LiquidPlanner (LP) is a Seattle-based software company with an unusual approach to project management. Unlike most other project management software, LP operates with a distinctive scheduling methodology that concentrates heavily on task prioritization. The creators and developers of LP are extremely proud of their innovative software, and with good cause. LiquidPlanner is not your standard project management software. According to the official LP site:
When push comes to shove, there’s one big way we’re different than all of the other kids on the block. We believe that setting and communicating priorities is the single-most important thing you can do to make your team more effective. When you build your plan around priorities instead of hundreds of hard-coded dates, magic happens. Scheduling multiple projects becomes easier than ever before. People know what to work on. Whenever priorities change, so do your schedules – automatically.
LiquidPlanner was founded in March of 2006 by Charles Seybold and Jason Carlson, both former employees of online travel giant Expedia. Seybold, who serves as the Chief Product Officer at LP, is an engineer with 30 years of experience in software development. Prior to his executive management role at Expedia, he worked in project management for Microsoft and designed software for various startups in the Seattle area. Co-founder Jason Carlson, LP’s Chief Technology Officer, initiated his career at Microsoft. Like Seybold, Carlson made his way over to Expedia, where he worked as a Software Test Manager. He was eventually named Director of Quality Management at Expedia, before partnering with Seybold to launch LiquidPlanner.
LiquidPlanner, winner of two CODiE awards in 2016, has steadily gained popularity worldwide. Though it began in relative obscurity, LP is now used by thousands of companies in over 50 different countries and is the project management choice of corporate giants like the LinkedIn, Nissan, and Cummins.
Web-Based (SaaS) or On-Premise:
LiquidPlanner is entirely web-based and does not require any manual updates.
LiquidPlanner offers a free, full-access, 30-day trial of their software, and does not require you to pay anything down or provide a credit card number. During the trial period, you can work in a read-only mode which permits the exportation of data for at least 30 days. LP does delete information in trial workspaces that have gone unused for more than 90 days, but will notify you beforehand in case you need to extract any important project data you may have left behind.
LiquidPlanner is available in these subscriptions:
- 50 Active projects
- 25 Active clients
- Basic analytics
- 25 GB storage
- 300 Active Projects
- 100 Active Clients
- Advanced analytics
- 100 GB storage
- Unlimited internal dashboards
- API access
- Contact for pricing
- 2000 active projects
- Unlimited active clients
- Advanced analytics
- 500 GB Storage
- API Access
- Single sign-on
- Resource Workload Report
One thing I truly admire about the folks at LiquidPlanner is their willingness to share their software. LP offers qualifying non-profit organizations – 501 (c) 3 or equivalent – a 50% discount on the standard monthly rate. To take advantage of this markdown, organizations need only supply LP with governmental documentation of their non-profit status. Educators, amazingly, are given absolutely free access to LiquidPlanner for various scholastic projects, curriculum, or coursework.
Ease of Use:
Once you get the hang of LiquidPlanner, it is really not too hard to use. The following are just some of the details that make LP particularly efficient and easy to work with:
- Email integration: This is a component which takes a lot of the hassle out of organizing work. You can respond directly to emailed updates (reminding you of tasks, deadlines, changes, etc.), and your response will automatically be posted into the project or task’s comment stream. This saves time, obviously, but it is also a really nice way to keep all your work communiqués in one location.
- Right-click menu: Use this to perform simple functions or take shortcuts through the program. I am hugely fond of this feature, which is both intuitive and intelligent.
- Packages: These are a perfect and efficient way to organize individual projects and most of your work in general. You can name and design packages by client, subject matter, eventual due date, or whatever you choose. Read about more ways to use the package feature here.
- Filters: LP allows you to view your workspace through a large variety of filters. If you want to look only at tasks that fall within very specific criteria, you can separate them according to owner, package, location, status, client affiliation, or something called “critical path” (I’ll explain more on that later). This is a really easy way to clarify your position and follow trends in your business.
- Time tracking: This is a complex feature which lets you both automatically and manually log worked hours. Time tracking takes all the bother out of doing payroll and can also give your company’s higher-ups a realistic view of how many man-hours any one project is eating up.
- Edit panel: This allows you to quickly add comments, attach documents, change task details or owner, and perform a host of other useful functions on your workspace.
- Mobile Apps: LiquidPlanner provides mobile apps compatible with IOS 7 for both iPhone and iPad, as well as Android devices. The functionality of these is pretty limited, so most work will still need to be done on the browser app.
