Detailed Review of Inspire Planner Salesforce App

Inspire Planner Salesforce project management app in Edo Period Japan

Inspire Planner is reviewed against 200+ project management software requirements on a downloadable spreadsheet. Inspire Planner is scored overall and for each of the ten project management processes. This post provides a summary of the key strengths and weaknesses for each of the processes.

Inspire Planner Summary Findings

Inspire Planner is the most robust native Salesforce scheduling tool that I have found. In fact, I helped a client select and implement it as part of their Salesforce-based project management solution. It has the same base scheduling functionality as Microsoft Project. It only lacks some of Project’s advanced scheduling features based on work effort and resource load leveling.

Inspire Planner is focused on scheduling. If you are looking for a broad professional services administration (PSA), project management organization (PMO) or project portfolio management (PPM) solution you should consider integrating Inspire Planner’s scheduling functionality with another solution. I know several Inspire Planner customers that have done this, building their own project object and linking it to Inspire Planner.

Having said this, Inspire Planner does have some functionality in each of the project management processes and has resource management capabilities approaching those of a PSA tool.

Inspire Planner
Total Score46%
Communications Management9%
Cost Management23%
Integration Management52%
Procurement Management13%
Quality Management8%
Resource Management48%
Risk Management92%
Schedule Management72%
Scope Management19%
Stakeholder Management17%

Download Inspire Planner Evaluation Spreadsheet

Click here to add the Inspire Planner Excel spreadsheet to your basket and continue reading. Visit the basket page to complete the download.

Inspire Planner Pricing

Inspire Planner is $34/user/month with a 10 user minimum. This equals an initial minimum investment of $4,080 a year. Any Salesforce user that will create or view Inspire Planner data will need a license, the license count can add up quick if you have users assigned tasks and they are updating them in Inspire Planner.

Inspire Planner tasks are cloned as Salesforce Tasks and they are synched and can be updated. Therefore, technically you should be able to assign users tasks and have them view and update them as Salesforce Tasks without an Inspire Planner license. This could minimize some of your licensing costs, so you don’t need to purchase licenses for users who are rarely assigned tasks. You should discuss this option with Inspire Planner as there may be some other implications:

  • While the license can’t be enforced technically to access Salesforce Tasks created from Inspire Planner Tasks, Inspire Planner’s terms and conditions may require it.
  • Inspire Planner has some custom Salesforce Task page layouts and lightning web components which may not be accessible without a license. You could replicate these yourself if necessary.

Inspire Planner also has an external portal for non-Salesforce users outside your company to be assigned tasks and to view the project. I couldn’t find any documentation stating that these users would need a license.

Inspire Planner Scoring Methodology

I’ve been evaluating all of the Salesforce project management software and sharing the results to help others save time in making an informed decision. I started the evaluation as marketing research for the Salesforce project management app I built: Project Lifecycle Pro. I’m doing my best to give a unbiased review, but I’ve attached the detailed Excel spreadsheet which you can use to perform your own analysis. Here are detailed instructions on how to use the spreadsheet to weight requirements and compare multiple software packages side-by-side.

I structured the analysis around the Project Management Institute’s (PMI)© project management process. This is outlined in the PM Book of Knowledge (PMBOK)©. First, I listed the project management processes and then the activities within each process. Finally, I developed a list of requirements related to each of the activities. The list of requirements is based upon my thirty years of project management experience and experience evaluating project management tools for clients. When I come across novel functionality in the software I’m evaluating I add it to the requirements list. Of course, I’m sure I missed some requirements and welcome any suggestions.

I gave all processes and requirements equal weights, but you can adjust the scoring weights in the Excel spreadsheet to suit your needs. Each requirement was rated as either:

  • Yes – As Is – Meaning, the requirement is met with out-of-the-box functionality. This rating is awarded four points.
  • Yes – With Configuration – Meaning the requirement can be met with minimal configuration or no-code updates. Since, Salesforce is highly configurable I used this rating for simple things like changing picklist values, adding a field to an existing data object, creating a report, etc. This rating is awarded two points.
  • No – Not Available or Requires Customization – Meaning the requirement cannot be met without significant investment of time or money. I assigned this rating if custom coding would be required, or a new custom data object, or a new custom flow. This rating is awarded zero points.

