Author: Rob Nachbar

Rob Nachbar

About Rob Nachbar

Rob Nachbar is the Principal of Kismet Communications, a PR and marketing consulting firm. A 20 year PR and marketing veteran, Rob has worked with dozens of start-ups and enterprise technology companies to help them raise awareness in their industry.

A Hitchhikers Guide to Project Management: Aligning Strategic Priorities

In the comic sci-fi classic “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams, a group of hyper- intelligent beings demand to learn the answer to the ultimate question of “life, the universe, and everything” from the supercomputer Deep Thought. After pondering this question for some seven and a half million years, Deep Thought spits out an answer: 42. There’s quite a debate as to why 42—but the genius in Adam’s work lies not in the answer but in the subsequent process of unpacking, debating and examining the root of the answer.

forrester wave project management

This same processes of existential exploration applies to businesses as well—which comes to mind after reading the latest “Forrester Wave Report: Portfolio Management For The BT Agenda” report authored by technology industry analysts Margo Visitacion and Gordon Barnett. The report evaluates the burgeoning Portfolio Management market and examines why business and technology partners require greater visibility into strategic and execution plans in order to “direct critical resources on the initiatives needed to win, serve and retain their customers.”

In other words, as modern enterprises continue their quest to understand life, the universe and everything, it’s clear that there’s a disconnect between this search and the ability to align strategic priorities with their project portfolio. According to the report, too many organizations are unable to effectively close the gap between projects and strategic objectives:

“Tactically focused tools provide limited insight into realizing strategic objectives, and with only 42% of organizations routinely aligning projects with strategy, that’s a problem. Today’s organizations must have solutions that fit their planning and execution needs as well as their abilities.”

The two analysts then go on to evaluate the “nine most significant software providers” in the Project Portfolio Management category who are best positioned to enable enterprise organizations to identify the right partner to achieve their Business Technology portfolio management needs.

LiquidPlanner was identified as one of these vendors, alongside such stalwart enterprise software providers including Oracle and CA Technologies. Not only were we selected as one of the top nine vendors in the PPM category, LiquidPlanner also received among the highest score of all vendors according to the criteria of Life Cycle Support, Release Schedule, Corporate Strategy and Installed Base.

The number 42 has come to symbolize a variety of aspirations for geeks everywhere. However, when it comes to aligning projects with results and helping business achieve their own business nirvana, we agree with Forrester that there is still a long way to go.

 

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Case Study: Inbound Marketing Agency Streamlines Resource Management with LiquidPlanner

Every marketing professional services firm—whether it’s a web design firm, an advertising agency, or a PR consultancy—at one point encounters the same challenge: how do you accurately forecast future work without hiring unnecessarily or laying people off when business temporarily slows down?

Christina Griggs is the CFO for Inflow a growing inbound marketing agency based out of Denver, Colorado. Her team is focused on growing client’s brands across a range of industries through paid, digital, and organic search strategies. The 20 person team is like many professional service firms: they’re constantly balancing a combination of retainer and project work.

Christina explains, “like many other agencies, we have two different categories of billable work. On the one hand we have retainer—or what we label subscription work — in which clients pay a fixed monthly fee over the course of a contract that is tied to a predetermined number of hours. We also perform project work which has a set number of hours, typically crosses several months and is tied to a specific end date. From an operational perspective, efficiently managing resources across these two models can be quite complicated.”

To meet this challenge, the Inflow Management Team developed a sophisticated Excel spreadsheet (affectionately dubbed “The Delorean” after the eponymous time traveling car in the movie ‘Back to the Future’ because it helps tell them where they’re going) to better forecast future resource availability and track billable targets for individual employees. But as anyone who has worked with spreadsheets knows all too well, getting the right data into the spreadsheet is half the battle.

LiquidPlanner has really helped us model a realistic expectation of how our various team members should contribute by providing greater transparency into that process.

CHRISTINA GRIGGS, CFO, INFLOW
logo_inflow

Christina says, “We had a few different applications in place to manage various aspects of our business. For example, we were using Freshbooks to track time and Central Desktop to manage client collaboration. For our employees, it was becoming increasingly time consuming for them to have to constantly switch between the multiple applications to copy and paste project related information from one application to the other.”

There was also the other big headache that every agency can relate to: getting employees to enter their time, regularly and on time. “Our subscription hours have to be completed by the end of the month. The team that focuses on this part of our business was always behind getting their hours in. We were at our wit’s end with spreadsheets and not feeling like we had the right data to make informed decisions regarding our resources.”

