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Collaboration taps into social networks to aid productivity

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One of the characteristics of LiquidPlanner that Ellegro most appreciates is its flexibility. "We work in a very fast-paced environment," says Lisa Statland, project manager at Ellegro, "and we often need to be able to reallocate resources." Because LiquidPlanner operates at the portfolio level, resources can be shifted across projects. "A lot of project management software products are available, but not many let you manage at the portfolio level so that, for example, staff hours can be moved from one project to another," she adds.

Another aspect of LiquidPlanner's flexibility is evident in its ability to reprioritize tasks. "This dynamic scheduling lets us see the impact on timelines, resources, due dates, milestones and the overall portfolio," Statland says. "When a client wants to reorder the tasks they want done, LiquidPlanner lets us move a particular task to the top of the list and then see what the impact on deadlines will be for the other tasks." If the rescheduling has an impact on staffing needs, Ellegro can then seek additional employees or subcontractors to augment its workforce.

Managers set the schedules and provide input to the system, but the projects are visible to all the staff so that they can see project status in real time. LiquidPlanner also has a portal through which files and tasks can be shared with external stakeholders. "Development of training products involves many artifacts such as documents, scripts and other components," Statland says. "These are available in the central repository so we can collaborate online with our clients."

Forecasting needs

For the future, Ellegro is considering using the time tracking database that provides details on hours, such as hourly rates and whether the hours are billable or not. "This is another way for us to anticipate our resource needs," Statland explains. "Also, the analytics tool is a feature we expect to use more in the future. It will let us run reports by individual, team or client. Although we are a small business, we carry out big projects, so a greater understanding of our performance will allow for better planning."

LiquidPlanner's software is designed to work the way real teams do, according to Liz Pearce, CEO of LiquidPlanner. "Collaboration tools are often underutilized," she says, "because they don't mirror actual work processes. Knowledge workers deal with a lot of uncertainty and change, especially in environments of multiple, complex projects. If the project plan cannot be readily modified, it becomes too cumbersome and people don't use the software."

Scheduling is established by setting priorities for tasks, which helps impose realism on project management. "The software won't let you put everything in as priority number one," Pearce points out. "And because of the portfolio approach, if a strategic client presents you with a deadline, it's possible to see the impact on other projects if your team moves that work up in priority."

Although LiquidPlanner can scale up for large customers, it is well suited to small and midsize businesses (SMBs) because of its simplicity and low cost of entry; more than half of LiquidPlanner customers are SMBs. The company has partnered with  Box, a cloud-based solution that provides more extensive document management capabilities, such as versioning to facilitate document sharing as part of collaboration.

The social capabilities of enterprise applications will continue to be extended because of the value that collaboration brings to a wide variety of business activities. Meanwhile, enterprise social software products, which have matured considerably over the past five years, are achieving increasing acceptance by corporations. "Enterprise social software solutions are being used in 67 percent of organizations surveyed in 2012, up from 43 percent in 2011," Thompson of IDC says. "This highlights the fact that that social software is becoming part of business processes in the place where work happens."

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