.com introduced SchoolFinder, a ground-breaking tool created to help parents find the perfect public or private school for their children. SchoolFinder reports on community demographics, parent feedback, and after-school programs, among many other things. You can still use SchoolFinder today on Education.com, and I was able to research my hometown elementary school, middle school and high school both quickly and thoroughly. This tool looks like a great resource for anyone who is concerned about providing the best education possible for their future valedictorian. Keep your eye out for their recently launched virtual science fair.

Iterasi (@Iterasi)

Iterasi LogoIn basic terms, you can use Iterasi to save any Web Page exactly how you see it. At first I thought, “Ok, but couldn’t I just take a screenshot?” The answer is no, because that won’t give me as much information as Iterasi does. Iterasi saves an HTML file of the site, meaning the capture of the webpage is interactive and packed with more information than any screenshot could provide. These HTML files will be saved to your Iterasi account for however long you want. This is great for receipts, transactions, or hilariously embarrassing Facebook pictures of your friends. Iterasi is still going strong in 2011 and has become a useful tool for government agencies and legal agencies.

And what about LiquidPlanner? Well, we’ve come a long way since John Cook followed our path to DEMO. We’re now on version 2.6 of our product, have gained hundreds of customers, and have added some great folks to the LP team. We’ve got some very exciting things up our sleeve for this year, too. Stay tuned for details!

So with that, we wish the best of luck to the graduating DEMO class of 2011. We’re excited to see what you do next!

For more information on DEMO and the products and companies that have debuted there, click here.

Using LiquidPlanner: A New Employee’s Favorite Things

Hi there! I’m Alison, the new Online Marketing Manager at LiquidPlanner. Project management is all about timelines and deadlines, right? Well, here’s my personal timeline as of late: Flew from my hometown of Boston and landed in Seattle on a Thursday, got a car and a place to live on Sunday, then sat down in my new office at LiquidPlanner headquarters on Monday. Efficiency and productivity are two things I know plenty about after moving across the country in just a few days!

So how do I manage my professional projects? I’ll be the first to admit that my “process” usually involves haphazardly writing down a To-Do list in crazy Roger Rabbit handwriting and then using a large (preferably pink) marker to cross off things as I go. Oh, and I like Post-It Notes. A lot.

I think it was during the first half hour of my inaugural day at LiquidPlanner last week when I realized that I was about to get a crash course in the art of project management. I soon found myself signed up for the LiquidPlanner software, and after quite a few chats with the incredibly helpful sales and support department here in the office, I was left to my own devices. It’s been exactly one week since that fateful day, and though I’m not quite ready to retire my girly writing utensils, using LiquidPlanner for my day-to-day tasks has helped me get things done faster and in a much easier way. Here are some of my favorite LP features:

1. Project Timer

TimerWe’ve all been there: You start a task, thinking “Oh, this will only take me an hour or so,” and then all of a sudden, three hours have gone by? Did you fall asleep with your eyes open? Did we just Do the Time Warp again? In most cases, you may have gotten distracted by other things going on in the office or on your Farmville account. It’s good to have a timer front and center so that you can keep right on task and get your projects accomplished in the most efficient way.

2. Chatter

ChatterI’ve heard from a number of people that they wish their teams would stop relying so heavily on email and start using a central portal for all projects. LiquidPlanner takes the idea of email and other chat services and has replaced them with a feature called “Chatter” where you can start conversations with your coworkers under project headers. These exchanges can be devoted solely to the task at hand, which is nice especially when your inbox is suffering from a deluge of emails coming at you from your mother, your spouse, your favorite store (that’s having a sale, TODAY ONLY!) and Facebook. I love the quick communication aspect and having all the notes about a project collected in one place.

3. Best Case/Worst Case Time Estimation

Remaining TimeI love this feature the most, because sometimes, life happens, and LiquidPlanner realistically accounts for that. Like the first task says, I might work for five hours on a project, or maybe ten! No matter what, I’ll still be on schedule, which is good for me and everyone on staff.

What are YOUR favorite LiquidPlanner features?  Now that I’ve finished this blog post, I think I can cross it off my To-Do List (by clicking the “Done” button on LiquidPlanner, of course).

– Alison