On Tuesday, I saw a demo version of LiquidPlanner (the project management scheduling and collaboration tool). It’s now available – it’s still in Beta testing so it’s still free!
Bruce Henry guided me, a long-time user of MS Project through the main features. Although I have tried ConceptDraw Project 3 & Niku, LiquidPlanner is the best I’ve used.
As companies outsource the simple stuff, they are leaving the more complex, non-repetitive tasks at home. This is driving our economy to become more project-driven. This is great news for project professionals but it also means that we are doing more work than ever before. Add some new technology to the mix and it becomes almost impossible for anyone to accurately estimate a project.
LiquidPlanner is able to work with uncertainty rather than forcing you into committing to task durations. It uses ranged estimates instead of single point estimates to create task durations. It also features a patent-pending scheduling engine, which applies probability to each task in the schedule. This allows you to make more accurate guesstimates about when things are going to end.
It is not enough to update progress using the standard percent complete approach. Each time you update progress, you need to re-estimate how long it will take. This will allow you to make better predictions about when things will be finished. However, you must also keep an eye on what your colleagues are doing. If they keep repeating “two more days, just another two days”, but never getting any closer to completion, then it is time to recognize the warning sign. You can also do that with percent complete. I remember working with someone who claimed everything was 80% complete regardless of how much he had done.
The fuzzy durations on the LiquidPlanner Gantt charts are my favorite feature. The task bars fade at their ends to indicate that tasks have ended, but not fix a milestone. Bruce also showed me that dependencies don’t need to be included when working with resources. LiquidPlanner knows that Bob cannot do six tasks in one day and schedules them one after another. It’s time-based planning, not effort-based planning. But that’s okay. After all, that’s how most people do it and how most stakeholders want it. Drag and drop the task until Bob is working on it.

It is not clear if your project sponsor will be able to understand fuzzy durations and how to calculate time using probability engines. It will be helpful if your project sponsor consistently removes the contingency that you have so carefully planned and added in. If you feel that you have to add a contingency task, it is possible.
LiquidPlanner has MS Sharepoint-style collaboration. It also acts as a document repository. This is because projects are social activities and getting people to collaborate is a challenge that pays off when done well. Social networking tools have not been incorporated into project management tools. Although I have written about project blogs before I was unsuccessful in finding a wiki that I could use for my current projects. LiquidPlanner uses some of the Web 2.0 concepts to help project managers in the traditional way. This is a good thing. It will be difficult to place this document repository or collaboration tool alongside another one if your company uses it. Although you can link to documents stored on other web-based systems, who would want to switch between them? It’s better to do the whole thing.