Here’s Inflow’s folder and task setup by client:

inflow-folders-and-tasks-by-client

Here’s Inflow’s folder and task setup for internal work:

inflow-internal-work

Starting in January 2014, Christina took it upon herself to find an integrated project management and collaboration solution that would enable Inflow to record and categorize how they spent their time, more efficiently manage resource availability, and provide a top-down view of all their client work. “I spent almost four months researching and evaluating a variety of online applications. Central Desktop was great for client collaboration but didn’t allow us to see a staff member’s workload over a period of time, which was a key requirement for us. Likewise, applications like NetSuite possessed the functional capabilities that we were looking for but they weren’t visual, which was important for a firm like ours in which people are very visually oriented.”

Upon signing up for a LiquidPlanner trial account, Christina got started by setting up a bunch of dummy projects to emulate the two stated use cases (i.e., subscription and project work). It became quickly apparent to Christina that LiquidPlanner would not only meet her specific requirements but would also be embraced by the team at large.

“It was really important that whatever tool we chose, our people should want to use it and not feel like they had to,” says Christina. “Now that our individual team members can easily enter and categorize their time from the project plan itself, we can now accurately forecast our capacity out a few months for our subscription work, which ultimately will enable us to scale our business in a more predictive manner.”

But it wasn’t just getting team members to record their time. The duplication of data between different applications was not only aggravating for employees but it also meant extra work for Christina and her team. “We would spend on average five hours a month just extracting and normalizing the data between our time keeping system and the client portal. Now we can do all of this in one place, making the process effortless for everyone and providing me with significantly greater confidence in the quality of the data.”

We want to know what’s taking up staff time that’s not billable work, but don’t want it to affect LP’s planning. To accomplish this we have a package just for “internal” work in which all the tasks are “paused” so that it doesn’t affect client work deadlines.

CHRISTINA GRIGGS, CFO, INFLOW

Another LiquidPlanner feature which has been of particular value to Christina and the executive team is ‘Max Effort’ which enables team leaders to record the maximum number of hours that have been budgeted for a given task or project. Christina explains, “Max Effort has been extraordinarily important for us. We wanted to know not just when someone was logging time against a specific project but Max Effort also serves as an early alert system for us to know if we’re over-servicing an account. This type of approach to budgeting enables us to be far more proactive with clients so we can go to them with data to support our case for increased budget or simply justify ending certain client relationships which are no longer profitable.”

Inflow-team
The Inflow team.

Christina and her team also use the “Delay Until” and “Deadline” features to understand resource capacity from a holistic perspective as it allows them to schedule work and re-prioritize as necessary. They’ve also used the custom fields in the LiquidPlanner Edit Panel to define some creative reporting functionality to better identify inefficiencies with how they manage client work. “For instance, we wanted to understand how much time we were spending fixing client issues that were not directly related to a project. It’s a task that doesn’t have Max Effort or a Deadline and anyone can record time. This allows us to go back and see how many hours we spent in a given month related to resolving issues. Not only can we use this to justify increasing a client’s budget, it also enables us to better understand the root cause of issues and improve our own operational processes, benefiting both our clients as well as ourselves,” says Christina.

But perhaps most interesting of all is how LiquidPlanner has not only enabled them to manage their resource capacity with greater predictability, it’s also impacted the culture of the firm. “The intelligence that we are capturing from LiquidPlanner has been enlightening and has allowed us to answer important questions like: what is reasonable for someone on our staff to achieve in a day, week or month in a billable capacity? You hear companies talk a lot about how they’re people are their most important asset but with a professional services firm like ours, that is undoubtedly true. We want to create an environment that makes people want to work here and be creative. If you have unreasonable and arbitrary billable targets, you’re going to burn people out and that significant investment you’ve made in human capital, is lost. LiquidPlanner has really helped us model a realistic expectation of how our various team members should contribute by providing greater transparency into that process.”

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Use the LP Methodology, trust your plan.

 

LiquidPlanner Case Study: How Knowmad Predicts the Future Using LP

Diona Kidd knows what it’s like to wear a lot of hats. As one of the founders of Knowmad, an Inbound Marketing agency, Diona does a bit of everything – from marketing and sales to client management. But above all, she spends most of her time thinking about how Knowmad can exceed client expectations without overburdening the agency’s limited resources.Diona Kidd Knowmad

“We’re a small team of six so it’s critical that we not only understand the current amount of work on everyone’s plate but we also need to be able to predict with a degree of confidence what our future state looks like,” says Diona.

In the Spring of 2011, Diona realized that their existing work management system which consisted of spreadsheets, a time tracking application, and Basecamp for task management just wasn’t cutting it. “We knew that if we wanted to scale our business and continue to deliver at a high level of quality, we needed to invest in a dedicated project management and collaboration system.”

