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LiquidPlanner - Review 2020 - PCMag India


LiquidPlanner is one of the most impressive and complex work-management systems on the market. While we classify LiquidPlanner as project management software (and one of the best, at that), the app can do much more than traditional project management apps. It helps teams track and manage not only work, but also resources, including staff availability. It’s highly specialized and takes time to learn, but if you fully commit to it, the payoff is worthwhile. For large organizations, LiquidPlanner is an Editors’ Choice winner and a wonderful piece of software for organizations that are serious about working smarter.

Small teams looking to get up and running with a project management tool quickly should turn to a simpler and less expensive option, such as Zoho Projects, our top pick among low-cost options. Teamwork (formerly Teamwork Projects) is another top pick for small to medium-sized or growing teams, though it costs a bit more. Both Zoho Projects and Teamwork are current holders of Editors’ Choice awards.

How Much Does LiquidPlanner Cost?

LiquidPlanner offers two account levels: Professional and Enterprise. Both plans require a minimum of five people and an annual contract. Professional costs $540 per person per year. This works out to $45 per person per month. Because the minimum is five people, the minimum starting cost is $2,700 per year. You can try LiquidPlanner Professional for 14 days before buying.

With a Professional account, you get 100GB for document storage, 20 custom fields, the ability to add 100 clients, 10 external dashboards, 25 virtual members, and a limit of 2,000 active tasks. If you have at least 10 people on your account, you also qualify for two sessions with a LiquidPlanner representative to help with onboarding, as well as support by phone and email. With this tier of service, you don’t get expenses (the ability to record billable and non-billable expenses), nor resource-workload reports. You also can’t offer your team single sign-on.

The Enterprise level includes everything that Professional doesn’t have, plus it has higher limits for custom fields (50), virtual members (50), and external dashboards (unlimited). The cost of an Enterprise account starts at $4,140 for a one-year contract. That breaks down to $69 per person per month. The Enterprise account also comes with more support from LiquidPlanner while setting up and learning to use the app. You get five sessions with an onboarding expert instead of just three, plus a longer timeline to train your team.

How Do LiquidPlanner’s Prices Compare?

LiquidPlanner costs more than many other work management apps, but it’s also more sophisticated than most. In particular, it excels in the enterprise space. Comparing prices for enterprise products is difficult because typically these prices are not advertised and are customized to each customer.

Smaller organizations that don’t need enterprise-grade software can expect to pay a lot less, as little as a few dollars per person per month. Some examples of low-cost project management apps are Zoho Projects, TeamGantt, and GanttPro. These apps generally offer core project management and not much else—don’t expect resource management tools or controls for managing contract workers who sometimes pitch in on projects, and so forth, unless you upgrade to a higher tier of service.

Then there are apps with a midrange price tag. These apps sometimes offer more than others, although what they offer varies. If you need something specific, such as integrated invoicing and billing or proofing tools, you can usually find it within this mid-tier, but you’ll have to do some research. These types of apps cost roughly $15-$35 per person per month. A few examples are Smartsheet, Paymo, EasyProjects, and Microsoft Project.

Lastly, there are software products on the high end of the price scale. This is LiquidPlanner’s tier. They’re built to handle hundreds of projects and thousands of team members, and they run about $40 per person per month or more. Other examples are Mavenlink and Clarizen

LiquidPlanner milestone view

Getting Started With LiquidPlanner

Every couple of years since 2014 or so, we take LiquidPlanner for a fresh test drive. Starting in 2019, the site began to look dated. We’re happy that LiquidPlanner has announced that a new version of its product will be available in the Spring of 2021. It’s currently in public beta. “The new release won’t share a single line of code with the existing product,” a company representative told us. It will, however, have the same tried and tested features and functionality of LiquidPlanner. PCMag intends to test and review the new release when the public beta phase is ending and a public version is ready for market. We will update this review at that time.

Since our last review of LiquidPlanner, the company has already improved security and privacy by upgrading its software stack to add more cloud security features. Details are available on LiquidPlanner’s security page.

