Planzone: A Collaborative Tool that Makes Juggling Easy

A few months ago, I was desperate to find a collaborative project app, so I explored a number of those that had been discussed here at WWD. I was either underwhelmed or daunted by the learning curve (too busy/too lazy). So what I ended up doing was finding a basic mind map to use for brain downloads and to-do items, and creating a Google Group for my team to communicate and use as a shared idea repository. I already had some other stuff for a separate, but related project on Google Docs. Not too efficient. And I am now of the opinion that Google Groups and Docs are totally lame (that’s “woefully inadequate” in good English).

Fortunately, I just discovered Planzone, a new online collaborative project management and productivity tool launched in June 2008. It’s designed for people who need to schedule and monitor multiple resources (clients, partners and vendors, as well as physical spaces or other assets) and tasks in a project.

And, yes, there is a full-featured, free plan that includes two projects, 25 MB of storage, unlimited users, and SSL.

It so happened that I needed just such a plan. So I proceeded to create two separate projects (with a handy wizard) and I migrated (manually) the cerebral overflow from my mind map and the stuff from my Google Group and Google Docs over to Planzone. (By the way, you can import an MS Project file into a new Planzone project during setup.) Now I just have to migrate my team. That’ll be the hard part. They have the same busy/lazy problem I do.

I started with the Schedule tab, taking those floating bubbles from my mind map and organizing them into activities (like “Design”) or sub-activities (like “Logo”). Some bubbles became to-dos linked to the activities (like “Logo due Nov 1″). I started feeling better immediately.

I assigned to-dos to myself and other people, gave them different priorities, and added notes to a few. I entered date ranges or due dates for everything, and then I played with my nice new schedule, toggling from Gantt chart view (the default) to calendar view. I clicked Resource usage to see who was busy and who wasn’t. I then repeated the process for my second project.

It seemed like I received an e-mail alert every time I made a change, which got annoying, so I configured the app to send to-dos and alerts by RSS instead.

More screenshots.

The next thing I did was bring all the pages from my Google Group over to the Planzone writeboard/wiki, which is WYSIWYG. (Say that five times really fast.) The wiki functions pretty much like “Pages” in Google Groups, but with the added benefit that it saves your previous versions. I was trying to figure out what to do with the saved “Discussions” in Google Groups and realized there wasn’t much worth saving. It was all in my e-mail in- or outbox anyway. There was only one I wanted to keep, so I saved it as a doc.

The next thing I did was go into my Google Docs account to bring all the docs I had there (plus that one “discussion” from my Google Group) into Planzone and put them in the wiki or in Documents. I created folders and organized my documents. I configured the access rights on some folders so that only the certain team members can access them. (You can also do that for an entire project, specific tasks, documents, etc.) Now I’m going to start moving some things that are still on my hard drive to the site.

There are some features of Planzone that I haven’t used yet. Most project data can be printed or exported to Excel. There is an extensive help system and a built-in feedback form (Feedback link at top right of page). You can make project templates (duplicates of projects you’ve already set up) to save time. You can also publish your templates (without your data) and use other users’ templates. This is a feature other such tools don’t have.

My absolute favorite feature is the “virtual member.” I created virtual team members and assigned them to-dos and so on. I find this very handy because I can stay on top of the activities of people who are involved but don’t need to access the project through Planzone.

There are a few minor things I would change at this point. I’d like more visual differentiation between activity levels displayed on the Schedule page (deeper indent or color coding). I’d like to be able to move an activity up or down levels (change it from a sub-level to a top-level activity or vice versa). I’d like to be able to import team members from one project to another.

Of course, I’ll just mention these things in the Planzone forum. The Planzone team is as agile as their programming methods! They’re very active on their forum and are constantly improving the product based on user feedback (see their blog).

The app was designed using open source components and remote resources based in the US, Canada, France, Germany, Holland, and Russia to build and market the product. So, as you might guess, the product is available in Dutch, English, French, German, and Russian. (You choose the language in the setup wizard.) More languages are coming soon.

Planzone comes with impressive credentials. The Planzone team and their product benefit from the support and vast experience of Planzone’s parent company, Augeo Software, a leading European project and portfolio management software vendor, whose enterprise clients include Daimler, La Redoute, and Heineken.

Let us (and them) know what you think!


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