Diona evaluated a number of different project management tools, with key requirements being the ability to collaborate within the tool, integrated time tracking, and analytics to support decision-making. In June 2011, Diona decided that LiquidPlanner would be the best fit for her team and her journey to streamline Knowmad’s project planning process was quickly underway.

A project management crystal ball

Every agency, regardless of industry or size, eventually faces the same challenge: how do we accurately staff our accounts and ensure that all of our resources are being appropriately utilized? Knowmad is no different in this respect. But with a small team, the stakes were even higher.

“In addition to our full-time staff, we also work with a number of external contractors and of course, our client’s projects are always shifting in priority which means we have to continuously load balance our resources. Now that everyone on our team tracks their time in LiquidPlanner, it’s easy for me or one of our campaign managers to quickly analyze the workload, re-assign tasks if necessary, or bring on extra resources if there are competing priorities. LiquidPlanner is like having our own project management crystal ball, helping us to more accurately predict internal capacity and meet client expectations,” she says.

Intelligent time estimates

Diona also appreciates the way LiquidPlanner handles time estimation: “Our team is well versed in Agile methodologies so not only do we understand the value of estimating time using best and worst case scenarios, we love having that capability embedded in the tool itself. We have close to three years’ worth of time estimates captured in LiquidPlanner so there is quite a bit of intelligence to be gleaned by analyzing how people estimate their time. For instance, if someone on the team is consistently missing their estimates, it might indicate an opportunity to provide additional training. It has also been invaluable in helping us build proposals for similar project types since we can look back at the record to see how long a comparable project actually took us. This saves us from re-estimating the scope of a new project and ensures that we maintain our margins.”

The single most important benefit: collaborative transparency

When asked about the single most salient benefit that LiquidPlanner brings to her team, Diona doesn’t hesitate: “Without a doubt, it’s the collaboration aspect of the tool and the broad transparency that it provides. Because everyone on the team uses LiquidPlanner as their project control console, we’ve eliminated the dreaded monthly ‘traffic meeting’, saving our team at least 10 hours a month. But perhaps more importantly, this additional layer of transparency has improved the situational awareness of our team in general.”

For Diona, collaboration isn’t something that just happens between her and the rest of her team – it has also become an important conduit for keeping clients in the loop. Using the Project Portals feature in LiquidPlanner, Knowmad customizes the most important dimensions of a client’s project plan so their clients can see for themselves the status of key deliverables and mitigate potential blocking issues.

Diona concludes by saying: “LiquidPlanner has become such an essential part of our day-to-day operations over the course of the past three years. Not only do we use it to manage and run all of our client projects, it has improved our overall efficiency as a company and enables us to make more informed and intelligent business decisions.”

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LiquidPlanner Case Study: How Beneport Improved Productivity and Decision Making Using LP

Beneport, a leading national benefits education, communication and enrollment firm, needed to overhaul its internal IT processes. The Florida-based company had experienced a major growth phase, and needed to keep pace with client demand.

Beneport logo

LiquidPlanner was initially brought in to manage a number of IT projects. In a short period of time, LiquidPlanner’s footprint grew exponentially at Beneport. Today, the LiquidPlanner tool is used to better manage the heart and soul of the company: client account management.

Why LiquidPlanner?

Bill Lewis Beneport

Bill Lewis, Vice President of IT, was chosen to guide Beneport’s technology redesign. Lewis knew he needed to change the project management process. He wanted to build a company with a minimal datacenter using the cost savings of cloud based software; and he wanted to   adopt a sophisticated project management solution that replaced the company’s limited use of spreadsheets to track progress against projects.

One of Lewis’s selection criteria for online project management software was finding an easy-to-use solution that team members could update and use themselves, without the need for a dedicated project manager on the IT team.

“Once I looked at LiquidPlanner, I knew we had a winner,” Lewis said. “The value of the subscription model immediately resonated for me. The application was so intuitive, all our front line employees felt confident they could manage the software themselves.” He adds, “I know from experience that dedicated project management IT professionals are not only expensive in terms of overhead, but they also add another layer of complexity between the project team and the software.”

Beneport’s IT department quickly adopted LiquidPlanner for technology projects that aimed to improve their call center infrastructure, and build new software.

Higher productivity, no more resource squandering

Before LiquidPlanner, there were lulls in productivity if no fires were burning — so resources were squandered. With LiquidPlanner, all the relevant project information lived online, in one central workspace. This eliminated any important updates from getting locked in one team member’s personal inbox.  There was less wasted time, higher productivity, and a more balanced delegation of work. Big gains came from using flexible priority-based scheduling software.  Now, every team member’s workload was balanced, and there was always a task to access and work on.

