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First Impressions of Meisterplan: Portfolio and Resources but No Tasks

It sounds crazy, but Meisterplan seems like a new class of solution. It has a list of projects and a list of people with their time allocated to those projects. It helps you to reconcile the imbalance between the supply of, and demand for, people’s time.

It shouldn’t really be a new class of solution, since so many competing tools can do the same thing. However, the PPM suites have full-blown (and poorly adopted) project management function, and they cost a lot more. Meisterplan has based its solution on what it calls lean PPM, a lighter and more top-down approach to portfolio management.

Maybe this seems unthinkable. A portfolio/resource solution with no tasks? Well, the idea is whacking at the Achilles heel of the big PPM tools: if the MS Project Servers of the world don’t get full-on, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, continually maintained adoption as a task planner, they yield insights that are anywhere from useless to dangerous.

In a past life as a vendor, we often ran “adoption diagnostic” queries on both the multi-tenant SaaS platform and customer-managed on-premises deployments. It’s critical if you need to track and forecast database capacity, data hardware capacity and redundancy, query performance diagnostics/tuning, upgrade/patch downtime requirements, etc. And, yes, you can use those queries to see if the thing is actually getting used.

A lot of the time there would be no tasks (and no knowledgebase articles, by the way) since the training and deployment handoff. Projects were getting created, and the project manager would set the “% Complete” manually, but there were no tasks available to try to calculate it.

The bottom line: portfolio reports based on calculated tasks estimates, actuals, and timeline rollups only have value with full and uninterrupted adoption. By everyone. And every project. All day. Every day. Less than global adoption can still help a project, but the portfolio value rapidly approaches zero as the data ages and gaps widen.

This is exactly why we made our templates called Portfolio Manager, an Excel-based tool for people who wanted resource management at a higher level than granular task assignments like “Add three columns to this report.” But the Excel solution has obvious limitations, and the trouble starts when you have multiple people trying to edit a complex spreadsheet. Hence our attraction to the Meisterplan idea, since it’s a legitimate multi-user, browser-based software solution.

How Meisterplan Is Different

Meisterplan doesn’t go below allocations of people to projects. Consequently, it’s relatively easy to maintain the data and get useful outputs that show the capacity and availability of your teams. So it should be far more likely that Meisterplan gets adopted. Actually, it doesn’t need to be adopted or even used by the majority of your people in order to yield a useful capacity forecast.

There’s a visually appealing and easy-to-use interface showing a resource histogram in context of the projects in the portfolio. You can get a lot done by dragging project start and end dates around the timeline. And you can pull projects into and out of the portfolio quite easily, facilitating pretty useful what-if scenarios.

A tighter set of functions has driven a lower cost to make and maintain the software, a lower cost to support it, a lower cost to run it, and ultimately a lower price to the users.

Most of our clients have multiple project management tools and spend lots of their precious time refereeing the Jira-vs-MS Project debates. In a mixed-methodology project portfolio, it’s pretty hard to mandate that all projects be managed directly in the portfolio management tool.

In this kind of environment, the portfolio tool cannot possibly calculate project health from the PM tool. I’ll propose that this deliberate layer of abstraction is actually a good thing: it forces the project manager to become the API between project and portfolio tool. In other words, it’s up to the PM to hit the portfolio database with things like “% Complete” and health status.

The Results

I put projects in the tool and loved the layers in the “above the line, below the line” concept for what-if scenarios. The shifting priorities were easy to play out by moving timelines. I’d give an A+ for the experience of modifying the project timeline and resourcing, but I can’t yet say how that would feel when you have hundreds of employees in the resource pool. Having said that, it’s not uncommon to have isolated pockets of 50-person teams within the 1,000-person IT department, so this might not be a big deal.

Entering and maintaining the resource allocation data was quite reasonable for a browser-based UI. While it can be faster to bang numbers into a spreadsheet, it’s also far easier to break your data in the spreadsheet.

There’s a batch import function, allowing you to build the model in Excel and upload it. It worked well for me and is fantastic for adding bulk allocations on a cadence. My group’s quarterly project allocation approach is well-suited to this model.

The reporting was refreshingly flexible and complete, given the price point. And getting your data out is a breeze. My favorite aspect is likely the ability to pull the data using Power Query (Get & Transform, for you newbies) in the new Excel. Thus I can create reporting and refresh it at the click of a button, directly into SharePoint. Pretty cool, indeed.

My test drive feels like a success. I’d need a longer trip to make a purchase decision, but let’s not overstate the gravity of that decision: it’s $200/month for a 20-person team.

Recommendations

So far, so good. I bet the majority of our Grow Your Own PPM Solution users with resource management needs would get further with this approach because they’d spend less time fixing spreadsheets and figuring out how to share the data management burden.

Consider this model if you’ve struggled to forecast resource capacity using spreadsheets or large commercial tools.

Bottom Line

There’s a pattern in the PPM vendor space that leads software to become complex, costly, and difficult to adopt. It’s in Meisterplan’s interest to avoid following in everyone else’s footsteps by refusing to make it a task management tool.

Meisterplan looks like it’s running a judo strategy, using its opponents’ force against them. In other words, the lack of task function is the reason this tool can be adopted by the masses.

We’ll continue to investigate, hoping they don’t wake up one day and decide to build a hierarchy of tasks into their software.

And we’ll watch for competitors clamoring to make portfolio-resource software a better-defined space.


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