Author: Team Liquidplanner

Five Steps to Getting a Project Done

You’re eager to start a new project and jump right in without trying to make order out of and find meaning in everything that needs to get done. How much time do you spend scratching your head, wondering what to do next or even how or where to start?

Having a good plan is the most important strategy for getting a project done.

Here are five steps to help you organize your work so you can sail through the project cycle while spinning your wheels as little as possible.

1. Collect all related work items.

Identify all the work items that are part of your project, including emails, open tasks in your project management tool, and scribbled notes. Next, organize all these pieces and prioritize them as tasks that are part of your project. If you’re stuck on the prioritizing part, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which one has the most immediate hard deadline?
  • Which task will make the most positive effect if it is finished ASAP?
  • Are any of these tasks dependent on another one being completed first?
  • Are you dependent on another person completing something else before you can start?
  • Is there a task that you must get off your plate to clear your mind and move forward?

2. Develop a process.

Outline or list the necessary steps to complete each task. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are all the tasks and microtasks that must be done to complete this?
  • Who needs to weigh in on, contribute to, perform a quality assurance check on, or sign off on the work?
  • Is this the most efficient way to get from A to Z on this particular project?

3. Get organized.

Commit to being as organized as possible and to finding a structure that fits you, your team, and the project. This could take some trial and error, but being organized is a process. A good place to start is by using a collaborative project management tool where collected work can live, stay organized, and be accessible to other team members. You need a place where you and your team members can reference a project and all the work involved while knowing what’s going on at any time.

4. Set a time to review.

Our memories need a good refreshing to stay organized. Plus, a review might give us fresh insight into what needs to get done, reprioritized, or reorganized. Set a time each week, such as every Friday afternoon or Monday morning, to review work items. This not only keeps your mind fresh but also helps you see all the things that are part of a bigger project and vision. Change happens, so you’re probably updating a lot of tasks in the course of a week. This review process will help you stay on top of your moving work.

5. Just do it!

Now that you’ve completed the first four steps, it’s time to take action. Pull the trigger; press publish; deliver the final product. What do you do right now?

Based on David Allen’s GTD methodology, consider these four things:

  1. Context. What can you do right now?
  2. Time available. What do you have time to do right now?
  3. Energy available. What are you able to accomplish right now?
  4. Priority. After answering the first three questions, start working on the highest priority item.

You can organize yourself and your team in endless ways. What is your favorite organizational hack?

From Onboarding to Expert: Adopting LiquidPlanner Practices

In our last article, we quickly discussed the four key phases LiquidPlanner customers experience when they first begin using the product: onboarding, adoption, refining, and optimization. Then, we detailed the onboarding phase.

Today, we’ll focus on adoption and how to gain insights into your team’s usage of LiquidPlanner.

Adoption

After onboarding, we move into adoption. By the time you’re in the adoption phase, your team should be consistently tracking time, and it has become more of a habit. Hopefully, other habits have formed, such as updating task estimates when scope changes and marking tasks as complete. In the adoption phase, you start to see those early wins from using LiquidPlanner.

The adoption phase covers these three topics:

  • Team reports to see how your team is using LiquidPlanner and tracking time.
  • Activities reports to gain insight into how much time is spent on various activities.
  • Dashboards to align your team on priorities and updates.

Analytics: Person Roll-Up Report

In the adoption phase, it’s important to make sure team members feel comfortable using LiquidPlanner. Anytime you transition to a new tool, change is hard. One of the most important things that help keep the entire portfolio up to date is making sure everyone tracks time, and if some people aren’t getting it, forget to sometimes, or just don’t want to, it’s important to check in on those folks and help them out.

Under the Analytics tab, you’ll find the Person Roll-Up Report, which shows who has been logging their time over the last 90 days of onboarding in the Hrs Logged column.

On the flip side, you can double-check to see what’s happening in the Hrs Unlogged column. These are hours that people have available for projects but didn’t end up logging time to. This column can be an indicator of two things:

  1. They aren’t tracking time or forgot to track time, but they did work on projects.
  2. They didn’t have enough project work assigned to them, and the time was underutilized.

The Person Roll-Up Report is recommended when you want to see how things are going with your team and if they are keeping up with tracking time to their tasks.

Analytics: Activities Roll-Up Report

Taking a look at our next report, you’ll see why it’s helpful when your team members keep their time updated in LiquidPlanner.