Less email, more collaboration and insight into projects

Beneport says there was always an average of 30 or more emails per person that contained important tasks or documents – emails that weren’t accessible or viewable by other team members. After implementing LiquidPlanner, the team was able to eliminate virtually all internal company emails that once communicated work activities, document sharing and review. Now, they could share information in their workspace by commenting on tasks and projects, and making updates that everyone could see. In addition, project details were no longer overlooked, since they were in plain sight for everyone to see.

Freedom from spreadsheets  

Using spreadsheets to manage projects severely limited the level of team visibility into a project’s life cycle.

“With Excel, only about 20% of the work was represented because the spreadsheet doesn’t inherently go down to the task level,” said Lewis. “With LiquidPlanner, every single action item and nuance of the project was captured in the workspace, so nothing fell between the cracks. No surprise, quality went up as a result.”

LiquidPlanner was so successful in Beneport’s IT department that Lewis decided to use the application across the entire organization. In time, managers are able to make key decisions faster, team members can make updates on the fly, and the meeting minutes are immediately captured in the workspace.

Managing more clients and thriving

In the past, managing more than 10 – 20 concurrent implementations was tedious and time-consuming for Beneport. Now, the Beneport teams are able to manage at least three times as many concurrent projects, including client implementations – and they can now easily manage clients of all sizes and adapt the plan over time. “And that is with the current staffing level,” said Lewis. “LiquidPlanner will allow us to grow the staff—and the associated project capacity—without losing control.”

“Without a doubt, LiquidPlanner has dramatically increased productivity at our company,” Lewis says. “The deluge of email has stopped, team members can make workspace changes themselves, and our meetings are now more focused on making real business decisions.”

Lewis believes that with LiquidPlanner there is literally no limit to the number of projects they can manage to support business growth. Instead of managers overseeing every project and task, the teams participate in the process directly using LiquidPlanner’s intuitive workspace.

How LiquidPlanner benefits the Beneport teams

  • Increased productivity by shifting the workflow from the inbox to the workspace where all the relevant information lives in one location.
  • Better quality of work and customer service because every detail related to the project is captured in one place, and not limited to the format of a spreadsheet.
  • More effective decision-making by opening the workspace in team meetings to provide deeper visibility into each project in real time.
  • The ability to have team members make updates and changes online to the project themselves, rather than just one appointed person.

 

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LiquidPlanner Case Study: CalAtlantic Homes IT Project Plans Come Close to 100% Accuracy

CalAtlantic Homes

As CTO of CalAtlantic Homes (formerly, Ryland Homes), one of the nation’s largest homebuilders and a leading mortgage-finance company currently operating in 14 states across the country, Jason Grovert is responsible for driving the technology vision and strategy of the company, including the technology behind three broad strategic system areas: Interactive Marketing (including the corporate website and Interactive Sales Centers), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and Business Intelligence (BI).

This means the CalAtlantic Homes IT team juggles multiple key initiatives at any given time—from managing and operating their existing systems to driving changes fundamentally geared towards helping to improve the business. “Our IT department supports multiple business lines at CalAtlantic Homes. We’re there to not just provide CalAtlantic with what IT has traditionally done, but also to drive transformational change across the business through innovative projects,” says Grovert.

Before adopting LiquidPlanner in August 2012, CalAtlantic’s growing IT team had limited visibility into the multiple complex projects it was running in their ever-changing business climate. They tried other project management tools, but old school methodologies required too much effort to keep plans current. “Given how fast things change, the moment you get your team to enter their tasks and estimates in a traditional Gantt chart, it’s instantly out of date,” Grovert explains.

jason grovert ryland homes

LiquidPlanner delivers ROI and project clarity after one year

A year after CalAtlantic Homes started using LiquidPlanner, the team netted the following benefits:

  • Saved money: Using LiquidPlanner has already saved CalAtlantic an estimated full-time head count, since they didn’t have to hire a dedicated project manager. Instead, everyone contributes to keeping the project plan up to date & accurate.
  • More accurate & trusted plans: CalAtlantic’s IT project plans are close to 100% accurate on a daily basis or within a day. For example, a recent website redesign project that took seven months and 7,000 hours of work was delivered completely on time.
  • Less time spent in meetings: Since everyone on the team can instantly see what the rest of their team is working on, the IT team was able to cut their weekly status meeting from one hour to 30 minutes.
  • Lower email volumes: The website redesign project produced a total of 500 workspace comments that clarified requirements or addressed blocking issues and escalations – all in one place. This drastically lowered the typical circulation of emails between team members trying to stay coordinated, while also allowing new team members to quickly bring themselves up-to-date.
  • Improved use of team resources: The entire team knows where 100 percent of their time goes, and they can track and analyze their tasks from initial estimate through completion.

