In the world of project management, data is key. However, measuring and tracking the right information from project kickoff all the way to delivery is never an easy feat.
That’s why we’ve been cooking up product improvements that not only deliver better data for all aspects of your projects, but also give you a way to make sense of that data. Because data without analysis is just numbers.
This month, we’re excited to share two updates that will help you gain deeper insights, more accurately track information across all projects, and save time and money.
Track, Manage, and Organize with More Flexible Custom Fields
Every project is unique, and teams need to accurately track information that is specific to the way they work. There are a multitude of processes, communication, and metadata that needs to get captured, especially with more complex projects.
That’s where Custom Fields come in. You can track any aspect of your project by creating fields for things like project status, product lines, or business regions.
With the April update, we’ve added Text Custom Fields, a new type of field that offers even more flexibility. Now teams can enter a single-line text entry for specific task or project fields. Create fields for part numbers, unique codes, risk reasons, or any other part of your team’s process.
Workspace administrators can create Text Custom Fields in the Data Customization section in Settings. Once the field is created, anyone can add relevant information directly to their tasks or projects.
See the Whole Picture with Sub-Folder Reporting
Complex projects often have a number of distinct stages that project managers use to track progress or costs incurred. For some teams, getting meaningful data for these separate phases is just as important as reporting on the project as a whole.
That’s why we’ve introduced sub-folder reports to Dashboards and Analytics. In one click, teams can quickly see progress, financials, and risk information for any phase of a project.
Visit a dashboard to get a clear visual on how much work has gone into each phase:
Or, run a Sub-folder Report in Analytics to see where you stand for your billable hours:
Getting the right data and reports is only half the battle. It’s what you do with that information that makes project management a little bit art and a little bit science.
Getting the project data you need to understand the health of your business is now faster and easier than ever before. Our February update makes it possible to pull powerful Analytics reports from LiquidPlanner using the API — fellow data geeks rejoice!
Make the most out of your project data
The LiquidPlanner API lets you sync data, automate actions, and integrate with other systems to connect LiquidPlanner to all parts of your business. The key to accessing Analytics data through the API is a handy link you can now find for any Analytics report.
With this link, you or a developer on your team can use the report’s JSON file to connect LiquidPlanner Analytics reports to business intelligence tools or external reports that you’ve built in Excel or Google Sheets. This automates cross-functional reporting and is especially useful for parts of the organization that may not be directly involved with project management, but need the bottom-line numbers, like your finance department.
Once you’ve configured your reporting tool to use the API, all you need to do is sync the data. All of your real-time project information will automatically be fetched and applied to your charts, pivot tables, or any other data visualization you’ve built.
Increase your business intelligence
The LiquidPlanner API opens the door to a multitude of reporting possibilities. Here are just a few of the ways you can use the API to build and automate your business reports:
You can save the JSON file for an Analytics report and pull it into a BI tool, like Tableau. Depending on the tool you’re using, this is usually a simple process.
To get an idea of overall business performance over a timeframe, like month over month, you can use the reporting tool of your choice to pull LiquidPlanner data for a specific date range and compare the data across time.
Automatically sync billing and pay rate calculations with your accounting software to make your finance team’s life a lot easier.
Productivity is on the rise in manufacturing, and employment is down. This trend points to a rise in automation, as well as the need for product teams to leverage the latest technology more than ever. There’s no doubt about it: We’re entering a new world of industry.
Building IIoT experience through personal study, work, open source projects or side projects
Using mobile devices as the primary interface for some of your major systems
Getting automation to work for you (not as a replacement strategy), enabling teams and organizations to think more strategically
Moving your software systems to the cloud.
Another way project teams can resist the disruption of the fourth industrial revolution is through security expertise. The dangers of hackers will only rise in the fourth industrial revolution as even more critical systems connect to the internet.
To be successful today and into the future, here are five technology best practices that project teams need to embrace.
1. Get Ready for the Smart Factory
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will give rise to what they call the smart factory. Here, all elements of a plant including machines, products, and virtually the entire environment are networked with each other and connected to the internet.
The smart factory marks some unprecedented changes for the manufacturing project team, such as:
Flexible production capabilities to respond to changing world markets for your company’s products
Greater efficiency with building materials and energy
Greater speed through smarter production processes
More intelligent logistics through technology solutions that support product manufacturing from the customer sales cycle through final delivery.