Let’s get into the program itself. When you first sign up to try LiquidPlanner, the app opens with some pre-populated data. It’s enough to give you a sense of the app’s structure, but not enough to see its power. A few pop-up boxes tell you what’s what, but you’re better off watching a few of LiquidPlanner’s video tutorials for a more substantive introduction.

LiquidPlanner’s default view is a Gantt chart view, although there are options for kanban board view and baseline view, too. Baseline views let you compare the actual state of a project with the original course you set, so you can pinpoint how, where, and perhaps even why tasks fell off track.

It doesn’t take long to learn some of the basics, such as how to create a new project and add tasks. You can add a lot of detail to any task, and you can add custom fields to your task cards to make room for anything that’s not there by default. LiquidPlanner supports milestones, though it took me a minute to remember how to create them (answer: from the plus sign at the top left in the project view). Some of the other features and setup take more effort, however.

For managing projects, LiquidPlanner offers everything you might want or need. You can create and name a project, add a description, assign various team members to work on it, set deadlines, add milestones, and so forth. Tasks can have checklists, but not proper subtasks. In other words, you can create a checklist for any task, but the items in that checklist can’t have deadlines, attachments, and other details added to them the way tasks can. Tasks can be dependent on one another, as well. When it comes to watching the progress your team makes on its projects and work, you can create custom dashboards that show you charts, tables, and other graphical information. It’s easy to get lost in the abundance of options.

LiquidPlanner maintaining work progress

Managing Work Beyond Projects

When it comes to managing projects, LiquidPlanner has plenty of great features, such as the ability to quickly highlight a critical path to a task or have a project deadline automatically adjust as people’s expected completion time for tasks changes.

But LiquidPlanner isn’t just for managing projects. You can use it for resource management, too, and track who’s available to take on new tasks and who’s scheduled to be out of office and when. Reports play a huge role in the resource management piece of LiquidPlanner. Using filters, you can generate some pretty useful reports. For example, you can group people by their job function or skill set and then pull up a report showing who among them is available to take on new work when you have a task you need to assign.

The app also handles ad-hoc work, that is, tasks that are not part of a project. Let’s say you need to assign someone to make upgrades to a server. You can do that in LiquidPlanner, whether or not projects rely on it happening. You can also use the app for managing ticket queues, which we classify as ongoing work rather than project work. When you have LiquidPlanner, you don’t need two different apps to handle project work and ongoing work. They both have a place.

Managing Resources and Juggling Priorities

LiquidPlanner is as much a way of working as it is a platform for keeping track of work. At a high level, it helps larger organizations manage resources across projects and according to shifting priorities. That’s part of why it appeals more to large organizations than small ones.

Let’s say, for example, that Genevieve has a two-hour task that suddenly takes priority. How does that change in priority affect all the other work assigned to Genevieve? How does it affect all the tasks assigned to other people who are dependent on Genevieve’s work? And, what happens when Genevieve’s two-hour task winds up taking four hours instead? LiquidPlanner deals with this type of juggling exactly.

Employees can enter their best- and worst-case scenario times for tasks, and the app keeps track of both the estimates and the actual time to completion. In this way, LiquidPlanner helps teams learn over time how to more accurately estimate the length of projects and tasks.

LiquidPlanner makes use of other data related to tasks, too. For example, you can add priorities, estimate how much effort is needed to complete tasks, and assign the resources being used to complete it. From there, LiquidPlanner can do the math for you to determine realistic completion dates for projects. The system is also smart enough to expect that from time to time, estimates, resources, and priorities change. Sometimes those changes are unforeseen, and sometimes they’re planned—such as when an employee schedules vacation time. Team members can enter their planned time off right into LiquidPlanner and afterward see exactly what work and resources will be affected when they’re gone. Being able to do so enables managers to reassign work appropriately.