Also under the Analytics tab, the Activities Roll-Up Report breaks down the types of activities you’re tracking time against. You can filter the report to your team and see how much time they’ve tracked against different activity types over the last 90 days or whatever date range you want to drill into.

Many of our customers must be attuned to how much time they spend on billable work versus nonbillable work; for some companies, it helps to distinguish work that is capitalized versus noncapitalized. During the adoption phase, we’ve had customers who just started using LiquidPlanner, and they expected their distributed teams were spending about 60 percent of their time on new product or new development initiatives. After having their team members track time for three months, the data showed that it was more like 40 percent of their time, while the remaining 60 percent was spent on support work and ongoing activities. This reality check allowed the customer to reset expectations, change team member availability in LiquidPlanner, and also look at what was needed to raise the bar so the team members could spend 60 percent of their time on high-value work.

Team Dashboard

It’s always a good thing when managers and team members are aligned on priorities. Because those priorities can change quickly, it’s important to update LiquidPlanner when those priorities shift.

As the last tool of the adoption phase, Dashboards offer an efficient way to share these updates and can be used in weekly staff meetings or stand-up meetings.

In this example, each team member’s top five or top ten priorities are visible. You can use this type of dashboard in meetings, taking ten seconds with each team member to make sure everyone agrees with the priorities they have set in LiquidPlanner. If something isn’t prioritized correctly, you can quickly update it during the meeting.

You can also add other widgets to your dashboards.

The donut chart is a visual display of the same activity information shown in the Activities Roll-Up Report; it might be interesting for your team members to see where they’re spending their time and, if that fluctuates, having discussions around what drove those fluctuations. An analytics table can keep everyone accountable for logging their time each week. Sometimes an open notes widget is useful to keep track of interesting notes, issues, or follow-up items in your team meetings. An out-of-office widget can be used in case anyone needs to back up team members when they’re on vacation.

In the next part of this series, we’ll look at the final two phases of the LiquidPlanner experience: refining and optimization.

From Onboarding to Expert: Optimizing Projects and Processes with LiquidPlanner

Here at LiquidPlanner we’ve identified four main stages our customers go through to optimize their projects and processes. Our most successful customers don’t try to “eat the elephant,” so to speak, as soon as they buy LiquidPlanner. They know that change and progress occur in steps.

Throughout this series of blog posts, we’ll discuss each of the four stages to LiquidPlanner success.

The Four Stages

Onboarding is the first stage in optimizing your usage of LiquidPlanner. This stage occurs when teams are just getting started with setting up the LiquidPlanner workspace. Once the team is invited to the workspace, they’re getting accustomed to the primary aspects of the tool, such as logging time and posting updates to tasks.

The second stage is adoption. In this stage, teams have really gotten used to the basic aspects of LiquidPlanner, and we’re starting to get insights into how the team actually gets work done; for example, what they spend most of their time on.

The third stage is refining, where the project managers are getting ahead of issues and risks by using many of LiquidPlanner’s reports and alert features to keep their projects in line.

The last stage is optimizing. Teams at this stage have gotten a handle on how to use LiquidPlanner to proactively manage risks and make the most of team member availability. With a lot of project data in LiquidPlanner by now, this is a good time to use baselines to look back and see if actuals met initial projections.

Onboarding

The onboarding phase is all about setting up your workspace, establishing your workflow, and kicking off LiquidPlanner to your team. Typically, this phase is the responsibility of just those people who make decisions about plan structure and workflow.

During your onboarding stage, remember this well-known bit of wisdom: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

You don’t have to have your workspace populated to perfection before launching LiquidPlanner to your team. Remember that LiquidPlanner is a collaborative tool, and it’s actually designed to adapt to the very imperfect realities of work management. Once you get your key data loaded and get your team in there, you’ll soon discover together the best ways to optimize LiquidPlanner for your team.

Three Key Inputs for LiquidPlanner

You need to focus on three key data points when setting up your workspace in LiquidPlanner: resource availability, remaining effort estimates, and priority order.

Resource availability is set in each person’s profile. Be sure this accurately represents only the time available for your assigned work in LiquidPlanner. Daily availability should be scaled down to account for the average amount of time you spend each day on activities not represented as assigned tasks in LiquidPlanner.

