- Good customer support
- Customizable feature set
- Expensive monthly cost
- Steep learning curve
- Not suited for small businesses
- Over-complicated pricing plans
Clarizen was designed to be more than just a project management tool. Currently used by more than 2,500 organizations across 76 countries, Clarizen claims to be the first and only software system to merge project management with social engagement. The social element of running a business is critical to the design of this software, which derives its name from a combination of the words “clarity” and “Zen.” Clarizen’s primary raison d’être is “to bring transparency – clarity – to the people, work, and processes that drive an organization.” According to the official product website, Clarizen’s Zen component is derived from “the focus and peace of mind that’s achieved when teams are empowered to manage their work with real-time visibility and collaborate across the enterprise.”
Clarizen was launched in 2006 by current CEO Avinoam Nowogrodski, an entrepreneur and electrical engineer who originally hails from Israel. Prior to the establishment of Clarizen, Nowogrodski was highly involved with SmarTeam Corporation, a company that he created to provide collaborative product life cycle management solutions.
Clarizen is the project management choice of many Fortune 500 companies, and some of its big-name users include Cisco, Box, and Fender Guitar Company. The unique design and focus of this software have earned it several major industry awards. Clarizen was the 2013 SIIA CODiE Winner and received the Gold Award from Top 10 Reviews in both 2012 and 2013. This software was also named one of the Top Business Apps of 2013 by GetApp.com. More recently, Clarizen was named a leader in cloud-based IT Project and Portfolio management by Gartner.
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Web-Based (SaaS) or On-Premise
Clarizen exists and functions completely in the cloud. It does not require installation and updates automatically.
This software is relatively expensive and has an intricate and sometimes confusing pricing method. To begin, you must choose between two different editions of Clarizen, both priced according to a 36-month plan that has been paid in full in advance. Clarizen used to list prices for these subscriptions on their website, but the price listings were recently removed. Previously, the enterprise edition cost $60 per user per month, with the unlimited edition coming in at $80 per user per month. However, these prices may no longer be accurate. Here are the differences between the classes:
- Unlimited Projects
- API Access
- Time/Expense Tracking
- 150 Custom Fields
- Much More
- Basically a hugely expanded version of the Enterprise Edition
That sounds straightforward enough, right? Wrong. Subscription prices vary, according not only to edition, but also to what license types you choose and how far ahead you pay your subscription. There are four different types of Clarizen user license.
- Social features
- Task and Issue Management (to-do list items only)
- Time & Expense:
- All Social features
- Time Tracking
- Expense Management
- Team Member:
- All previous features
- Full Task and Issue Management features
- All prior features
- Time Tracking & Expense Approvals
- Resource Load & Calendar
- Reports & Dashboard
- Team Views
- Projects Overview & Drill-Downs
- Project Gantt & Roadmap View
Here’s where it gets really tricky. The edition prices quoted above are only valid if you are exclusively purchasing Full licenses and subscribing for a 36-month period. When you start playing around with licenses and subscription duration, all bets are off. Social licenses, for example, are much cheaper than the Full or Team Member versions, and Email-only licenses are completely free.
The positive side of all this is that it’s possible to tailor a Clarizen plan that perfectly fits your company’s needs, budget, and employee type. Unfortunately, while Clarizen used to have a pricing calculator to help you find out the cost of a potential purchase, they have removed this function from their website.
Ease of Use
Personally, I go back and forth on whether Clarizen is truly user-friendly. Here are a few things about using this software that irritate me:
- Tedious Task Prioritization: Most project management programs allow you to drag-and-drop tasks until they are in the desired order. Even though Clarizen has drag-and-drop capabilities, it requires you to cut and paste specific tasks or projects if you want to change their position in your hierarchy.
- Mobile Apps: Clarizen has come out with mobile apps for iOS and Android. Both come equipped with a dashboard view and allow you to submit timesheets, see task overviews, generally collaborate with coworkers, and search for specific results. Though these apps are intended to make it easier to work away from your office, they are, alas, so difficult to manipulate that for most important functions, they are essentially useless. The iOS app has a user rating of only 2.5 stars. One unhappy customer complained “No landscape view. Will not rotate. No Gantt view. I was looking for information display similar to the home screen within Clarizen.” They went on to say, a bit wistfully, “Would be nice to have the same filtering options as you get within Clarizen.” The Android version has a slightly better rating at 2.9 stars, but it’s still fairly dismal.
