It’s been a busy few weeks
It’s been a whirlwind few weeks since taking on Planscope. To start with, I’ve been meeting with some of Planscope’s customers and trial users to find out how Planscope is doing from their point of view. And while the overall opinion of Planscope is generally very good, these conversations have led to some really great suggestions and constructive criticism from long-time and new customers alike. Which means there’s no shortage of ways to improve Planscope, both in the short-term and long-term.
My first priority, of course, has been to immediately fix some of the more show-stopper-y and annoying bugs and to add a few small features and tweaks that make daily use of Planscope a bit easier. Next on the list is to start on some of that fabled low hanging fruit that was revealed in my one-on-ones with our very thoughtful and helpful customers and to continue the work that Brennan and Koombea started last year.
What’s been done so far
- Now that the servers have been migrated to upgraded hardware, Planscope’s responsiveness should be a bit better. There’s still more room for improvement–the page weight is still pretty high and API calls haven’t been optimized enough for larger projects. We’ll continue to improve this bit by bit as the opportunity arises.
- We made some much-needed performance improvements for projects integrated with Freshbooks, especially projects with a large number of tasks.
- Task comments and descriptions weren’t being properly formatted, especially bullet and numbered lists. This has been fixed. If you want to learn how to add formatting in comments and descriptions, Planscope uses the Gruber markdown syntax.
- When signing up for a free trial, your choice of plan is now carried over, so if you sign up for a team plan, that is what you’ll get. Before, everyone was signed up as a Freelancer.
- We fixed the Harvest integration, which didn’t seem to be working due to a server misconfiguration. Previously, you couldn’t link your Planscope account to your Harvest account, but now you can. If you tried in the past, you should try this again now.
- Under certain conditions, some of the project reports, like Workload, wouldn’t show up. This has been fixed.
- For freelancers with more than one client, it was possible that a client could see the work being done for other clients on the Workload tab. This has been fixed–clients (and all users for that matter) can now only see the work being done on projects they are associated with.
- When a customer cancels their account, their subscription information is no longer deleted, in case they want to come back and resume their subscription.
- There were some places where there was some code instability–that is, Planscope might show an error page if some information was missing for a user or project or account. Many of these have been dealt with a bit better (but there will still be others to catch, probably).
- We’ve added in-app messaging for support and a little more documentation. More documentation will be added.
- Public estimates were sometimes not displaying properly. This has been fixed, and they are now formatted to be a little more printable, just like the private estimates are.
- Fixed a few button and link formatting issues on the Task detail modal.
- The Task Id numbers were only visible if you hovered over them. While this might make for a cleaner user interface, regular users of Planscope with larger projects needed to be able to search for a task by Id #. So, Task Id numbers are now always visible in the task list and the workload report.
- When adding a new task or milestone, if the description field was large enough, the Add Task/Milestone button would be pushed below the border of the browser, making it impossible to save the task (or to read the last part of the description, for that matter). That is, the form would grow indefinitely. The height has now been constrained, and you can scroll the contents of the description box when the description gets long. The same problem was also fixed for editing tasks.
- When adding a comment in a task, if you closed the window by hitting the escape key or clicking the close button (‘x’), you’d lose all of your work–so frustrating! Now, if you’ve changed the name or description and haven’t saved it or if you have started typing a comment and haven’t saved it, you’ll be prompted to save your work before the Task detail form closes.
- If you used double quotes or any markup in the task name, anything after the first double quote or markup would be lost after saving. Task names are now sanitized so that they are saved correctly and display correctly.
There were so many good suggestions, but a few stood out that just about everyone I talked to agreed on, so those are the improvements we’ll be tackling next.
Improve Time Tracking
Tracking time is an important feature in Planscope, but the start/stop tracking can be improved.
- For starters, the responsiveness of clicking the button needs to be better–often you’ll click the start or stop timer button but won’t be able to tell if anything is happening.
- Also, you can start timers for more than one task at a time, which seems like a bug to me. And when compounded with the slow response, probably something that can easily accidentally happen.
- When a timer has been started, you have to refresh the page or re-open the task to see it reflected. Moreover, I’m not sure if other team members/clients can see that a timer has been started as soon as it happens. Planscope should provide real-time feedback about the timer start and stop events whenever possible.
- You should be able to manually add time to a task from inside the task detail form.