The second key input is the task’s remaining effort estimate. This should represent the best case/worst case number of hours you still need to put in on that task to complete it.

The third key input is the priority order. You want to list the projects themselves in general priority order and, likewise, the tasks within each project.

With these basic inputs, LiquidPlanner will schedule each person’s tasks in the order in which they are listed on the Projects tab.

Scheduling Constraints

When setting up your workspace initially, you can account for any scheduling constraints your organization might have.

The first of these is dependencies. In LiquidPlanner, dependencies are most often created between tasks owned by different people; they can also be used to model wait time between tasks.

The other scheduling constraint to consider is that we’re all sharing resources across multiple concurrent projects. This is the time to ask yourself if you should use the daily limit feature. A daily limit tells LiquidPlanner that it shouldn’t schedule the task owner to work any more than the designated number of hours per day on that project task.

Once you have entered the three key inputs and have accounted for the most common scheduling constraints, you’re well on your way to a realistic schedule.

Activities

Let’s switch gears and look at one more feature you might want to set up before kicking off LiquidPlanner: activities. Activities are used to classify logged and remaining hours and are especially useful if your team will be tracking time in LiquidPlanner.

Set up activities in the data customization settings. Each activity is a classification and can be designated as billable when appropriate.

You can also select a default activity for a task. This is the activity that will be used to classify the remaining hours for this task. Then, when time is logged to this task, the activity is automatically selected to classify the time entry hours. You can change the time entry to something different if appropriate.

We encourage the use of activities because they can drive valuable analysis into how your project hours are distributed by classification and billable status.

Kickoff

Now it’s time to kick off LiquidPlanner to the rest of your team.

Create a LiquidPlanner playbook and share it with your team members. This ensures everyone understands the rules of engagement for your workspace.

If you worry about your team getting overwhelmed by a new tool, new processes, or too many details, think about focusing your team at first on just the updates necessary for accurate scheduling: logging time, maintaining accurate task estimates, marking things done.

All of this can be done in the My Work tab, which is a great view that keeps people focused on just the tasks they are assigned to, listed in start-date order.

Establishing a handful of basic daily habits is a great foundation that you can build on as you move further into your implementation.

In the next part of this series, we’ll talk about adoption and how to gain insights from your team’s usage of LiquidPlanner.

How to Be Productive When You’re Overwhelmed

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re having a perfectly good morning. A warm cup of coffee is in your hand, and you think you’ve got your workload under control when suddenly it hits you—

You actually have a small avalanche of prioritized work to get through within the next two weeks, and it doesn’t help that your to-do list is lengthening by the minute.

Having a lot to do and having too much to do are very different things. No matter how you define them, a lot can be motivating, but too much can make you freeze in your tracks, resulting in you doing a whole lot of nothing. No matter how well prioritized your tasks and projects might be, when you have too much to choose from, you often simply don’t know where to start.

Here are eight tricks to calm your mind and help you dive into your tasks when you feel overwhelmed.

Know Your Reaction Is Normal

Stop beating yourself up and get strategic about how to chip away at your work. Try giving your mind an allocated amount of time to wander. Set a timer for ten minutes in which you can surf the Internet, stare out the window, or even freak out a bit if it will help get the anxiety out of your system.

Take a Deep Breath

Actually, take five. The military uses tactical breathing when faced with critical situations, and this technique is proven to help people handle frightening work stress. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for four, breathe out for four, and repeat.

Write down Everything You Have to Do

Some people find comfort in handwriting their to-do list and seeing their nonthreatening penmanship on a sheet of paper. The act of writing by hand also has proven stress-relieving properties.

Prioritize and Then Creatively Prioritize

Start with prioritizing by deadlines. For tasks with shared deadlines, order them by magnitude, putting the bigger items on top. Once your priority list is final, step back and see if this gives you a sense of order and direction on where to start. If you still have a hard time getting motivated, pick the task you most want to do. It’s better to do something than nothing.

Start with the Easy Stuff

What can you knock off in the next 15 to 30 minutes? Make phone calls, answer emails, etc. Then, attempt one of your beefier tasks.

Use Your Teammates

Working in an office with colleagues has a lot of benefits—use them! People love to help others solve problems. Share your project challenges with a coworker or see what a teammate does when she has too much on her plate. See if you can do some delegating or buy someone a coffee to give yourself a break. Talking to your manager about your workload and priorities is also a great way to gain some perspective and guidance. You’re not in it alone.