However, Clarizen does have some features that are simple, quick, and intuitive:
- Navigation Panel: I love this! The navigation panel is prominently located on the left side of your account screen. This panel basically allows you to access any function of Clarizen (timesheets, expense sheets, the social networking hub, tasks, issues, requests, templates, reports, etc.) with no fuss and no wasted movement. New users will never get lost or squander precious time wondering where they’re supposed to clock in or how to access their projects.
- Templates: Like its competitor Smartsheet, Clarizen provides a number of premade templates to help users better manage action plans, timelines, project tracking, risk management, and more. Templates are always a great way to save time and avoid unnecessary work and hassle; having available templates tends to make life easier, especially for folks who lack strong IT skills. You can use each Clarizen template as is or reconfigure it to suit your needs. Once created, customized templates may be saved and stored for future use. Conveniently, if you’re already using templates in MS Project, they can be imported to your Clarizen account and used there.
Customer Service & Support
- Success Site: This useful site contains a wealth of materials for learning to use Clarizen. There is a getting started page, with several short articles dealing with the most basic of Clarizen’s features (passwords and the like). Beyond that, the Success page gives you access to the community forum, where you can post your own questions or even answer the questions of others. While this sounds like a good idea, I found it little-used, with the most recent articles posted months ago. More helpfully, the success page includes a release notes section, where you can see the newest updates to Clarizen.
- Webinars & Video Tutorials: Daily webinars are offered for people in the Americas, Europe, or Asia/Pacific regions. Some are merely introductory, some address details of specific features, and a few of them provide interactive, live training in the software. All webinars end with a Q&A session. Clarizen highly recommends signing up for one or more free webinars, and I heartily agree. I’m less enthused about the numerous, already-recorded video tutorials, which I found to be buggy and generally unhelpful. There are some exceptions, of course, and if you’re really struggling with a specific feature, the videos can provide immediate assistance. They are most useful when you already know the software fairly well and want to brush up on some of the finer points. I suggest browsing the selection of tutorials, which are sorted by role or function, to see if any catch your eye, but if you want a comprehensive overview or basic information, they’re not worth the trouble. Do a webinar instead.
- Clarizen University: This is a computer-based training program that you can use to help teach your staff about the complex inner workings of Clarizen. Coursework typically consists of presentations, interactive hands-on lessons, and certification exams. Clarizen University aims these programs at four different subgroups: normal employees (whom they refer to distastefully as “resources”), project managers, functional managers, and Clarizen administrators.
- Personalized Assistance: Clarizen makes a variety of professional services available to customers – for a fee, of course. You can opt for access to a personal Clarizen subject matter expert (SME) and/or a Clarizen customer success manager (CSM) to coach, train, and work with project leaders and your business’s Clarizen administrator.
- Customized Help Materials for Different Departments: Project management teams, IT departments, development teams, marketing teams, and professional services organizations can all access carefully-tailored help materials, which Clarizen has designed differently to fit the needs of separate departments. Clarizen Victory Kits outline the ways that each department can use the software to its best advantage. The White Papers contain helpful, relevant articles. There are also checklists, tip sheets, and data sheets available with helpful background info about the way the software works in general, security procedures, and other need-to-know information.
- Social Media Engagement: Clarizen has a decent social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. The Clarizen Facebook account does try to keep followers apprised of press releases and occasionally provides user tips, and I did see some communication back and forth between the company and customers. There is also a feedback section where users can suggest improvements to the software. Warning: I read at least one person’s complaint that Clarizen had begun attaching advertisements and spam to his personal account after he joined their page. After joining myself, I realized that they do repost quite a bit of self-promotional material. Needless to say, I will be unsubscribing from their Facebook page and I don’t recommend following it unless you want your news feed cluttered up with ads. The Clarizen Twitter account consists mainly of press releases and some tips and articles on maximizing efficiency, but there does seem to be more productive user interaction on the Twitter feed. Clarizen maintains a LinkedIn account as well, if you’re looking for more information about the company.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
Clarizen is not perfect, and misses the mark in many ways. Personally, I found it outrageously complicated, even when compared to the likes of Podio and AceProject. The most significant complaints I ran across in the course of my research involved the following issues:
- Customization Is Confusing: In order to fully customize Clarizen to your needs, you will need to spend time figuring out exactly what you want from it. This means managing different “profiles” on your account in order to access the different toolbar items that make Clarizen worth considering in the first place.