IIoT and big data serve as the “smart” in a smart factory. IoT turns manufacturing machinery and the supply chain into intelligent agents that generate data. Analytics tools pull in that big data for self-learning.
Project teams that harness that self-learning can move from being reactionary to becoming visionary because they grasp this technology evolution. The technologies behind the smart factory offer workers improved user experience (UX) not just in application user interfaces but a modern, efficient, ergonomic workplace.
2. Big Data for Everyone
For project teams, data analytics will play a growing role in the fourth industrial revolution. One of the main reasons is that IIoT is enabling firms to capture actionable data from machinery across all their manufacturing facilities.
This means, everybody on the team will have a graphical view into data anytime, anywhere—not just project managers. A picture of machinery health and other related data will always be a few taps away. Three breeds of analytics will start to dictate what your project team maintains on the factory floor:
Descriptive Analytics using data aggregation and data mining to provide insight into the past and answer: “What has happened?”
Predictive Analytics using statistical modeling to understand the future and answer: “What could happen?”
Prescriptive Analytics using optimization and simulation algorithms. The output can offer possible outcomes to operations and maintenance scenarios and answer: “What should we do?
For example, collaboration, project management, and enterprise mobility management (EMM) solutions will use analytics for security. Management may consult the analytics for usage trends before negotiating the next license with the platform vendor.
The first project team in a manufacturing organization that harnesses data and analytics is going to have a front seat to the fourth industrial revolution. It’s important for your team to factor analytics and data into your project management strategy and learn to tell data-driven stories about progress (and not see the analytics as intrusive).
Think of the team in the future that wants their employer to purchase new technology to extend their manufacturing platform. The investment makes sense to the technical people on the floor. Executives, however, aren’t such an easy sell because none of them have turned a bolt since they were out of school. The crafty project team can now present compelling data that can enable them to speak to executives like they are a fellow person, not a lower level worker on the manufacturing floor.
3. Get Behind Automation on the Manufacturing Floor
Another outcome of the fourth industrial revolution is going to be automation. Indeed, it’s a sensitive topic across many industries, as automation is going to disrupt project teams. Executives spy cost savings. Employees fear the unemployment line. This clash between employees and management ultimately needs to become a platform where both parties seek out the opportunities and benefits that automation delivers the business and how to cast employees into the future.
Automation speeds up production and delivery because it reduces manual intervention on age-old jobs. To gain the benefits you’re seeking from automation—whether it’s freeing up skilled hands for more important work or reorganizing your staffing structure—you’ll need to consider the following:
Streamline your current processes or create new ones that account for the savings and other benefits automation brings to your manufacturing floor.
Inevitably, industry watchers and analysts say that automation is going to replace certain types of jobs, which may challenge the bonds of your project team. While automation-proofing your position and your team is difficult if not impossible, the smart and savvy teams facing down the fourth industrial revolution will be the ones developing, implementing, and managing automation solutions lest they might be one of the teams replaced whole or in part by automation.
4. It’s Also the Mobile Devices Revolution
Billions of people already reach for their smartphones and mobile devices first for information, collaboration and business interactions. However, the manufacturing industry is still relatively mobile poor in their technology stack. Industry 4.0 will change that by pushing mobile usage on the manufacturing floor for managers and technicians who need on-demand access to data. No more creating pivot tables in a spreadsheet; instead, think graphical rendering and reporting of data and statistics for machinery across the line.
Other factors like the rise of the citizen developer will also push mobile adoption in the fourth industrial revolution. These developers are digital age business users (not programmers) developing their own business apps using code-free or low code tools and cloud platforms. While manufacturing is seen by some as a mobile device poor industry because of budget and security concerns. Expect Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to be the first step for manufacturing enterprises to use mobile devices every day.
5. Cloud Computing Powers the Smart Factory
With the dominance of IoT, data, and analytics in the fourth industrial revolution means that cloud computing will be the platform of choice because of its flexibility and affordability. While the cloud isn’t new to some industries, manufacturing firms are behind on this trend. The retiring of legacy applications and mobile apps will help push this trend on the manufacturing floor. Forward thinking teams and organizations are already moving to the cloud; going forward, the usage of cloud and application programming interface (API) integration will increase exponentially.