Use Timers

Give yourself set periods of time to work. Set a timer for 30 or 40 minutes, something you can commit to. “Working within a specific and limited timeframe is important because the race against time keeps us focused,” writes Peter Bergman in his Harvard Business Review article “A Practical Plan for When You Feel Overwhelmed.” Focusing your attention will increase your motivating stress and decrease your paralyzing stress. The contained time periods will also give you a framework that will help you chip away at the important work.

Take Five—or Twenty

Sometimes you just need to get away from what you’re doing. Whether it’s a walk, a coffee break, some quiet meditation, or a moment to read an unrelated article, take some time to truly disengage your brain from the work you’re doing. You’ll be surprised at the focus and brilliance you bring to your big list of tasks when you’re feeling refreshed.

The best project managers are masters of dealing with overwhelming workloads. How do they do it? Find out in our eBook, 5 Practical Habits for Today’s Project Manager.

5 Practical Habits for PMs

How to Stay Motivated When You’re Working on a Never-Ending Project

Completion is satisfying. Being able to cross an item off a to-do list, mark a task done, or deliver a finished project is a big part of being fulfilled at work. That’s why projects that stretch into a far-off horizon are challenging for even the most seasoned project manager.

Whether you’re managing a mammoth IT project with a delivery date that is two years out or working on one that’s been delayed due to scope creep and other problems, staying motivated is a natural challenge. Like any long-distance event, you have to pace yourself and find creative ways to stay engaged and perform at a high level—even when you are so over it.

Here are eight ways to stay motivated on that never-ending project.

1. Focus on small, meaningful wins.

Bite-sized accomplishments are the key. Give yourself one meaningful task a day, something you can find satisfaction in at day’s end. To up the ante, make it something the stretches you a bit. It doesn’t have to be around the project either.

Examples include having a conversation with your boss or team member that you’ve been putting off or talking to the customer about how to bring this project out of the sphere of infinity. Take a run or walk at lunch; catch up with a coworker or another team member. Give someone a high five (it only takes ten seconds, and you’ll make their day). Clear out and update your bug queue or fit-and-finish folders.

You might have to redefine your wins, but whatever they are commit to them and revel in them.

2. Make a game out of keeping the project aligned with business goals.

It’s easy for complex, long-term projects to lose connection with the original goals and objectives that were laid down months and months ago. Big projects are like epic stories; it’s easy to forget the beginning of the narrative when you’re a year into it and there’s a lot more to write.

Put on your project manager’s historian hat and do some project archaeology. Study the project schedule to see if the work completed and the tasks left to be done are consistent with the goals and deliverables agreed to on Day 1. Make sure your priorities are up to date, and if not, start communicating, updating, and reworking the project plan.

3. Cross tasks off your list!

If you’re waiting on dependencies, change orders, or decisions to be confirmed on the part of the customer or stakeholder, it can be tempting to rework an existing project task into the ground to keep yourself from being idle. Unless something really needs to be updated or improved upon, however, let it be and mark it done. Keep your eyes on the road ahead of your and make it a goal to find something essential that everyone else has missed. Then, grab it!

4. Reassess your goals.

If you’re facing a project stall, dipping back into your career goals and job commitments are always useful and could be inspiring. You might be able to cross off some goals, update them, or use them to help solve some problems or answer some lingering questions that exist on your current project. This exercise also reminds you of the big picture you’re heading toward as you get mired down in the details (or lack thereof). If you’re struggling through a project, give yourself goals of what you want to get out of the experience. This will bring purpose to your frustrations.

5. Give yourself side assignments.

It’s important to feel like you’re accomplishing something every day, but when your project feels like it’s sprawling into no man’s land, it’s hard to get that satisfaction. Make yourself useful in other ways. See if you can contribute to other projects. Reach out to other teams or team members and see how you can pitch in. Offer yourself up as an objective eye or ear or to be an extra welcome resource. If you’ve ever wanted to be a mentor or volunteer in your professional field, this could be a great time.

6. Keep your team members challenged.

If you’re a manager, pay attention to the mood of your team and see if you can distribute completable work items. Otherwise, keep those live minds engaged by asking questions and delegating work that challenges people in their roles and prepares them for the next level of their career. Some fruitful questions might include “What do you think is holding us back the most?” “How would you speed up the schedule?” and “If you were the customer, what would you want?”