Customer Service and Support:
Like all but the most basic project management software, LiquidPlanner requires a significant investment of time and patience before it becomes completely intuitive to use. Fortunately, LP’s designers seem to be aware of how overwhelmingly complex project management software can be to the uninitiated, and provide a wide range of services and tutorials to help people get onboard. To a person like me, who can admit frankly to a certain level of technological inadequacy, it is refreshing to get a sense that the folks at LiquidPlanner actually want me to understand the ins and outs of this software. I’ll say this for LP – they don’t just take your money, throw the program at you, and disappear into the void. They are there for the long haul.
I like to be as informed as possible, and enjoyed the step-by-step video tutorials offered on the LiquidPlanner site. All of these short, instructive films are well-made and address the needs of real consumers. They show as well as tell. The narration is clear and concise, and manages to avoid overcomplicated technological jargon. For those of you who comprehend concepts better by reading about them, the LP website contains a handy help guide, downloadable resources, and access to case studies (to learn how other, perhaps similar businesses have used the software).
If you really want an intense, crash-course introduction to this software, you can sign up for one of LiquidPlanner’s free, online webinars. Each webinar is one hour in length, and concludes with an extensive Q&A session. In general, these live tutorials address LP’s unique scheduling capabilities and demonstrate how best to handle multiple projects. For more information, or to schedule a webinar, you can check out the LP site or simply click here.
On top of all these above average support features, LiquidPlanner’s knowledge base is easily the best example of a searchable support database I have seen. It is vast, thorough, and the search function works beautifully. I wish other companies had such a well-functioning system: it makes my job easier!
For basic questions or problems with LiquidPlanner, immediate technical support is available Monday-Friday from 8 AM to 4 PM (PST), though the help center will occasionally respond outside of standard operating hours in the case of special circumstances or emergencies. To deal with problems that are too complex or time-intensive to be addressed by basic customer service, LP provides an in-depth, private consulting service (if you’re willing to pay for it). General question and concerns, however, can be solved quickly by submitting an online support request on the LP site.
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
While there are plenty of people who love LiquidPlanner, I have found more users with complaints than I have come to expect while reviewing other software. The biggest of these complaints involve the steep learning curve associated with LiquidPlanner’s complexity. One user complained that it took months for employees to become comfortable, let alone master the program. Another grumbled that most users at their company simply use the surface features, and don’t get close to leveraging LiquidPlanner’s capabilities. Though LiquidPlanner provides tutorials and other instructional materials, it doesn’t seem to be enough to really help the average user grasp everything the application can do for them.
Another common complaint is that LiquidPlanner’s mobile app is both buggy and light on features. While I cannot comment on the bugs, as I experienced none, I did feel that the features were more designed for employees to track their time and little else. Personally, I don’t feel the need to do serious work on my phone or iPad; using a computer is much easier. However, if you are constantly on the go and need that mobile functionality, this could be a more serious problem for you.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
LiquidPlanner, by virtue of its unique capabilities, has attracted a devoted following. People love this software, and I mean love. Many businesses rave about how intuitive LiquidPlanner is and how conveniently their workload is scheduled, but the primary accolades have been from managers, who hail LP as an efficiency-booster and all-around time-saver. One company, Tangent Engineering, claims to have actually experienced a 30-40% productivity boost as a direct result of switching to LiquidPlanner (read more about this claim). Here are a few comments from other happy LP users:
“Instead of spending all my time on project management, I was able to focus on actually managing…”
“Liquid Planner cuts the administration, estimation, and bull out of project management.”
“I haven’t been this impressed with a piece of software for years – it’s rare to find such creatively and elegantly thought-through design and coding.”
And my personal favorite…
“Is it weird to love a company? Because I love LP.”
To read these testimonials in whole, or view the opinions of additional satisfied customers, click here.
- Best Case/Worst Case Estimations: LiquidPlanner is best known for this ingenious scheduling methodology. Unlike all other project management software (at this point in time), LP does not require you to set a specific end date for a project. Instead, each time a new task is created, you will be asked to enter in a range (low to high) of the physical working hours required by the job. For example, you might guess that a certain job could take anywhere from 3-9 actual hours to complete. LP calculates this level of uncertainty into your schedule (and the schedules of subordinates) and then predicts on what date or range of dates the task will actually get done. This is an awesome feature for so many reasons. LP requires you from the get-go to specify which hours during the week you are available to perform work; using that information it produces a realistic timeline, balancing the number of hours a task should take with how many hours you actually have to work on that task. Read more in-depth about how to build a best case/worst case schedule here.