Project teams walking into a smart factory for work can expect the following:
Cloud-enablement of legacy systems
Cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP)
Proactive tools including analytics for scheduling of system maintenance
DevOps-like alerting for system and machinery failures.
While cloud security remains a concern across industries there have been security advancements by public cloud providers. The hybrid cloud, and the private cloud are lessening such worries for small to mid-sized firms that can’t afford in-house IT security expertise on a full-time basis.
Change Strengthens Project Teams
Change can be disruptive to some types of personalities and management structures. Some pundits and analysts tracking the fourth industrial revolution believe the role of government will become even more important. I say the role and power of the technology project team will become more important because they are the ones doing the work.
Today’s knowledge workers have some recourse for the fourth industrial revolution because they can educate themselves on the technologies powering the fourth generation to better position themselves inside their company.
How is your team preparing for the impending Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Recently LiquidPlanner CEO Liz Pearce sat down for a quick chat with entrepreneur-turned-podcast star, Nathan Latka. It’s a fascinating, rapid-fire conversation about how LiquidPlanner started, along with an overview of some of the critical business data points that Liz monitors on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
Latka, a successful entrepreneur in his own right, launched and sold Heyo, a social marketing agency earlier this year. Interested in all things business, he’s gone on to build a business podcast, The Top Entrepreneurs in Money, Marketing, Business and Life, into an informative medium that helps listeners learn from a wide range of executives about their approach to growing a business.
Whether you’re interested in entrepreneurship, or would like to learn more about the value of unit economics and what it takes to build a successful and growing online SaaS business, this is a fun and compelling story.
Dear Elizabeth: What’s the best way to open a meeting? I just started leading a project team and I often feel awkward at the very beginning of our weekly meeting, especially since I’m trying to gain the trust of my new team. Do you have any good opening lines, or best practices? –New in Town
Dear New in Town: “Shall we get started?” is probably the opening line I use the most! That’s a good way of bringing people to order without having to tap a pen on the side of a glass. Also, speak a bit more loudly than normal if the room is buzzing. People come together in person in meetings and sometimes haven’t seen each other for a while. They use the downtime at the beginning of the meeting and in breaks to catch up and often talk about problems that don’t affect everyone else in the room. It’s good to encourage that kind of chat as you’ll find it’s the informal discussions that often lead to more work getting done.
If your meeting is a virtual team meeting and you’re on the phone, then start with something like: “Hello everyone, it’s New-in-Town here. Let’s see who we’ve got on the phone before we kick off. Did I hear Old Hand dial in?” Then check off your attendees.
If you haven’t got everyone together, whether you’re meeting in person or virtually, you have two choices: Either hang on for a bit, or carry on and let them interrupt you later. I make that decision based on who we are waiting for and who is doing the waiting. For example, in a room of senior managers who are hanging around waiting for someone I could catch up with afterwards, I would go ahead and start. If the person missing is the project sponsor, then I’d wait and see if s/he arrives in the next few minutes.
Either way, don’t let the people in the room hang around for more than a couple of minutes because it’s disrespectful of their time and tells them that it’s OK to be late next time.
Hope that helps!
Dear Elizabeth: I have to run countless reports a month—for my boss, our customers, my team, anyone else who asks. I know they’re necessary but they take time and take me away from the work I need to do. Is there a way I can either cut down on the reports or make the process more efficient? In other words, what am I missing? – Reporting to Death
Dear Reporting: Ah, reporting. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought recently and streamlining reporting is the single best way I can come up with in my own workload right now to buy me back some time.
The huge benefit of having project management software that holds all the right data is that you can set up your own dashboards or template reports and then run them whenever you want with a single click. The software extracts the relevant information for you, saving you from the ever-increasing circle of having to get more data. You can then tweak if necessary, but it’s far faster having the bulk of the content already done for you.
The other, non-technical thing that you can do is to make sure that you adequately understand why people are asking you for reports and making sure that you hit their expectations and timeframes. This will also help you to bundle reporting outputs together. For example, if you find out that a couple of your requesting sponsors have the similar requirements, then you can do a special version for them.
Personally, I’m not a great fan of different reports for different audiences as I think it provides too much opportunity for moving away from one version of the truth.” Still, if you have to do them, you might as well automate and consolidate as much as possible!
Are you grappling with a stubborn project management work issue? Ask Elizabeth! Email your question to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymity included.