Ask for advice and recommendations; you never know what you might learn.

7. Learn something new.

If your enthusiasm is flagging or you’re feeling burned out, what would get you excited? Make a list and follow through. Ideas could include learning a new skill or training to become a leader or a mentor inside or outside your organization. Ask your manager for ideas. It’s hard to feel bored or restless when you’re learning.

8. Remember that long projects end.

When you’re in the middle of a big project (or any challenging experience), it feels like it will never end. But, it will! Even if it’s the worst disaster of a project you have ever experienced, you will walk away with something. If you look at work as a way to keep learning, growing, and developing, the truth is the difficult experience is the best experience you will ever have. Make it worth your while.

Resist falling into the gaping canyon of your mammoth project and look at the beauty of its big picture. As never-ending as the project might feel, it provides many possibilities to consider everything around you.

Seven Tips to Stay Productive During the Winter

Enduring the cold winter months can be a drag, but we should remember to stay productive and motivated during this season because we’re setting the tone (and pace) for the rest of the year. Just like in a race, if you go too slowly, you’ll never get into a winning rhythm.

Staying indoors more during the shorter days also drains us of energy, causing an increase in mood swings; however, things don’t have to be so grim!

Here are seven tips to help you stay energized, engaged, and productive until spring arrives.

  1. Get physical. Whether exercising, going for a walk, or taking the stairs at work, physical activity will keep your mind, body, and spirit lively.
  2. Get outside. Enjoy some fresh air, daylight, sunshine, or even the grey skies, and nature will revitalize you with the reward of something beautiful. Going outside to step away from your work also gives your brain a break to reenergize.
  3. Get enough sleep. Use the cozy weather to your advantage. Since winter is cold and flu season, make sure you do one of the best things to stay healthy and prevent illness—sleep!
  4. Set exciting goals. If your resolution list is either already broken or it’s staring at you like an unfriendly math teacher, rip it up and start fresh. Write down a handful of goals that you actually want to do—things that make you excited for the weeks ahead. From creating a new presentation to having coffee with someone new each week to taking an art class, give yourself some goals that you can root for.
  5. Eat healthily. We’re tempted to slip the most during the winter months, but this is when healthy eating matters most. If you eat a lot of rich, sugary foods when you’re already feeling sluggish, you’ll be lucky to even answer an email. Eating healthily doesn’t mean you can’t have anything fun to eat; just make sure you’re getting a well-balanced meal and eating foods that give you energy. Eventually, you’ll value how great you feel after eating real food over the cupcake you’re giving up.
  6. Make fun plans. While the temptation to become a hermit is strong this time of year, don’t fall into an antisocial slump, hoarding all of your fun for summer. Take a long weekend or a tropical vacation. Make a point to see people you care about and to plan activities you’re interested in. Winter is a great time to be inside taking in cultural events that can fill your mental and emotional reserves as well. What we do outside of our working hours immeasurably affects our jobs.
  7. Set yourself up for a fun summer. Imagine being able to leave at 4 p.m. most days this summer because of the groundwork laid this winter. One extra hour at the end of the day when it’s still dark out might add up to a lot of productivity in your pocket come June. This incentive could motivate you to be strategic and productive.

How do you get through the cold dark of winter? Let us know in the comments!

Stopping the Takeover: How to Manage Scope Creep

It lurks as though it’s coming from the shadows.

Its insidious presence looms, threatening to take charge of everything we do.

It. Is. Scope creep.

Scope creep is the tendency for software projects to grow beyond their original bounds. It arises naturally. For instance, a client will want more functionality for the same price, and a project manager will want to hold the line on costs and time delays. This often happens when clients don’t know how to define their requirements further beyond “I’ll know it when I see it.”

Avoiding scope creep increases the chance of delivering the project on time and on budget. Because smaller projects usually have a greater chance of success, PMs often split massive assignments into smaller pieces as a way to avoid scope creep.

Here are eight more suggestions on how to prevent scope creep from taking over your project.