Building trust with the business via accurate schedules

One thing that helped adoption within the team was LiquidPlanner’s task estimation feature, which allows members to use best- and worst-case ranges that represent the uncertainty in a given task. “There are different conversations you have when a task’s estimate is 5 to 40 hours (best case/worst case), versus 5 to 6 hours. A single point estimate of 5 hours hides the uncertainty that exists,” says Grovert.

With ranged estimates and historical tracking data, the CalAtlantic team is able to answer questions like:

  • Was that a good amount of time spent on that task?
  • Is this more or less the amount of time we thought we’d spend on this project?
  • How does the estimate today compare to what we thought a week ago?

“The estimates are not only there to build a project plan, but to make us all better estimators on the next project,” says Grovert. And with LiquidPlanner, the entire team has visibility into all of a project’s estimates—a capability that did not exist before they started using LiquidPlanner.

LiquidPlanner also delivers meaningful project intelligence to everyone involved: from Grovert who oversees the development department to product managers overseeing the work being done on their systems. This allows them to evaluate what succeeded and what didn’t over time.

“LiquidPlanner provides visibility at all levels to our current projects, tasks, estimates, schedules, and risks, helping us estimate schedules with confidence and manage and forecast resource availability,” says Grovert.

A more motivated, committed team

Now that the CalAtlantic Homes IT team inputs their own plans and information into LiquidPlanner, it has increased ownership in the delivery dates calculated for their tasks and communicated for the projects. “LiquidPlanner empowers the task owners to be responsible for their own estimates and update them as the project evolves,” says Grovert. With this collective ownership of work, the entire team feels more committed to the success of the project since everyone has the ability to affect it.

“When we communicate a date to the business it’s calculated directly from every individual team member’s estimates —which increases everyone’s commitment to get that work done.”

The team has also become more time efficient—another motivating factor. “People appreciate the organization that LiquidPlanner gives them,” Grovert says. “They know what their day, week and month is going to look like.” The team also appreciates how LiquidPlanner helps them visualize all the work involved going into a project, which leads to them anticipating upcoming needs and expectations.

A brilliant move for team adoption

It’s not always the easiest job in the world to get your team to embrace a new tool. In this case, the CalAtlantic Homes team was ready to switch to a system that had better time tracking than their previous tool, so selling the group at first wasn’t too difficult. After the initial roll out, the team established specific LiquidPlanner guidelines that empowered everyone to be responsible for the accuracy in the tool.

At the end of the day, LiquidPlanner has made the IT team at CalAtlantic Homes stronger. “Being able to react on a daily basis to what’s going on has helped us become much more responsive to the business, our current projects, and our team’s needs,” Grovert concludes.

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LiquidPlanner Case Study: How Complete Spectrum Anticipates Opportunities Using LP

Wayne Gretzky, known simply to hockey fans the world over as “The Great One”, once said that the trick behind his success was his ability to “skate to where the puck is going, not where it’s been.” In non-hockey terms, anticipating where you need to be can be a determinant of your future success.

complete spectrum

This is a concept that Michelle Cookson, Project Leader for Complete Spectrum understands quite well. Based out of Tampa, Florida, Complete Spectrum is a growing seven-year old full-service marketing services agency that specializes in strategic marketing planning. Their client engagements cover a range of industries.

Seeking a project management tool to improve productivity and identify opportunities

“Throughout my career I’ve always been a champion of improving productivity and identifying opportunities to do things smarter and faster,” said Cookson. “We keep our onsite team to less than 15 so that everyone can remain focused on client work. Given that focus, it can be very challenging to find the time to step back and identify ways that will help us get ahead of the business. We had been using rudimentary tools like Microsoft Office and Harvest for time tracking, but I knew we wouldn’t be able to grow the business in the way we imagined unless we found a better, purpose-built project management tool.”

In her role as Project Leader, Cookson leads both client-facing work and manages the traffic of new work. From an operations perspective, Cookson recognized that in order for the firm to efficiently scale they would need to make an investment now in improved organizational processes in order to reap benefits down the road. So, in early 2013 she dedicated time to identifying a web-based project management tool that would help Complete Spectrum improve the efficiency of their workforce and collaborate more effectively with their clients.

The advanced tool they were looking for

After evaluating a number of lightweight task management tools, Cookson understood that in order to achieve what she was hoping over the long term, she would need a more advanced tool that could both manage all of their work in a single workspace and provide an analytics platform to help guide strategic decision making for the growing firm.