In today’s business world, everyone wants data. Which is why project metrics and analytics are such key components of LiquidPlanner. When you diligently enter project and task information into your workspace (estimates, time tracked, etc.), you’re automatically racking up precious project data—the kind that helps make meaningful business decisions, keep stakeholders in the loop, and track projects as they unfold.
As a Customer Success Manager, I talk to a lot of customers who ask how to surface key project metrics. They want to know the best way to share specific project information. Very often, the guidance I provide has to do with setting up a Dashboard.
The Beauty of Dashboards
LiquidPlanner Dashboards allow you to pull together stats and data from across your LiquidPlanner workspace into a centralized location. You can customize a dashboard to track project completion, provide status updates, or manage your work. You can keep everyone in sync by sharing dashboards with workspace members, as well as external stakeholders.
Using Pre-Built Dashboards
I’m happy to say that setting up a dashboard is easier now than ever before, thanks to Pre-Built Dashboards. There are three options to choose from: Project, Portfolio, and Team dashboards. These are great because as soon as you click save, there’s content already in place. You don’t have to stare at a blank page, trying to decide which widgets and filters to use.
Let’s explore one of these Pre-Built Dashboards. I’m a big fan of the Team Dashboard, so we’ll take a look at that one. And, with a nod to our national pastime, I’ll use baseball as my analogy.
The Team Dashboard as Seen Through Baseball
Baseball is all about stats—batting averages, RBIs, wins, strikeouts, and saves. Your LiquidPlanner workspace is full of stats too: hours logged, hours remaining, expected finish dates, and items at risk. In the project management game—hits, misses and home runs—plays out on the projects tab instead of the diamond. Rather than “fielding” and “at bats,” you’re adding projects, updating tasks, changing priorities and managing risk.
When you need to check out team standings, there’s no better place to look than a Team Dashboard. This pre-built dashboard uses a Person filter which automatically filters content to the team or members you specify when setting it up. Navigate to the Dashboards tab, click the Create Dashboard link, and select Team. Give your dashboard a name, fill in the description, and pick your players.
There are five widgets on this dashboard. It’s a solid leadoff, and you can improve the lineup by customizing the existing widgets or adding more of them.
“Our Projects” is an analytics table widget that displays projects where your team has work assigned, and the number of tasks they own in each of those projects. A column to consider adding here is “Overall % Complete.” Or, if your workspace is one that identifies project phases using a custom project field, add that column instead, so you know just where you stand with each project.
“Upcoming Tasks” is very much like the My Work tab; but instead of focusing on just one member, it includes the tasks, checklist items, events, and milestones assigned to all the members you’ve included in your team dashboard.
There are two donut widgets on this dashboard, and they’re both set up to show logged progress. One for this week’s hours, and one for last week’s. It’s important to remember that logging progress keeps the plan updated, so encourage your team to knock it out of the park.
Of course, it’s not all hits and runs in baseball. There are plenty of errors too. On this dashboard, “At Risk Work” shows exactly where you need to improve. (It’s an analytics table widget filtered to items flagged with an alert.)
Make your team dashboard a true all-star by adding an analytics table widget to track upcoming vacations and company holidays.
This widget uses a custom status filter with the rules “done is false” and “item type is Event.” Create the filter first, then add it to the widget by clicking on the “Active Items” task status filter. When Apply Status Filter opens, find your custom events filter under Saved Status Filters.
For a more detailed look at creating and customizing dashboards, grab some peanuts and crackerjacks, then settle in to watch our updated Dashboards video. Play ball!
It’s been a busy summer here at LiquidPlanner headquarters! Just a couple of weeks ago, we released some product updates that we’re pretty excited about. We made big improvements to workload visualization and forecasting, and added a new way to find and run reports from the main projects view.
One report, in particular, got a major upgrade — it’s called the Project Workload report and it’s been the star of the show because it provides a simple and effective way to manage your project team and their assignments. We put this report in the spotlight by adding a new Reports menu on the Projects tab to make it easy to access while you’re monitoring your projects. In the same menu, you’ll find a supporting cast of powerful reports that have been around for some time. While these reports aren’t new, they’re great for understanding what’s happening with your projects and visualizing changes in the plan.
Read on to learn about Project Workload, Project Status, Remaining Trend, Total Trend, and Date Drift and find out why these reports have taken center stage in your workspace.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!