Show us the Numbers
- One of the other big requests was to be able to see the Actual time and cost numbers in absolute and as percentages vs the Budget/Estimate numbers in more places at a more granular level, on each task and milestone, for example. And not just the time or the cost, but BOTH time and cost comparisons. This might take a little extra design work to figure out, but this is an important step in helping consulting teams better run their projects and their businesses.
- The estimate and project totals on the dashboard are sometimes inaccurate in some cases.
- Though having multiple currencies has been an improvement, the implementation isn’t quite as polished as it could or should be.
- We need to consistently show the currency symbol or the currency name.
- Formatting with comma and decimal separators isn’t correct in some cases.
- And when different projects are billed in different currencies, they shouldn’t (and can’t) be aggregated into a single currency, for example on the dashboard.
Navigation and Information Presentation
- Top-level Project navigation isn’t very usable–it should be bigger and projects should be ordered in a more consistent way.
- Task Groups: should be able to see tasks grouped by Task Group, similar to how they are grouped by Milestone.
- Empty Milestones don’t go away. There needs to be a way to “finish” a milestone.
We Need to Know What our Clients Can and Cannot See
The core mission of Planscope is to provide a way to transparently manage a project with a client, and to that end we’d like to provide more transparency and control in the consultant-client relationship. We’d like to make some things more clear within Planscope in the future:
- Which task comments can clients see?
- Which emails do/did clients get and what do they say?
- What numbers and information can clients see?
- Which features do clients have?
Not knowing what’s going on erodes trust not only in Planscope but between consulting team and client, and we need to fix that.
Some ideas to consider for the down the road(map)
There were a number of planned enhancements that Brennan talked about last year. In case you missed them or don’t feel like clicking that link, the TL;DR; version is:
- Send invoices (and not time sheets) directly to accounting software like Xero and Quickbooks Online.
- Client/Project relationships so that you can manage and monitor projects by client.
- Scope change estimates–create an estimate for a change request or additional work that can be merged back into an ongoing project.
- Creating projects from pre-set project templates to reduce repetition and manual task entry. Right now, you can do that with CSV export/import, but that doesn’t include the task assignments or billable rates for tasks, which means you still have to go back and edit each task.
These still seem like valuable ideas and will remain on the long-term roadmap. And since that release and that roadmap were published, more suggestions have been added to the list, gleaned directly from feedback from some of Planscope’s heavier users:
- A Timeline View to help with team scheduling for groups that run more than one project and team at a time:
- Don’t over or under book a team member. You should be able to see not just WHAT someone is working on, but roughly WHEN they’ll be working on it.
- More clearly see when a project or milestone might be completed. Though not many people are big fans of Gantt charts these days, you should still be able to see how a project will likely proceed over time. This has been a heavily requested feature, though we don’t yet have a well-defined set of success criteria for it.
- Arbitrary/custom task workflows. Outside of Todo, Blocked, Ready for Approval, and Approved/Done, a few teams have asked that they be able to add their own statuses for tasks to better fit their individual workflow and to declutter the task views. Things like “Ready to Deploy” or “Implemented but not Tested”.
- Allow a project manager to assign more than one person to a task in an estimate and project. This would allow for estimates to be more accurate in cases where people have different billable rates but will be billing to the same task. Right now, you Planscope can handle the case where different people bill different rates to a single task, but you can’t estimate that in advance unless you create separate, identical tasks. An example of this might be a planning session with the client that the whole team attends. It doesn’t make sense to create a one-person meeting for each team member (though that is one work-around).
- Include arbitrary expenses in projects, not just time. For time and expenses engagements, this would keep all expenses in one place and allow an estimate to be used as-is, rather than having to attach separate expense estimates. And for invoicing, this would make it clearer as well. Obviously, this would be a major enhancement to Planscope’s feature set, and would require quite a bit of thought.
- Project-level enhancements
- Allow for a free-form project description the same way there are Milestone and Task descriptions.
- Allow for Project-level notes, comments, and instructions, much like tasks have them. This would be handy for things like discussing project deliverables, setting expectations, and outlining how the project will be run, for example.
- Allow projects to be directly associated with a client and then allow projects to be organized by client in the dashboard/navigation.
- Tighter integrations with time trackers:
- You can only add time, but not edit or delete time
- You should be able to map tasks in Planscope to tasks in the time tracker–not just record time to a single task.
As you might have picked up on, we really need and value your input and feedback on what’s important or unimportant to you. What things bother you about Planscope? In what ways is Planscope close but not quite “there” in helping you and your team build a solid working relationship with your clients? How can we help the most? Please put your cursor down there in the comment box and type out a few sentences that might show us the light. Thanks!