Valuable insights into resources

Cookson says, “We recognized that the more data we can put into a tool, the more we’ll get out of it in the long run. Once we standardized on LiquidPlanner, it was relatively easy getting everyone to run all of their work through the system, whether they were a full-time employee or a third-party strategic partner. For instance, every resource has weekly billable goals so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to make them use one system for managing time and another for managing their project work since the two are so integrated. By consolidating everything project-related into a single workspace, we can gain valuable insights into how people are spending their time while allowing billable resources to focus on client work.”

Effective workflows for everyday tasks

In addition to capturing all of their work in a single tool, Cookson also appreciates how LiquidPlanner can also be used to build workflows for common tasks that are repeated across clients. “Over the course of seven years, we’ve developed quite a bit of intellectual property around our internal processes so it’s enormously helpful to be able to codify those processes into workflows using the Checklists feature in LiquidPlanner.”

At the end of the day, Cookson says that though they still plan to further optimize how they use the LiquidPlanner tool, it has been essential in helping them run their business with more precision.

 

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LiquidPlanner Case Study: How University of Illinois’ iRobotics Club Gets the Job Done

Who remembers BattleBots? It was a short-lived, nerdtastic game show on Comedy Central in which remote controlled robots were pitted against each another, Gladiator style, and forced to fight to the bitter, sparky end. Even though the show’s television glory days have long since passed, battle bots continue to be built and motorized prizefights continue to be waged.

robot

Turns out that many universities sponsor clubs that are building a new generation of fighting robots as a means to help students put their engineering chops to work (and of course, enjoy the spectacle of robot-on-robot combat). One such club can be found at the University of Illinois.  Their iRobotics club is comprised of nearly 60 students who compete on one of several teams and come from a range of departments and backgrounds. Recently the group decided it was time to upgrade the way they manage the development cycle of their own battle bot program and decided to give LiquidPlanner a spin.

Leading the charge for the “Combots” team is Ryan Shulski, a mechanical engineering major who is spearheading the team’s effort to design and build a combat-bot from scratch. The iRobotics club has been building bots for many years but up until this point, they haven’t used anything besides the most rudimentary tools to manage this very complex process. Says Shulski, “the irony is not lost on us that we are spending many months working to create an advanced piece of technology yet relying on very primitive tools to get the job done.”

iRobotics

Robots need to track and delegate tasks, too

Working with such a large group of individual team members who are rotating in and out of the project presents a number of obvious challenges. At the most basic level, the iRobotics team is looking to LiquidPlanner to help them track and delegate tasks. “When it comes to manufacturing a robot like this, a great number of the tasks in the project are fully contingent on others tasks being completed. For instance, we might need a part welded before we can begin the assembly process and need a better way to track these types of tasks. We also were looking for a system that would help create accountability and improve visibility so everyone on the team would be aware of what others were working on,” Shulski continued.

 Using LiquidPlanner as a knowledge-based learning tool

Beyond the benefits of using LiquidPlanner as a planning solution, the team is also hoping to use the project plan itself as a knowledge base to help future teams get a better sense of how long it will take to complete certain tasks and improve the overall planning process.

The iRobotics team at the University of Illinois is now the second Big Ten school to use LiquidPlanner as their project planning solution of choice. In September, we chronicled how Purdue University uses LiquidPlanner to design and build a long-range solar powered vehicle. While the projects themselves are quite different, both universities have one thing in common: They’re taking advantage of LiquidPlanner’s “Commitment to Education” program which provides free licenses to qualified educational organizations.

Is your team using LiquidPlanner to build something highly innovative? Drop us a line or let us know in the comments!

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Collaboration Nation: LiquidPlanner’s First Customer Event

November 7th was an exciting day for all of us here at LiquidPlanner! It marked our first customer event based here in the Seattle area.Collaboration Nation

Collaboration Nation brought together a small group of LiquidPlanner customers and friends to meet one another, share their stories, and discuss how they use LiquidPlanner to  get their teams more organized, productive and collaborative.

Between wine and light appetizers, there was a moderated panel discussion that explored how three very different organizations were using LiquidPlanner as well as a presentation from Elizabeth Bowman, a productivity coach who shared some of her favorite email organizing tips with the group.

guests at collaboration nation

Here’s some of the collected experience and wisdom passed on from our three panelists:

John Gabbert, CEO of Pitchbook

Pitchbook was founded seven years ago with the goal of providing comprehensive research on the venture capital and private equity industry. As the company grew – from a handful of people, to 50 and then 100 – it became harder to keep track of projects and execute well.  “Doing the core things well isn’t as easy,” John explains. What the group needed was a project management tool to help them with alignment, clarity, focusing on the right work, and executing well.