- Priority Based Scheduling System: Most people don’t work on one task or project at a time. LiquidPlanner makes it simple to handle a large and varied workload by scheduling your daily work based on priority. Each time a new task or project is created, you can drag-and-drop it on your screen to whatever position suits it best. Tasks at the top of your personal account are scheduled before all other work (i.e., if you were to give an estimated 2-6 hour task the top priority in your workspace and you are available to work for 8 hours/day, LP will schedule almost one whole day solely for this task). The prioritization system can become quite complex. For example, if you give top priority to a specific project, but have a time-sensitive task to complete within another, lower priority project, you can still arrange for that one time-sensitive task to be scheduled before the higher priority project.
- Delays and Dependencies: LiquidPlanner’s scheduling algorithm is nothing if not intricate. If you need to create a task, but don’t have the time, manpower, or proper resources to complete it right away, you can give it a delayed status. Tasks that are dependent upon the completion of other projects or tasks are automatically delayed until these other jobs are done. You can also create arbitrary delays based on any number of factors (vacations, product release dates, etc.). LP will take task delays or dependencies into consideration when creating your schedule. Dependencies and delays always override prioritization.
- Checklist Feature: This is one of my favorite little LiquidPlanner ingenuities. Most standard project management software will only allow you to create jobs at the “task” level. That is all well and good if you have a simple, one-step task to perform, but more often than not, one task ends up containing a million little subtasks. For example, I am tasked with writing this LP review, a job which requires many steps – I have to research LiquidPlanner, give the software a trial, organize an outline, actually write the review, and any number of other things. This is the sort of situation where the LP checklist feature comes in handy. Each of your tasks (or tasks that you assign) can be broken into 2-50 separate components. These components are automatically assigned to the task owner, but you can give one or more checklist items to a coworker (any workspace member, virtual or otherwise). Checklist items, like everything else in LP, are arranged according to priority. Be warned, however, that while LP will remind you about your task components, it does not schedule time for individual checklist items. Your schedule will be calculated purely on the number of hours that have been estimated to complete the task as a whole.
- Viewing Filters: I know I’ve mentioned this feature before, but it deserves a bit more treatment. LiquidPlanner very cleverly allows you to look at data in diverse ways. Depending on your temperament, learning preferences, and right or left-brain tendencies, you can choose to see information in almost any permutation, organized by client, owner, project set, and so on. There are also several ways to filter your data by “item status.” If you want to look only at tasks scheduled for completion in the next week, you can do that. You can compare tasks or projects in reference to how much work remains to be done on them, or view only tasks that have attached delays or dependencies. If you create a “critical path,” LP will highlight in yellow all of the task items that are driving final completion of a project or package, taking dependencies and delays into account. It is really easy to customize LP this way for your own purposes.
- Analytics and Reporting Capabilities: One of this software’s best features is the wide variety of research and analytical reporting tools that are made available to users. LP provides so many great ways to process data, from workload reports (shows how employees are spending their time and how work is distributed throughout your team), to histories of task time estimations, to project status reports, remaining trend reports, and total trend reports. I think the personal status report, which tells you how many task hours you have left to complete within a specific range of days, is especially useful. For more information on reporting and analysis, click here.
I’ve only scratched the surface of LiquidPlanner features here. For a full run down of all of this software’s characteristics (and many, many detailed articles), click here.
Integrations and Add-Ons:
LiquidPlanner integrates with Box, Google Drive, and Dropbox, Okta and Zapier. LP also allows for easy data exportation from MS Project of up to 500 tasks at a time. You can also export data from LP timesheets into CSV, XML, and Quickbooks (this requires a one-time configuration that you can read about here). LP has also created a Salesforce app that is available to all subscribers for free. Finally, there are a plethora of developers tools if you want to dive into the LiquidPlanner API (assuming you are subscribed to the professional or enterprise plans).
LiquidPlanner is one of those products you can’t just ignore. Any time I stumble across company that takes risks and thinks outside the box, I am forced to sit up and take notice. Sometimes unique ideas are just that – unique. Being unusual does not guarantee practicality or staying-power. LP, however, has demonstrated to me that their innovations are more than just novelty. This is practical, intuitive, efficient, and useable software.
I’m not saying there aren’t a few significant objections to LP – it’s expensive, still working through some bugs, and has frankly abysmal mobile apps. And yes, it is not yet used as widely as other, more mainstream project management software.
For me, though, these objections are overcome by the sheer joy of using intelligent software that continues to be created, improved, and supported by intelligent people. LP is a time-saver, but more than that, it is a hassle-saver.
I predict that sometime in the near future LiquidPlanner will have outpaced, outsold, and outthought dinosaurs like MS Project. So for me, this is the bottom line: managers of many employees will love LP, especially if they are currently spending most of their time babysitting a complex schedule; large businesses should already be using it; small businesses should sign up for the free trial to see if the money/time/manpower saved is greater than the monthly price-tag (it may not end up being cost-effective, but it’s worth at least checking out).