What is one of the key differences between an experienced project manager and one just entering the field? I believe one is this - a recognition that uncertainty is an unavoidable part of the gig, and the ability to manage makes the difference between a great PM and merely a good one. It's neat to find a tool that helps PMs to do just that - that tool is LiquidPlanner.
(Full disclosure: I don't know anybody at LiquidPlanner, nor have I spoken with anybody over there - but I bet they're pretty nice folks. Phase2 receives no money from LiquidPlanner, and we don't even use it - yet. I just think it's cool.)
LiquidPlanner is a web-based project planning tool. It’s tough to praise or even discuss any project planning tool without comparing it to the lumbering and ancient behemoth of the field – Microsoft Project.
One of the most annoying things about using Microsoft Project is its inability to recognize task slippage as anything other than a horrifying game-changing event. As little as a single day's slippage - even for items on the non-critical path - triggers plan re-work, with an ugly cascade of dependency and resource re-work that rarely feels worth it. In the end, you end up creating all kinds of complex buffers and pads just to keep the plan workable.
Furthermore, because Project doesn’t natively do a great job of graphically conveying the uncertainty present in any plan, it's easy for non-project managers to construe your plans as rock-solid, when they rarely are in the world of IT.
LiquidPlanner does a great job of addressing this by incorporating ranged estimates and probabilistic scheduling model into its “core DNA”. Tasks are estimated using low-highs and LiquidPlanner uses them to generate ranged schedules. Here's a pretty neat screenshot of what LiquidPlanner generates - you'll get the idea with a quick look:
(Note to the Project Stalwarts: I know MS Project can indeed handle some of this stuff using a PERT add-on, but I haven’t found anything nearly as elegant or integrated as the LP solution.)
Another neat feature offered by LiquidPlanner is the ability to "pause task" - an item road blocked by an external dependency can be quickly put on hold, causing the next highest priority item to jump to the top of the schedule.
All in all, LiquidPlanner looks to be a neat tool with a lot going for it. It’s also pretty easy on the eyes as well – important for those of us in the web business. I’m curious about feedback from others who are using the tool in a production setting.