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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Clarizen Review

Clarizen Review post image

This time on Software Project Management review of Clarizen Project Management Software. And the thing I want to start with is a disclosure: I’ve joined Clarizen affiliate program – you can check details at the end of this post. It hasn’t changed my attitude to the app to more forgiving one. I can say I’ve even tried harder to point flaws of Clarizen.

Overview

Clarizen is full-blown web-based project management software. It isn’t anything like early 0.9 version which has huge backlog and current feature list coming rather short. If I had to name two biggest areas project management software should cover these are task management and issue tracking. Certainly Clarizen can do both. There’s also time tracking, risk management and budgeting along with standard functionalities like resource management or reporting which in some form must be in every PM application. GUI looks slick and pretty intuitive – you basically know what to do from the very beginning.

On the first glimpse it all looks very promising, but it is so for quite a bunch of other applications too. With web-based software the devil is in details.

Strengths

Scheduling

The first thing I always start with is creating a rather simple project schedule. It takes a few people, some dependencies between different tasks etc. Usually at this point I have a list full of small annoying things which should be fixed. At least it is so when I’m lucky. When I’m not the whole task management thing goes to weaknesses list and that basically means I wouldn’t buy the software.

However Clarizen does surprisingly good job here. Actually I was able to create my project plan exactly the way I wanted and it didn’t left me frustrated. This wasn’t expected at all. I’ll be clear here: among web-based software I’ve seen so far it’s the best solution when it comes to scheduling. It isn’t anywhere close to what you can get from infamous MS Project though but still in its own league Clarizen does great job. After all I don’t expect the same usability from web app I do from desktop app.


Task Management

One thing is to create a schedule with a list of tasks; another is to manage them as the project goes along its way. This is another big plus for Clarizen. There’s a list of tasks assigned to a current user. They can be easily updated and updates are instantly seen by project owner (project manager). Simple, intuitive and gets the job done.

MS Project Import

Remember what I’ve told you how cool it was to create a schedule in Clarizen? Forget about it. Take MS Project and make your schedule there. It will be faster and more flexible than trying to do it on the web. After all that’s good old desktop client which always trumps (or at least should trump) web client when it comes to responsiveness and most likely you got used to MS Project anyway. Now save the project as xml and import it into Clarizen. Yes, that’s so easy. Even resources are already there.

What a pity there isn’t similar mechanism to update schedule (export to MS Project and import it back to Clarizen). It would be extremely useful when it comes to do major updates. Unfortunately after importing the schedule the rest you have to do in Clarizen, which isn’t that bad after all.

Oh, and be careful with resource names. It’s not so difficult to do some mess with your resource list which you will need to clean later manually. Other than that MS Project import rocks.

External Users

One of functionalities which differentiate mature project management software from fresh apps is ability to set up collaboration with customers. The problem is to limit what people outside the company can see only to items which should be their concern. Most of the time it requires some advanced security engine but the problem can be solved with specific type of user as well. External users see only items which relate in any way to them. Other than that they see nothing.

GUI Design

I just can’t omit this one. With my crappy low-res monitor which makes different applications suck so often I actually expect to see windows which doesn’t fit my screen and you can’t scroll them any way even if you use your psionic superpowers. In Clarizen I found none of them. Even when some context menu or pop-up window doesn’t suit my resolution screen can be scrolled down (or up). That’s how it should be done.

Small Usability Features

Clarizen have some of these small features you instantly fall in love with since they make you work way simpler or more productive. My favorite is Save&New button which appears here and there. It saves an item you’ve just added but keeps window open and clears all fields so you’re ready to add another item of the same type. I just wonder why you see this so rarely.

The same is with edit-in-place option on lists. It’s faster to change priority from drop-down than to edit whole item, do the same and then save the item. This approach should be used more often even in Clarizen.

Another nice thing is Excel button almost everywhere. It exports the list to MS Excel where it’s much easier to work on the data. Many of reports are also generated as xls which is such a great idea. It doesn’t take significantly more time than rendering report online but gives you more flexibility and makes reports more usable.


Support

A day after I started working with the application I received an international call from Clarizen team asking how they could assist me and offering to set up a session which would help me with any issues I had while working with software. Well, I didn’t have any but it is going an extra mile indeed.

Weaknesses

Price

The first and the most important issue is Clarizen pricing. It is also a second and third most important issue respectively. Clarizen is expensive. It’s very expensive. If you run a startup and liked all the features described above I’m sorry to inform you but that’s not the tool for you. By the way Clarizen chose different approach for pricing than most of other players on this market. They charge for each user of the application monthly. And if you want to know my opinion that’s a bad choice.

I hope to see Clarizen releasing lightweight version soon. The one with limited set of features but being significantly cheaper than what we can see now. I believe they just cut off a huge piece of potential market just because there’s no low-cost entrance to Clarizen ground. So please, please, please Clarizen team – give us lightweight version.

Small Usability Issues

I guess there just can’t be any review here without this point. There are some glitches you get used to after spending some time with the application but it would be nice if there were less of these. Task management is probably the best solution I’ve seen in web-based software but I still ended up with some ghost records which landed in different places than I intended. I had some problems with getting the option I needed (e.g. adding milestone) enabled in some cases. Lack of contextual ctrl+c and ctrl+v support (e.g. just for resource name, not for the whole record) also makes you less productive. When you edit issue you can change almost everything except of its state, which is done from the issue list. Anyway these are rather minor problems which don’t force you to curse Clarizen developers every time you use them.

History

For such mature application I’d expect to have a full-blown history of changes for each item. It’s done only to some point. You get nice updates what happened while you were logged out but you can’t check the history of changes for a single bug. Seems like all the data are stored somewhere in the database but there is no GUI which would allow to access that.