The company has since grown to several hundred people worldwide. About eight months ago, Pitchbook started using LiquidPlanner to reach their goals while they scaled their operations. How did they get their team to adopt a new tool? John says: “It’s important to really commit to it. Developing discipline is the hard part. The key to success is to make it part of the workflow. Just like our sales team drives their meetings using Salesforce, we now drive our marketing meetings from LiquidPlanner.”

Russ Beard, VP of IT, Bellevue College

“I have the best job in the world,” Russ announced. “I get to walk around all day and watch people change their lives.” Russ joined Bellevue College – the third largest accredited university in Washington State – a few years ago with the goal of turning the IT culture from one that “holds the keys to the IT kingdom” into a service industry that was more organized and collaborative. On the topic of how project management has evolved, Russ says: “The project management industry is a little like the educational field. We’re in the 21st century but we’re still using models designed hundreds of years ago (like the Gantt chart). Project management tools should not box you in but rather provide you the freedom to adapt to your own flow.” Plus, Russ pointed out, the new graduate is going to demand more agile and collaborative tools – not spreadsheets.

panelists at collaboration nation

Stuart Kenney, Project Manager, Nordstrom

Stuart is a project manager and lead studio technician for the Nordstrom photo studio in Seattle – one of two major photo production studios that Nordstrom relies on to produce commercial imagery. Stuart, who calls himself an “accidental project manager,” had the role handed to him unexpectedly, and embraced it. He quickly set out to evaluate the many tools on the market before settling on LiquidPlanner. Of this experience, Stuart says: “We wanted to find a project tool that worked for individuals who didn’t identify themselves as project managers. In LiquidPlanner we found a tool that enabled collaboration, provided visibility across our team, and allowed us to effectively prioritize our work.”

Wrapping up the afternoon was Elizabeth Bowman, Founder of Innovatively Organized, a Seattle-based productivity consulting firm that works with executives, teams, and companies who want to manage their time better and be more productive.2a2bc8b

Elizabeth was right at home talking to a roomful of self-proclaimed productivity geeks. Her talk focused on one of the greatest productivity killers: email. The analogy that she used to describe the problem that most of us encounter was straightforward enough – and yet quite illuminating: postal mail. Think about it – when you come home from work and check your mailbox, do you immediately open all of your mail, pay all your bills, write a note back to your mother, all before you come through the front door? Of course not! You organize it into piles and reply accordingly. Elizabeth tells clients to treat every piece of email as a unit of time and to be careful not to confuse being busy with being productive.

Thanks again for all of our customers and friends who joined us for this fantastic inaugural event. We’re excited to do another Collaboration Nation, and who knows, perhaps we’ll do it in your city!

Old SaaS Meets New SaaS: Liz Pearce Interviews Steve Singh

Every year, the Northwest Entrepreneur Network (NWEN) hosts their annual 2013 Entrepreneur University, a full day conference designed to help guide aspiring Seattle-based entrepreneurs. To kick off the day, NWEN invited Liz Pearce, to interview Steve Singh, co-founder and CEO of Concur, the leading provider of expense management solutions and one of the world’s very first Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies, about what lessons he learned over the course of building Concur over the last 20 years that could be applied to LiquidPlanner and other early-stage start-ups.

liz & steve

Concur was founded 20 years ago and is now one of the largest enterprise software companies in the Northwest. The company employs thousands of people around the globe and is valued at more than $6 billion. Back in the mid 1990’s, Concur decided to pivot its licensed software model to the Web. Of course, back then the nascent SaaS market was not quite as promising as it is today. The Internet was still referred to as the Super Information Highway and the word “cloud” referred only to those vapor filled puffs in the sky.  Enterprise organizations were more than a bit wary about using a web-based application to manage this important operational function.

In fact, long before working for LiquidPlanner, I had the opportunity to manage PR for Concur for several years starting back in the year 2000. So it was great fun to see two of my favorite executives on stage discussing their respective journeys and hearing their distinct perspective on what it takes to not just make a start-up succeed over the short term, but how to build one that stands the test of time.

So what lessons can a (relatively) young SaaS upstart like LiquidPlanner draw from a veteran CEO who has by every measure built a legacy of success? Here are some of the key takeaways gleaned from this morning’s interview with Steve:

On where to invest your first dollars: I would tell a young start-up to invest first and foremost in product development. Despite all of my other obligations, I still spend a huge chunk of my time focused on the product. I would also caution early-stage companies to not outsource those aspects of their business that are customer-facing as you lose the opportunity to integrate their feedback into your product roadmap.