8 Ways to Manage Scope Creep

  1. Be vigilant from day one. Say yes or no to new requests as soon as they come in. If you start the habit at the beginning of a project and stick with it until completion, you’ll handle scope creep effectively.
  2. Understand your client’s vision. Before you get the project requirements, make sure both you and the client have a firm understanding of the project’s goals. What does the client hope to achieve? Why is it important?
  3. Understand the project requirements. Clarify all goals and objectives in the initial planning stage. Know the exact deliverables and their functionality. Wholly understand the project’s complexity and truly weigh it against the target deadline and resource availability. Separate deliverables into specific, manageable tasks, and list their estimated completion times as major and minor milestones within the project.
  4. Include a process for changing scope. Review milestones and update timelines every time a scope change is requested. Empower a limited number of people to request scope changes and an even more limited number to grant them. Determine a payment process for scope changes.
  5. Avoid gold plating. Make sure your development team doesn’t overdeliver and add unrequested features. Stick to the project scope.
  6. Use your online project management software. Your PM software is one of the most important tools in managing scope creep. Make sure it gives visibility to your software team and your clients. Log all scope changes into your PM tool so those changes are sure to update the work plan, the project schedule, and your team’s assigned tasks.
  7. Know when to say “no.” Not all scope changes are created equal, so you must be firm in stopping unreasonable requests. All scope changes must be carefully considered, but changes to the critical path that will hold up other work must be made sparingly.
  8. Know the alternatives to “no.” If something must go into the scope, make sure something comes out. Keep a backlog for denied requests and turn it into a follow-up project of additional features. Charge for changes and enforce those charges.

When managed correctly, scope creep can sometimes be a good thing. With a properly written contract, added features can create new revenue. By letting a client know their scope changes will result in additional work hours being billed, your scope creep can become their cost creep.

The Key to Successful Projects: Resource Leveling in LiquidPlanner

There are lots of project management tools that make it easy for managers to overbook their teams, in addition to taking on project work that they don’t realistically have the resources to handle. Not only will teams burn out, but they probably won’t make their finish dates, either. As long as everyone on your team has entered their correct availability in LiquidPlanner, you won’t ever have to worry about overextending anyone (finish date included)!

How resource leveling works in LiquidPlanner

1. Set availability.

In LiquidPlanner, all team members should have their daily availability set, using their best-case average. For example, if you work from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. and take an hour lunch, you might set your availability for eight hours per day. If you work a couple of half days, and/or have meeting-intensive days, scale your availability back accordingly. Perhaps something like this:

To set availability, click the User Menu (profile picture) > My Profile > Availability.

2. Build out the project and estimate all tasks.

Build out your projects entirely. Then input ranged estimates based on best case/worst case scenarios around how much effort you think it will take to complete every task.

3. Assign work.

Be sure to assign every task to the people who are actually doing the work. If you have items that are unassigned, or if everything is assigned to the PM, you’re not getting the full view of how you’re allocating the actual resources on the team.

4. Prioritize.

Put all tasks in their intended order of completion.

Once everything above is complete, LiquidPlanner considers each team member’s availability and the work assigned to them before giving you an expected start and finish date for each task. In other words, the work is automatically scheduled and LiquidPlanner tells you when your team members are expected to deliver a project. How great is that?!

Here’s what resource leveling looks like in LiquidPlanner

Let’s say that Penny has a project set up in her workspace to upgrade some hardware. She’s not going to start it until October 2 and wants everything to be done by November 16. And she has eight hours of availability per day.

After estimating and prioritizing her tasks, Penny can immediately see that it’s unlikely to be done before the Friday deadline.

Penny can use the workload report to see who’s free.

And then she can re-assign work to members with availability. When she refreshes the schedule, she’ll immediately know whether they’re able to help her finish the project on time. Check out the updated, resource-leveled schedule:

Resource leveling is critical, but it doesn’t have to be hard. A LiquidPlanner schedule is always resource-leveled based on each person’s availability and task assignments. Project managers still have to make important decisions like determining priorities, knowing who is best suited to do which tasks and identify dependencies. But that’s just good planning!

If you’d like to learn more about Resouce Leveling, download our eBook, “5 Best Practices to Manage Resources Effectively.”

LPresources-ebook-five-rest-practices-to-manage-project-resources-effectively

LiquidPlanner vs. Task Management Software: An Evaluation Guide

Our LiquidPlanner product experts dedicate a lot of time to speaking with people considering new, more productive Project Management (PM) tools. A question we are often asked is: How does LiquidPlanner compare to task management tools like Trello or Asana?

