Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Tale of Two PM Tools, the Sequel....

Last spring I wrote up a comparison of Basecamp and LiquidPlanner. I think I'm pretty open on this space about my feelings for LiquidPlanner but I think the comparison was pretty fair nonetheless. I started to realize even then that I'd need to do a followup post since there were so many new features in the LiquidPlanner pipeline. And, to Basecamp's credit, they have also launched new features since then.

In my opinion, the biggest features that LiquidPlanner released since May were the client portals, iPhone app, time-tracking and the treats in the December '09 holiday release.

Client Portals
This was huge! With Client Portals LiquidPlanner now has all of the client collaboration ability that Basecamp has, with more control over what elements are shared and what are kept internal. Because of LiquidPlanner's powerful scheduling engine, the client can see a quick view of how much work is actually left in the project, which can be a more valuable snapshot of things than the list of remaining milestones in the Basecamp schedule.

Clients can also collaborate on tasks with the main workspace users. Clients can see recently completed and upcoming tasks, and various reports (without any additional third party plug-in). There can be an unlimited number of client users on each project, and there is no additional charge for client users. Not only do client portals include Basecamp-style email collaboration, but also Twitter-like commenting and a detailed notes area that is much easier to use than the Basecamp Writeboards.

iPhone app
This was developed in-house (in the LiquidPlanner house that is...) so immediately separates itself from the Basecamp iPhone apps that are all developed by 3rd party vendors. The LiquidPlanner "Mobile Dashboard" is FREE and because it is maintained by the same team that builds the product, you know you're getting the best app possible (and you know who to go to if you find a bug...not that the LP programmers ever make bugs though). The iPhone app provides the following functionality:
  • Collaborate with team members and clients
  • See prioritized tasks and create new ones
  • View rich text comments (images, etc)
  • Log time and re-estimate tasks, set promise dates for tasks
Now, I confess I have not tried all of the iPhone apps for Basecamp. I did purchase Outpost at the suggestion of my coworkers but rarely use it because whenever I open it I need to wait anywhere from 15 to 50 mins for all of the projects to sync up. I don't use it often enough to have it sync up daily so I need to suffer whenever I do chose to open to app. Happy to hear reviews of other apps from other Basecamp iPhone app users.

LiquidPlanner launched integrated time sheets at the beginning of the summer, and what I LOVE most about their time sheets is that it is directly linked to the tasks in the project. So, gone are the days when a team member needs to sit and scratch their head, wondering what they did all of the week before and how they should log their time. The second best thing I love about LiquidPlanner's time tracking is that they have these handy little timers attached to each task, so you click them on when you start working on something and then let it run as long as you are working on the task. Whenever you finish or move onto something else just stop the timer and your time will be recorded (or you can edit the recorded time, to make sure all of those trips to the candy machine are subtracted from your billable time...). I use LiquidPlanner time tracking for the freelance work that I do and I find it to be incredibly useful when I'm watching actual vs. estimate, reporting hours and building invoices.

I've played around with the Basecamp time tracking system, but have never formally used it with an agency or on my own. I've used a few other time tracking systems and feel like I have an understanding of the critical features. I think the Basecamp time tracking system could be ok for a freelancer, but I think the most significant problem with it is that the description of the task is way too free-form. Yes, the time logged is automatically tied to a Basecamp project, but there is no way to gather more valuable information like what phase of the project, what type of activity, and which deliverables. This information will only be tracked if the team member decides to add all of that detail into the description area, and as we all know most people don't like spending too much time working on their timesheets.

December '09 Release
There's a whole pile of nice presents here, and rather than go through all of them, I'll pick out my favorites. First is the task calendar view, which gracefully plots out your team members tasks on a grid calendar view. And to add even more value to that calendar view, items at risk will be flagged red. Workload analysis is another really great new feature that I find extremely useful. It will show your team's availability, show periods of overload, and steady work. It's a great way to get a bird's eye view of what's going on over various blocks of time.

What's new in Basecamp?
Basecamp released a handful of improvements to it's collaboration & document sharing tools, among them stylized email notifications (which got a mix of praise and backlash), integrated accounts, quick date pickers for milestones, due dates on to-do's, thumbnail image previews, improved file uploads and new file icons, and enhanced private messages. Some nice features here and UI improvements, but nothing monumental in my opinion. I still find major project management tools lacking in Basecamp. Basecamp won't stop me from overloading my team members, building a schedule that's completely unrealistic, and gathering any knowledge about how good or bad my work estimates are.

I'm going to happily stay on the LiquidPlanner team, I still haven't been convinced otherwise.


Ivan Walsh said...

Thanks Dina.

Glad to have found this.

Dina said...

Thanks, I hope it's helpful!