Schawk Digital Solutions is a premier provider of brand management technology, including workflow and collaboration software, digital asset management technology, and graphics lifecycle management software.
Michael Burnham is in charge of managing the development and product lifestyle for Schawk’s flagship BLUE™ product, a fully integrated suite of web-based enterprise software solutions.
Michael’s team had been using Microsoft Project but found it to be awkward and difficult to extract data from, especially real-time impact analysis. It also offered no real pathway to align resources with priorities and optimize team performance.
Realistic Schedules and Simple Prioritized To-Do Lists
Real time scheduling and the ability to reforecast when emergencies, contingencies and daily snafus happen can really impact priorities across multiple projects. For managers like Michael, having quick access to true impact analysis is invaluable.
“We needed to find a replacement for Microsoft Project, which had proven to be not only very expensive, but unable to provide us with the proper data that would allow us to better track where are our developers spend their time. We needed a platform that would give us a more efficient way to do real impact analysis, versus the ad-hoc analysis we had been forced to rely on.”
For Burnham, simple but accurate schedules and prioritized To-Do lists are where LiquidPlanner really shines. “We evaluated products like AtTask, Basecamp and Jira, and we failed to find another product that would enable real-time scheduling and re-forecasting like LiquidPlanner does at its price point. For example, let’s say we got our developers working on our new product upgrade but somewhere along the line we need to fill a patch. If we pull a developer off for 48 hours to fill that request, LiquidPlanner will auto-balance the schedule.”
Burnham loves the fact that, “if you take a task off a list, the things that are due next automatically move up to the top of the list. Just like in real life, you can organize all your priorities into one big list, and clearly see what, where and when the vesting tasks are. This seems so basic: it’s all about impact, but other products don’t let you visualize that impact.”
Optimizing team performance also means better communication and clarity between Michael and team members: “LiquidPlanner really narrows the gap between ‘what I think you’re working on’ to ‘what you should be working on.”
Growing with LiquidPlanner
Since deploying LiquidPlanner in 2010, Michael’s team has had zero date slippage, and to that end he’s expanded LiquidPlanner from an initial deployment of 8 seats to approximately 30 today.
“In the past, we may have had slippage because we couldn’t properly gauge the impact of other projects on one another, such as when our testing team gets pulled off onto another project. Now we plug that data in and get instant impact analysis,” says Burnham.
Instant impact analysis is especially important in today’s world of distributed teams and outsourced third-party vendors. “With LiquidPlanner, we keep our User Acceptance up-to-date, and they are integrated into the schedule and everything is communicated in real time. The bottom line is you end up working with real dates and real updates versus theoretical plans, and that means you can better manage expectations and deliverables.”
Using LiquidPlanner, re-estimation becomes the workflow driver, as developers communicate up to management on-the-fly about the remaining workload.
This can become extremely critical. For example, when new concept features are added to a project, each developer can go into the system and put in their re-estimates.
Continues Burnham, “If you suddenly have five or six new features to add, I can still look at the ‘Big Picture,’ but independently this empowers the developers to make their estimates and move forward on the work. Contrast this to what we did previously with Microsoft Project, which was more guesswork coupled with the inevitable lost data stuck in your email box.”
Proper impact analysis also enables Burnham to optimize peak performance for his team by better evaluating who is busy and when, then “shuffle them around the board’ to match “peak and priority zones.”
Ultimately, the goal for Burnham is to make sure his team is focused on meeting goals for that year/project.
“You must have up-to-date estimates. LiquidPlanner enables us to narrow that cone of uncertainty. As projects progress, as you get more details into LiquidPlanner, you can get even more accurate. Really as infinitely accurate as you want to.”