Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Review of Liquid Planner (www.liquidplanner.com)

Review by Alistair Davidson, Partner, Eclicktick Consulting

Strategic planning is not project planning. But strategic planning often requires project planning and dealing with high levels of uncertainty. There is, as a result, no single good way of managing execution that will apply to everyone’s situation. LiquidPlanner, an online project management software package, priced at $25 per user per month, is a simple package that includes an important element in project planning and project portfolio management – the difficulty of estimating how much work is required to complete a task.

Uncertainty about the length of time required to complete a task has numerous consequences. First, team members may pad their estimates of the work required to complete a task. Second, downstream tasks dependent upon the padded estimate will look even worse than they should. Put together too many padded estimates and projects may become impossible to sell internally. Restructuring of projects and resources become even more difficult than if better estimates were available. Even worse, arbitrary decisions about what is realistic and what is not may lead to top-down decisions by a senior manager or project manager—resulting it forecasts that are equally as erroneous and arbitrary.

LiquidPlanner’s solution is straightforward. Tasks are estimated as taking a range of time, e.g. from 2-4 hours or 1-4 days. The Gant charts (horizontal bar charts) that lay out the steps in a project show the most likely completion time for the task, the earliest possible date for the task and worse case for delivery. Promised or delivery dates now become easier to understand and more likely to be accurate.

LiquidPlanner is very much a child of 2010. The application comes with a portal where portions of the project can be shared with external participants (e.g. suppliers, customers, sub-contractors, partners, etc.). Messaging between participants is exposable through the portal. And an excellent series of video tutorials gets users up to speed quickly.

Adding in Monte Carlo or stochastic modeling to regular project management software is an option in many software packages, But usage of more probabilistic project management is still quite rare. LiquidPlanner is an easy to use and attractive tool for managing projects and small portfolios of time-based activities. Unlike many more complicated tools for Monte Carlo modeling, it keeps things simple.

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