Here are the key differences:

Project Vs. Task Management

To begin the comparison, it is important to define the difference between project and task management. You can think of project management tools as offering functionality that’s a superset of what’s available in task management tools. Task management tools don’t usually have the capacity to manage more complex projects, like for technology and manufacturing teams who make estimations in order to see how every plan change affects the entire project or portfolio of projects overall.

In a nutshell:
LiquidPlanner can do everything that a task management software can do—and much more. In the task management department, we help teams organize their work and collaborate more effectively. But LiquidPlanner is also a full-service PM tool for more complex project needs. Our automated scheduling engine provides realistic project plans and finish dates that reflect a constantly-changing project environment.

Prioritizing Work

Everyone working on a project is juggling priorities and often come to the ever-challenging question: What’s my top priority and am I working on it? More often than not, you randomly select a project to start because you know there’s a lot of work to get done and there isn’t time to waste!

How task management prioritizes work

Prioritizing tasks within a task management tool is sometimes closer to a to-do list than a project schedule. In most task management tools, tasks and dates drive the schedule. This means you can organize tasks in priority order, but when priorities shift, these changes are not automatically reflected in the schedule. You can reprioritize plans as you see fit, but the changes don’t take into account the availability of people working on the tasks. There’s no way of easily seeing if the re-prioritization is realistic based on available resources.

Also, while some task management tools offer a “drag and drop”, many only let you keep your tasks in priority order within checklists. This makes it impossible to prioritize tasks across projects and see the impact of one change across a portfolio of work—which is important for people working on multiple projects at once.

How LiquidPlanner prioritizes work

LiquidPlanner is driven by a priority-driven scheduling engine. This means that the priority of work items and the availability of resources assigned to each of these work items drives the schedule. So, every time a priority shifts, the schedule updates automatically to show how the entire plan is affected by that change, including how the reprioritization affects available resources.

In LiquidPlanner, you can change your priorities with a simple drag and drop within the project or across projects, and the scheduling engine will automatically update across all projects in your workspace—generating new start and finish dates based on those portfolio-wide resource commitments and the priorities you assign to your workflow items.

priority_lp vs task management

Resource Management

One of the biggest deciders of project success comes down to how effectively you manage your resources. Misallocate your people, overshoot your budget, and you’re in big trouble. Do it right, and you’re a hero.

How task management tools manage resources

In general, task management tools allow you to assign tasks to resources (people), but they don’t take into account resource workload (how much work is already on people’s plates). This makes it impossible to rely on meeting your set finish date. For example, in Trello each board has a member list on the right side of the board that allows you to simply add resources to tasks. Trello assumes the members on a task will be working together in order to reach a deadline. This way of managing resources assumes that people have infinite time, or that they will stand up and push back if they don’t have the bandwidth to take on a task, which can cause a lot of problems among teams, customers—and meeting deadlines.

How LiquidPlanner manages resources

LiquidPlanner is the only resource-driven scheduling tool out there. Once in the LiquidPlanner app, each user has a personal profile where they set their available hours for project work each week. The scheduling engine takes this into account as tasks are created and assigned, providing start and finish dates based on team members’ current workload and availability.

LiquidPlanner’s resource management capabilities make it impossible to overschedule resources. If an issue arises, you can pull a workload report for a deeper look into an individual’s commitments, and see who might be available to take on more work.

Resource WOrkload report

Risk Management

Managing risks is one of the hardest things to get right—especially when you’re managing long-term projects with a lot of moving parts. LiquidPlanner was created to take project uncertainty into account, and let teams know well ahead of time of incoming risks.  Most task management tools don’t offer risk management other than a notification that the deadline is a day or two away.

How task Management tools manage risk

The only true way to account for risk in a traditional task management tool is to set your due date for a task a day, a week or even longer before the actual deadline. Some of these tools will automatically notify you when you are one day away from a task being due, but at that point it’s usually too late to make any proactive changes or give stakeholders and customers due warning.

How LiquidPlanner manages risk

LiquidPlanner has a constantly running algorithm that accounts for the uncertainty inherent in all projects. Your plan will always alert you to risks well ahead of missing deadlines or running over budget. This way teams can make any necessary adjustments to priorities, resources, or have the conversations with stakeholders well in advance of disaster striking. If a project is slipping, you’re alerted within the LiquidPlanner app and via email notification.