- Inflexible Reporting Features: Clarizen does not have top-notch reporting tools, and some find that reports are unhelpful or difficult to generate.
- Limited Functionality: Many people complain that Clarizen does not stack up well on range of functions when compared to similar project management software.
- Too Expensive: This is an almost universal complaint.
- Poorly Suited For Smaller Companies: Clarizen’s design really makes it more appropriate for enterprise-based organizations. As one user commented, “If you have a small, simple project that only needs a team of 2 or 3, Clarizen is probably too powerful.”
- Lack Of Relevant Integrations: Clarizen does not currently come equipped with as many integrations as would be ideal. Furthermore, many of the available integrations are pricey and consequently rendered impractical for smaller organizations.
- Different Versions Are Confusing: As I searched for potential problems with Clarizen, I saw many complaints about lack of access, or the inability to view certain parts of the program. It seems that due to the complex nature of pricing and buying Clarizen, some customers do not get exactly what they want. This is not exactly Clarizen’s fault, but it is something to consider before buying.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
Though there are certainly negative aspects to this software, many people have found that the positive features outweigh the drawbacks. Users seem especially enthused about the following characteristics of Clarizen:
- Cross-Departmental Collaboration Capabilities
- Quality Integration: What integrations are available work well and increase efficiency.
- Excellent Support Programs: People seem to like the thoroughness of Clarizen’s support material, and especially love the webinars.
- Wide Range of Project Templates
- Real-Time Updates Through the Cloud
- Roadmap: This feature, which is basically a Gantt progress chart, allows for easy sharing of information and helps to increase client relations and transparency. People love the fact that they can embed it on their company’s website as a widget.
- Free Trial: Most users enjoyed the free trial period, which allowed them to decide which plan and features to subscribe to.
- Efficiency Booster: Many organizations found that Clarizen helps them improve communication and avoid errors or double-completion of the same task.
Here are excerpts from a few of the more positive Clarizen reviews I encountered:
Before using Clarizen, when we reached a project’s deadline we would usually look back and realize that certain tasks were overlooked or incomplete. Now, that doesn’t happen; the amount of errors, double-work, the amount of things that haven’t been done, have all been drastically reduced.
Clarizen is critical to the flow of my daily operations. The on-demand and real-time team collaboration that the solution provides our team is a competitive differentiator by making our projects agile and responsive to the needs of our customers, saving us time and resources, and therefore giving us the freedom to better deliver innovative and effective marketing campaigns.
We now have a single language and a single process.
Clarizen has empowered us by making everyone accountable for their work. Using it has demonstrated immediate benefits, especially in terms of time management and getting a clear view of the company’s resources.
You can read more from these reviews or view other customer success stories on the Clarizen website.
Because of the labyrinthine options when it comes to purchasing your version of Clarizen, it is difficult to say exactly what features you will or will not have access to. However, there are some things that are common to almost all subscription types:
- Projects: Exactly as you would expect, projects contain your tasks, team members, and the like. One thing I especially like is that you can do “Project-ception,” putting a project inside another existing project. This is an organizational tool that I have not really seen before. Another, more common feature Clarizen provides is an array of templates, like I mentioned earlier. Choose one from the list and modify it to suit your needs. Use the Project Overview to get an info-rich quick look at the status of your work and keep up to date with deadlines.
- Task Management: Within your projects, you can create Milestones and Tasks. Most project management platforms have a kind of nesting hierarchy for this kind of thing, and Clarizen is no different. Milestones exist within projects as the “big moments” in your timeline, such as deadlines, meetings, and launch dates. Within these are tasks, used to organize the process of getting from milestone to milestone. So far, so normal. However, where other programs might have the option to create sub-tasks within each task, Clarizen allows for near infinite nesting tasks. So if you feel like even your subtasks need subtasks, Clarizen is there for you. One thing I am not a huge fan of in tasks, though, is the fact that to assign team members to a task, you add them to the “resource” section of that task. I know that in a sense, employees are resources that need to be allocated effectively, but I think that using a term with a little more humanity could potentially create a better atmosphere in which to work.
