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Software project management tool clarifies project uncertainty

LiquidPlanner, a Web-based planning and collaboration tool for project managers, is available free to the public. The tool features an estimated range for task scheduling.

Uncertainty in software projects can lead to confusion, project delays and, possibly, project failures. The trick is being able to estimate tasks and gain control of that uncertainty. That's where LiquidPlanner comes in.

LiquidPlanner, a new project management tool from LiquidPlanner Inc., aims to streamline project management by using ranged, rather than traditional single-point, task estimating.

A Web-based planning and collaboration tool, LiquidPlanner contains features such as a task manager, personalized dashboard, collaborative environment and search function. It is through the inclusion of a unique probabilistic scheduling engine that LiquidPlanner's creators propose to control uncertainty in software projects.

"You want to capture the uncertainty so you can manage it," said LiquidPlanner CEO and co-founder Charles Seybold.

For example, a developer pressed for a due date may say he needs four weeks to finish a task when a range of three to five weeks is more realistic, he said. Using LiquidPlanner, the developer enters the range, and the scheduling engine calculates the probabilities the task will be completed along that range. With each new task or change in tasks, the engine updates the schedule for the whole team.

Beyond Gantt charts
At first glance, the schedule resembles a funky Gantt chart. Unlike Gantt chart bars, though, these bars are dynamic and interdependent, Jason Carlson, LiquidPlanner co-founder and vice president of engineering, pointed out.

"The uncertainty cascades down and up to all dependent tasks," Carlson said. If there is a conflict or problem, you can "see it way up front and manage it when you can still do something about it."

Ray Wang, principal analyst at Forrester Research praised the accuracy of LiquidPlanner's estimation techniques.

"Typically when you do project estimation it's all over the map," he said. LiquidPlanner users "now have a level of precision that they wouldn't have had before."

David Coleman, founder and managing director of Collaborative Strategies, an industry analyst and consulting firm, said LiquidPlanner's creators have "found a better way of doing estimation," which leads to a "more accurate view of a project plan."

Both Seybold and Carlson have stated that their goal with LiquidPlanner is to make software projects "as frictionless as possible," and they say ranged estimates help achieve that goal.

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Project management expert and contributor Bas de Baar is inclined to agree with Seybold and Carlson.

"I think they really hit one of the fundamental drawbacks of Gantt chart programs like Microsoft Project," he said. "In the classic Gantt there is no room to express uncertainties."

(De Baar discussed the value of uncertainty in project management tools -- specifically mentioning LiquidPlanner -- in his column, "Software project management and the law of attraction.")

According to de Baar, those involved in software projects will have to learn how to use tools that account for uncertainty.

"Stakeholders are used to single date schedules," he noted. "Most people are not comfortable using uncertainty."

LiquidPlanner is available for free until the beta period expires, after which users will be charged a subscription fee per member per space. For more information and to download LiquidPlanner, visit

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