Since I've been serving proudly as the LiquidPlanner Social Media Evangelist for almost a year now, I wanted to take some more time to evaluate other online project management tools and get a better understanding of what the competition is like in the space. This post will not be another comparison of Basecamp, I think I've made it pretty clear that Basecamp shouldn't even really be called a project management tool, but merely a decent collaboration system, lacking in critical project management features & functionality.
Clarizen was next on my list, so I spent some time checking it out. The interface is fairly clean and loading time is decent, but my first real impression was how much it looked like a web based version of MS Project. Personally, that scares me, but it might be a draw for others.
Both tools have task & resource management, time tracking, collaboration, gantt view, reporting, and a way to include clients in project collaboration. Clarizen also has a fairly full suite of Budget Management tools which LiquidPlanner does not yet have.
What I spent the most time evaluating was task scheduling and management, since I think these are the most powerful features of LiquidPlanner and I'm always curious to see how other systems handle them.
To setup a task in Clarizen, you need to have a start and end (due) date, duration and work. The first thing I noticed is a default task in the system that is 40 hrs of work, assigned to one person, and set to last 5 working days. I changed the work to 60 hrs and the other values didn't change, and there was also no flag that the task was at risk of not being met. In LiquidPlanner, to setup a similar task I would give it a "delay until" date, promise date, high/low work estimate and put it in the proper priority order. From here, LiquidPlanner will calculate expected finish date, based on the hours per week that the resource works, any other tasks in the workload, and of course the amount of hours the task is expected to take. If I take a 40 hour task and make it into a 60 hour task on LiquidPlanner, the expected finish date would automatically get pushed back to the following week. Tasks can be due on a certain date, but I can't force them to finish on that date without moving up the 'delay until' date and/or re-prioritizing tasks. And, I really like that feature of LiquidPlanner, because it communicates the reality of the schedule, that you can't always force something to be done by a certain date (unless you want to sacrifice quality, quantity, other work, your team member's sanity, I could go on...).
Next, I wanted to reprioritize the tasks assigned to one of my team members. I found on Clarizen that it took a lot of clicks to get to the list of tasks for one specific user, then once I was there I was not able to easily shift (drag & drop) tasks around like I am able to do with LiquidPlanner. Now, this feature is very important to me because where I work there are constantly shifting priorities so I need to be able to easily move the tasks around to ensure that the critical items get finished on time. Clarizen does allow tasks to be reordered on a team member's list, but it takes a couple more steps than the drag & drop.
In Clarizen the tasks can be given the designation 'at risk' but it looks like this must be done completely manually and not automatically if the resource assigned to that task is overloaded with work. With LiquidPlanner, tasks are automatically marked 'at risk' by the system if the promise date is after the expected finish date. The task can also manually be marked at risk or assigned any other relevant alert.
Something interesting about Clarizen was the ability to assign multiple properties to a task, such
as Project Phase, Pending (Customer approval, feedback, testing, etc) and Type (Define, Design, General, Integration, etc.). What I didn't see was a way to customize the items in these drop-down lists, so the user is tied to these specific properties.
I've heard many seasoned project managers say (and even some programmers guiltily admit) that a task is always going to be reported as 90% complete, until it's finally finished. There are many who adhere to the idea that tasks are either 0% or 100% complete, and never anything in the middle. Percent complete is just an inaccurate way to report progress on a task. Rather, report hours worked and estimate (high/low is ideal, of course) of hours to complete. So, I admit, I had to chuckle when I saw that Clarizen was using a percent complete field with each task, and allowed me to arbitrarily update the value without recording any time worked or time remaining. LiquidPlanner stays away from the percent complete model, the only percentages you will see attached to a task is the calculated probability of a task being completed by a specific date. So, you can report to your execs that task A has a 10% chance of being finished by next Friday, a 50% chance of being finished by the following Wednesday, etc. In my opinion (and many other project managers) much more useful information than having the task owner report something like their task is "65% complete."
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that both tools have reporting features. If you look at the reports page on the Clarizen system and compare to the reports in LiquidPlanner, you might be blown away at the sheer number of reports available on Clarizen. What will become obvious after taking a closer look at LiquidPlanner is that many of these same reports are available, with even more customization, by using the drop-down lists in the "Plan" view to filter to the exact view that you're looking for. These custom views can be saved and easily accessed later. The prepackaged reports that LiquidPlanner does have are pretty slick, and Clarizen doesn't have the proper data to generate reports like that. To Clarizen's credit though, there are financial reports available in that system that are not yet in LiquidPlanner, but once LiquidPlanner launches additional financial tools this will not be an issue.
The bottom line here is that it's all about what your needs are as a project manager and what type of organization you're working in. If you're looking for a tool that closely resembles a web based version of MS Project with added collaboration tools, then Clarizen might be a good fit. If you'd prefer something that removes a lot of the rigid structure of MS Project and includes only the most useful features (plus a robust scheduling engine, collaboration, etc), than LiquidPlanner would be an ideal solution for you.