- Communication Tools: For me, the strength of a program’s communication tools is a major factor in how I feel about it by the end. Clarizen does have these communication tools, but, oddly, they are not featured prominently in the UI. Instead, to access Clarizen’s “discussion groups” tool, you have to navigate the twisting, turning paths of Clarizen’s “profiles.” I do not really understand this decision, as communication is so integral to making project management work well, especially when working out of the office. Clarizen does have a chat feature, located in the upper right of the UI, but honestly, it feels like it was tacked on, as all the other tools for using the program are located on the left-hand toolbar. Fortunately, at the bottom of each task, Clarizen provides a “discussion” box where users can communicate about the various aspects of the page they are looking at. (Unfortunately, this is relegated to the bottom of the page, and, like the chat feature, feels more like an afterthought than an integral part of the program.)
- Time Tracking: It is relatively common to find a time tracking feature in project management programs, and indeed, those that do not have some kind of stopwatch are criticized for this deficiency. There is no such criticism in this quarter for Clarizen. In fact, this timesheet feature might just be the most complete example I have seen. Although not featured on the toolbar initially (you will have to add it using the maddening “profiles” tool in account settings), the timesheet/stopwatch function allows you to budget hours for your tasks, then compare how long you budgeted to how long things actually took. As for logging time, you can do this by starting a stopwatch on the timesheets page or in the actual task itself.
- Reporting Tools: Although I did see some complaints about Clarizen’s reporting tools, I found them relatively easy to use. I admit that there were parts of them I could not fully understand how to use, but even so, I can see the value in being able to quickly see how many of your tasks are inactive, on track, or behind. And that is just one of many kinds of reports you have the option of running. Maybe more rigorous use would reveal the validity of the complaints I saw, but for basic reporting, I think Clarizen works pretty well.
Integrations & Add-Ons
Clarizen offers several free integrations to their users:
- Google Drive
- Intuit Quickbooks
- Microsoft Excel
So far, so standard, yes? Well, maybe. Unfortunately, Clarizen also employs an App Marketplace where they will sell you more integrations. All you have to do is part with a little more of your hard-earned cash.
There are a variety of other add-ons that you can download from the Clarizen site to increase the software’s functionality. You can install add-ons for automating priorities, enabling recurring meetings, auto-updating related issues, and a whole lot more. Frankly, it seems like these features should just be incorporated into the basic software program without the hassle of having to download them, but they may be worth the trouble, depending on your business’s requirements.
Clarizen takes reasonable and effective security precautions to protect its users, including:
- Strong passwords and encryption.
- Automatic virus scans of all uploaded or shared files.
- Encrypted connection (with SSL certificates from VeriSign).
- Perimeter and internal firewalls.
- Complete data back-up to tapes, which are copied and stored in a secure archive. Backup tapes are never transported and are not destroyed after retirement.
- Clarizen facilities are guarded 24/7 by security details, biometric scanning, and video surveillance. They are flood- and fire-proof and controlled for temperature and humidity. Regular power sources are backed by diesel generators.
I have to admit, I got pretty frustrated while testing Clarizen. The company brags all over their website about how easy their program is to use and how intuitive it is. Let me tell you something, Clarizen: Basecamp is intuitive; Redbooth is intuitive; Trello is intuitive. Sure, they are simple, and a little basic compared to what Clarizen has to offer, but they are intuitive. Whereas Clarizen is, well, the opposite of intuitive. Not only that, but with their pricing list now missing from their website, it is impossible to know if you can even afford the product without contacting their sales team.
All that aside, what Clarizen is, is customizable. From the pricing system, designed to get users what they really need, to the “profiles” system that allows users to customize what is available on the left-hand toolbar, it is clear that Clarizen’s goal is to cater to individual requirements. Although that inevitably necessitates a learning curve, it also breeds a powerful tool with a lot of flexibility.
While I did not personally love using Clarizen, I definitely think there is more to unlock here than a two- or three-day test can really find. You may find your first few hours with the program infuriating, but I encourage you to stop, take a deep breath, romp through the customer service materials, and go back in. Trust me, things start making more sense with time.
If you think Clarizen might be for you, go ahead and give the free trial a go. My intuition says it won’t work at its best with a smaller company, but if you are at a mid- or large-sized firm, it may well be exactly what you are looking for.