Risk Management

Risk management in Clarizen looks like half-baked. You can add risks as a specific type of item but you instantly think “What the hell? Aren’t risks supposed to look different than bugs?” Well, they do. There’s additional tab you see when you edit risk where you can set probability and impact of the risk. This could be the only tab there but it’s buried between some irrelevant data. Another problem this is just a single pair of values which results in risk rate value. Isn’t that supposed to be collective decision of the whole team giving each member a chance to set their own value and calculate some kind of average? And last but not least on the list of risks you can’t see impact or probability or risk rate since the list is crafted for bugs. To check this you must run a dedicated report. This feature definitely requires improvements. In its current form I wouldn’t bother to use it.

Item Workflow

Workflow for different items is predefined. It is reasonable and most likely suits vast majority of different needs but still it is static. It would be a good idea to make it definable. Some companies want to simplify workflow as much as possible, some make it very complex. Why not let them choose their path?

Summary

A short summary is: the best web-based project management software I worked with so far. And the most expensive one. After a series of reviews of different project management tools I basically stopped expecting very much from web-based apps. Usually you get great collaboration features but at a price of tradeoffs in usability and functionality. While I was exploring Clarizen I thought at last I saw the thing done right. At the same time I was wondering where the hook was? Well, the hook is in pricing sheet. You could say that 30 or so bucks on a price sheet isn’t a big mark-up for a salary you pay each of your team members. On the other hand you can point there are cheaper options on the market.

I’m going to repeat here what I’ve already written above – I wish there was some kind of limited-feature low-price version of Clarizen. Take out budgeting, risk management, time tracking and advanced reports. Forget about international support calls (they don’t come for free). Fix a simple workflow. Leave just scheduling and bug tracking and add a startup-friendly price and you’ll just have crowds over there.

Anyway, if you can afford it, you shouldn’t regret choosing Clarizen.

Affiliate Program

As I’ve mentioned at the beginning I joined Clarizen affiliate program. You might also notice a banner on a sidebar.

Every reader of Software Project Management who buys Clarizen gets a free month for each year of initial subscription. For each sale of this kind I get commission for each user and each month of initial order. Besides that (any future purchases) I get no reward whatsoever.

If you’re interested in trying Clarizen out or want to get free month use any of links below.

Clarizen homepage

Clarizen 30-day free trial

Clarizen Product Overview

in: project management

6 comments… add one

  • Peter September 30, 2011, 11:21 am

    As a user of Clarizen, let me suggest a few other irritants so that people are fully informed.

    The GUI is pretty last decade. Fortunately Clarizen is going to move into this decade sometime early next year with a drag and drop interface. Right now it looks like a GUI reject from Redmond.

    It lacks folders to allow grouping of activities so you have to use projects as a container for programs, portfolios, departments, groups of various projects by type, etc. Not good form.

    It is pretty much missing document management. There is a connector to Google Docs and you can up and download documents but there is no built-in document creation or even document check-in check-out capability.

    Collaboration is almost nil. While there is the ability to send email, or start a discussion, the implementation is very weak. Users in this day and age are used to threaded discussions that are easily accessible. This is not the case in Clarizen. Again, their next version next spring/summer is purported to have better collaborative capabilities.

    Their treatment of milestones is non industry standard.

    It is strong in other ways, such as its kinship with Microsoft Project so if you are used to MSP, then it would be a good cloud-based alternative for you.

  • Shreenivas November 23, 2011, 2:35 am

    This is a badly done tool. Its a system to torture Project managers.

  • Cora Systems March 7, 2012, 9:19 am

    Online project management software is likely to achieve a major slice of the project management software market. The challenges for an online project management system is to replicate the features and functionality of an locally installed project management solution. We believe marrying online and enterprise project management features is winning formula.

  • Norm Cole June 22, 2012, 7:41 am

    Hello Pawel:
    Thanks for your interesting comments above..much appreciated.

    One of our clients in the ship repair business is evaluating their options for either upgrading their existing applications (built internally) or moving to a packaged product.

    Does Clarizen handle inventory control and Time & Materials billing?

    If not, can you recommend any other product(s) for them to review ?

    Thanks,

    Norm

    250-598-9433

  • Pawel Brodzinski June 22, 2012, 7:52 am

    @Norm – When reviewing the app I didn’t focus on inventory management since this isn’t something you really pay much attention to when dealing with software.

    In terms of time & material billing, you definitely can track down how much work has been done on a specific task, however there’s no specific support to billing based on this data. Unless something has changed over time you’d have to make use of this data separately.

  • Misha Milshtein August 13, 2013, 12:52 pm

    Pawel, spasibo for the review. This is one of many positive reviews I read on Clarizen, and it is certainly helping me in my evaluations.

    Our company http://www.sweetrush.com is on the path of establishing and implementing the appropriate Project Management solution, and Clarizen certainly cane across as one of the most viable candidates. Lots of useful functionality, ton of reporting capabilities.

    Of course, I am not a user of the system, just an evaluator, but I was surprised to see some of the negative comment on this thread, until I realized that they are several years old. I am very curious whether Clarizen has evolved since the ” looks like a GUI reject from Redmond” days,or is is stil the same in the eyes of the reviewer.

    I am also curious about the “pretty much missing document management” comment as the document management is clearly an integral part of any project management.

    And of course this “This is a badly done tool. Its a system to torture Project managers.” Do not nknow what to make of this :) but have a feeling that same can be said about any PM tool, including the beloved MS Project. After all, a lot of project management is about the details and meticulous data entry, and that could always be perceived as a torture, regardless of the tool that is used.

    In any case, I personally was very impressed by what I saw in Clarizen, and would recommend this tool for a close evaluation to anyone in need of robust PM cloud-based software.

    Thank you.

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