If nothing else, LiquidPlanner is certainly sophisticated. Learning to use the system takes time, and the same goes for setting it up appropriately for your needs. What kinds of custom fields do you need? Which dashboard widgets work best for you? How should you organize projects into folders? Expect to invest a significant amount of time getting up and running. That’s not always the case with project management tools designed for smaller teams, such as Teamwork and Easy Projects. Those other apps let you get started quickly, though they don’t do nearly as much as LiquidPlanner does.

Time Tracking and Scheduling

In addition to having fields where you can estimate how long a task will take, LiquidPlanner has a built-in time tracking tool. You can switch it on and run it in your browser while you work. When you’re done, you stop the timer and either save or discard the minutes captured. The time logs onto the task card and a timesheet, which you can export to use in a billing or invoicing system, as one is not included. If you forget to launch a timer, you can always enter time worked manually or correct a time log after the fact.

In its more advanced capacity, LiquidPlanner makes it easy to adjust schedules, to-do lists, and other data as priorities and realities change. While you have to make some of the adjustments manually, many are automated. For example, let’s say one team member has several tasks assigned to her across three projects, and then one of her projects suddenly gets put on hold. All her tasks from the other two projects can dynamically readjust to make use of the time she just earned back from the paused project. Project managers always have the ability to change priorities of tasks and projects, and LiquidPlanner makes that dead simple with drag-and-drop functionality.

LiquidPlanner remaining effort on task

Team Members and Guests

LiquidPlanner lets you add team members and guests. Team members count as people on your account, but guests do not. Each person added is assigned a role that comes with some level of access and visibility. There is some amount of customization possible among these roles, too.

For team members, you have the choice to give them full access or restrict what they can do and see. These options are:

  • Restricted Member, meaning those who are restricted to specific projects that a co-owner defines;
  • Full Member, meaning collaborators who can view and update projects, and access project tab reports and people resource workload reports;
  • Manager, meaning either project manager or functional manager, who get access to advanced analytics and timesheets; and
  • Administrator.

For guests, you have choices for giving them a limited view into LiquidPlanner so that they can see progress on a project as appropriate, without being able to edit or add anything. For this type of access, you can have:

  • Virtual Members, who are usually external to the organization, such as a contractor, who have been assigned a task. They don’t get a proper login but rather get a link to the relevant information only.
  • Portal Guests, who do get a login, but it only lets them see specified projects. They can see some details and post comments, but that’s all.
  • Dashboard Guests, who are usually executives or clients. They get view-only access to whichever dashboards you choose.

LiquidPlanner has a number of excellent reporting tools, all housed in the Analytics area. Many of the reports show a balance of hours logged versus estimated hours remaining on a project, which LiquidPlanner refers to as Roll-Up reports. Sound fuzzy to you? The dashboard has plenty of helpful links to training videos and web pages that teach you what these things are and how to use them.

Integrations and Apps

LiquidPlanner supports integration with several services, including a variety of online calendars, Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive. Formerly Salesforce was supported for Professional and Enterprise members, but it is being discontinued. You can connect to Zendesk, but it’s not a one-touch setup. You can create integrations using LiquidPlanner’s open API or via third-party automation apps, such as Zapier and Cloudpipes. Those third-party apps can help you connect LiquidPlanner to tools, even if LiquidPlanner hasn’t built a one-touch integration for them.

If there’s a tool you want to connect, you might have to do a little legwork to make sure it’s possible. LiquidPlanner Professional and Enterprise customers have access to an open API, too.

For teams with a mobile workforce, LiquidPlanner has an Android app, an iPhone app, and an iPad app.

Time Is Money

LiquidPlanner is a capable online project management and work management tool with some excellent features for helping teams see work through to completion. It’s starting to show its age, but an interface refresh is on the horizon. Because LiquidPlanner is feature-rich and uses a unique system for prioritizing and entering time estimates, it can be a lot to absorb. Training videos and great reporting tools work together to make it an efficient, business-minded platform. It’s on the pricey side, but for large organizations that are serious about productivity and want to change how they work, LiquidPlanner is worth the investment.

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