Here’s an example of a LiquidPlanner Dashboard, customized to surface project risks well ahead of finish dates:

Schedule-risk-dashboard_LP vs task management

Scaling Up: From the Basics to Advanced

You don’t have to do everything at once. With LiquidPlanner, you can start with our task management features to organize work, share documents and collaborate more efficiently with a team member through commenting, for example. From here, you can move on to using our more robust PM features: estimation, scheduling, analytics, and resource management (see how InDinero did this).

With a task management tool, you pretty much top out early in the game. What you see is what you get and that’s it. That might be okay to start but if your company or team grows, you need a system that can grow with you (see how Redapt grew their business with LiquidPlanner).

The good news with a Dynamic Project Management tool like LiquidPlanner is that teams can customize their workspace and processes to get the best work done in a manner that fits their philosophies, processes and business needs.

If you’re looking for a better option, something that can manage projects, resources and is reliable—a PM tool rather than a task management tool, start a trial.

Track Your Projects with these 5 LiquidPlanner Reports

LiquidPlanner is a treasure trove of project data. Take advantage of this data, track your projects, and create quick reports with these five reporting features from LiquidPlanner.

Project Workload

Project Workload is your resourcing crystal ball. It instantly shows you who’s working on a project, how much work they have left, and when they’ll be working on it. One of the best things about this report is that you can run it for client work, a specific initiative, or even multiple projects and get workload visibility across all of them.

Project-workload

The report puts the person who is expected to finish last at the top, so you know whose work is driving the end date of the project. It also highlights who’s putting the project at risk and gives you actionable information that helps you shift work around and load balance to keep the project on track.

For more details about the Project Workload report, read this Help article.

Project Status

The Project Status report summarizes some of the most important data about your project. You can see the overall progress, milestone dates, how much work has been done and by who.

This report is useful when you need a quick overview that you can share with the project team.

Project-status

For more details about the Project Status report, read this Help article.

Remaining Trend

If you want to show off the project team’s progress to your stakeholders, run the Remaining Trend report. Think of this report as a dynamic burndown chart. It shows how the estimated remaining work for a project has changed over time and shows you the probable landing zone. Ideally, the plotted lines should slope downwards, which would mean that the remaining work for the project is decreasing as time goes on — just what every stakeholder wants to see!

Remaining-trend

If the lines jump upwards, that’s a sign of either added scope or consistent underestimation of tasks. If they jump downwards, that might mean that scope was cut to meet the deadline or that your team is logging a bunch of hours all at once, instead of as they go.

For more details about the Remaining Trend report, read this Help article.

Total Trend

The Total Trend report is the best way to understand changes in overall scope. The report plots the total amount of work, the range of uncertainty for a project, and the amount of work that’s been completed over time.

The goal is to keep the scope as close to the agreed upon plan as possible, so in a healthy project, you’ll see the plotted lines in the report to stay flat and narrow continuously. You also want the green shaded area to grow steadily and eventually meet the total trend lines, which means that your team is making consistent progress and getting work done. If this is what you see in your report, do a victory dance — it’s difficult to achieve!

Total-Trend

For most projects, you’ll see the plotted lines move upwards and downwards as the project progresses. A little variation is okay, but drastic spikes are a sign of adding or cutting scope. Dig in to find out what happened and make sure that you can still finish on time without compromising the quality or deliverables of the project.

For more details about the Total Trend report, read this Help article.

Date Drift

Date Drift, also known as the slip report, gives you a simple visual for how the calculated finish date of a project has changed over its lifetime.

You want the black Expected line to stay flat, which would mean that your finish date has stayed the same. The report below shows a more common scenario — the project’s expected finish date blew past its deadline in red. Then, the deadline was renegotiated and pushed back by a few days. Now, it looks like the project will finish under the new deadline despite it slipping by a couple of weeks from its initial projections.

Date-Drift

For more details about the Date Drift report, read this Help article.

And that’s a wrap!

Complex projects can take some pretty wild turns and cause unpleasant surprises if you’re not using the right tools. Make sure to stay ahead of the game with these five reports, all easily accessible from the Projects tab. Click on the Reports menu in your workspace and take ‘em for a spin!

Resource management is a many-headed beast, and getting the people part of it mastered could be what sets you apart in your career. To learn more tricks and skills, download our eBook, “5 Best Practices to Manage Project Resources Effectively.”

resource management ebook