 On creating an enduring culture: You’re success is driven entirely by your culture. And your company’s culture is a reflection of you. The great thing about human beings is that we always have an opportunity to change. The story of Concur starts with us but goes forward with everyone else.

On investing in other start-ups: You and your team don’t have the market cornered on intelligence. There are so many amazing companies here and around the world that are re-inventing entire supply chains. By investing in these companies, we benefit and the community benefits as well.

On scaling a start-up: The single biggest weakness that I, along with everyone in this room likely has, is that your eyes are bigger than your stomach. If I could go back and do one thing different, I would try not to do so many things. I would really ask myself: what’s the one thing that we should do well and focus on solving that problem.

On fundraising from early days to IPO: We put all of our own money into Concur. Try to capitalize yourself as much as possible and be “all in” on your commitment. Not all money is equal. Take it from the person you like the most because I guarantee you will have a very personal relationship. And take the minimal amount possible. It forces you to be disciplined and won’t let money mask potential problems.

When asked about the one piece of advice they would give to other entrepreneurs just starting out, Liz urged aspiring entrepreneurs to be persistent and ignore the naysayers. As for Steve, he encouraged the audience to “have fun – if you don’t love it, why the heck are you doing it?”

LiquidPlanner Case Study: How Purdue Solar Uses LP to Fuel the Future

Albert Einstein once famously stated that, “we cannot solve a problem using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Sally Ann Keyes would most likely agree with this sentiment.

Keyes is the President of Purdue Solar Racing, a highly decorated student-led engineering team at Purdue University that is quite literally building the future. Keyes and a team of 35 engineering students are among the top teams competing in the Shell Eco Marathon, an annual competition in which student teams from around the world compete to design, build, and test ultra-energy efficient vehicles.Purdue Solar Racing

Founded in the early ‘90s, the Purdue Solar Racing team has built nine solar-powered racing vehicles to date. After winning the last six Shell Eco Marathon races, the Purdue Solar Racing team has its eye on a new prize: the American Solar Challenge, a 1,200 to 1,800 mile course which takes approximately a week and a half to complete.

For the Purdue Solar team, designing and building each vehicle represents a massive undertaking, with the average vehicle taking two years to build and involving as many as 50 team members.

Until recently, Purdue Solar managed this highly complex project using Microsoft Project, which worked well enough with a smaller team. However, as the team grew in size and the project expanded in scope, relying on conventional Gantt bars to map out a two-year schedule quickly became unwieldy. Moreover, since the team is constantly pushing the envelope with new engineering concepts, there is naturally a significant amount of uncertainty in the plan – which traditional tools like Microsoft Project are ill-equipped to deal with since they force teams to estimate their tasks in rigid single point blocks of time.

“We really like the fact that LiquidPlanner allows us to estimate our tasks in best and worst-case scenarios, says Keyes. “This should help everyone on the team understand the gating factors that might delay key project milestones. Even though we’ve been doing this for a while now, there will always be changing variables that must be accounted for. We’re also excited about the new Baseline feature, which should prove invaluable in helping our team track progress and improve the way we estimate tasks in the future.”

While Keyes and her team have only been using LiquidPlanner for a short period of time, they have already scheduled out a year-and-a-half worth of tasks. One of the unique challenges that Keyes and her core team must deal with is the fact that student team members are continually joining and leaving the team. From a resource planning perspective, this can be problematic since an individual who’s been assigned a task one week may not be available when it comes time to work on it.

“Another feature that we anticipate will be incredibly useful is Overdrive scheduling. This will allow us to model our work schedule even if a task has not been assigned to a specific resource. With a team like ours, this is vital since our team members and their availability is constantly in flux,” continued Keyes.

Purdue solar racing

And since the Purdue Solar team is comprised entirely of students who eventually graduate and move on to other endeavors, the team also risks losing valuable institutional knowledge that is generated with the completion of each new vehicle. Keyes and the team believe that a solution like LiquidPlanner will serve as a dynamic knowledge repository that new team members can use to get up to speed quickly so they can hit the ground running.

“We estimate that it can take up to a year for a new team member to get up to speed on the project,” Keyes says. “So we’re constantly looking to improve the way we onboard new team members and are confident that having all of our project-related data in one place where members can easily collaborate with one another will go a long way towards achieving that goal.”

Purdue Solar is just one of over 1,000 educational and non-profit organizations to take advantage of the LiquidPlanner Commitment to Education offer which provides free licenses to qualified organizations. We’ll be watching and rooting for Purdue Solar as they gear up for their next race in 2015. Go Boilermakers!
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