Finally, the scoring spreadsheet totaled the ratings by process to show how the apps compare by process. Therefore, you can assess the apps based on which processes are the most important to you. You can confirm my scoring using the Inspire Planner test drive or by installing the free trial into a sandbox.

Here are some links to help you research the app:

Download Inspire Planner Evaluation Spreadsheet

Click here to download the Inspire Planner Excel spreadsheet.

Communications Management

Inspire Planner is not intended to be a change management tool (i.e. training and communication) but it does use Salesforce’s Chatter tool for project collaboration. It also has lots of functionality to report the project status.

Strength: Automatic Status Report

Inspire Planner will create a weekly PDF status report for distribution to project stakeholders. Read More.

Strength: Lots of Status Fields

It has an overall status field and sub-fields and comments for project schedule, budget and scope.

Weakness: Not a Change Management Tool

It doesn’t have any functionality to plan or track project communications or training. You could handle some of this by creating a project schedule dedicated to the communication or training tasks.

Cost Management

Inspire Planner captures all costs and labor at the task level. The task values then rollup to the project level. It also captures a rate per resource so that labor costs can be calculated. However, it lacks the full cost, expense and invoicing functionality needed for a PSA tool. It also cannot rollup budgeted or actual costs to a program, parent project or release level. You could build custom reports to perform this summations.

Relying solely on rolling up the budget and costs from individual tasks could also be problematic when planning the project. There isn’t any way to note a total budget value at the beginning of a project without having created all the supporting tasks. You could create ‘dummy’ tasks to just house the initial budget estimates. But it would then become problematic as you add detailed costs with individual tasks.

Strength: Sums Project Costs

Inspire Planner automatically sums all task budgeted and actual costs to the project level.

Strength: Calculates Earned Value, EAC and CPI

Earned value, estimate at completion (EAC) and cost performance index (CPI) are all calculated automatically.

Weakness: Only Sums to the Project Level

Costs are not rolled up to the parent project (i.e. program), portfolio or release levels. You could build custom reports to generate these sums.

Weakness: No Invoicing Capabilities

Inspire Planner lacks common PSA functionality to support generating customer invoices from a customer specific rate card and actual hours worked.

Integration Management

Inspire Planner supports basic integration functionality. It supports planning at the release, project, parent project (i.e. program) and portfolio levels. It has the ability to limit access to confidential projects. It can also log project risks and issues.

The major gaps are in the area of documenting the business case or project scope. It also doesn’t come with any standard approval routings. So it doesn’t support change orders, routing timesheets for approvals, or routing projects for approval upon completing gates.

Strength: Multi-Level Planning

Inspire planner support planning and reporting at the release, project, parent project (i.e. program) and portfolio levels. Please note that task values such as costs or hours only roll up to the project level. Also, the release level is only available for the Agile project type.

Strength: Risks and Issues

Project risks and issues can be documented. This is done through custom object with a checkbox to denote if the record is a risk or issue. I take some exception with this approach. I believe an issue is just a task to answer a question: “How are we going to ….”. So I’d prefer to see issues as simply a task type.

Weakness: Missing Business Case and Scope

There isn’t any functionality to capture benefits which would form the basis for a business case where benefits offset projected costs. A simple text field could be added to list benefits, but this wouldn’t allow tracking realization of the benefits.

There aren’t any fields for capturing scope. Clearly stating scope is critical to reaching consensus among stakeholders. A text field can easily be added to summarize the scope, but will not capture the full details or dedicated records.

Weakness: No Approval Routings

No standard approval routings are provided with the app. Standard approvals often associated with projects are: change orders, stage gate, and timesheets. You can build your own approvals using standard Salesforce functionality, however if you want highly dynamic or automated approvals you may want to design them to accurately estimate the effort to build them yourself.

For example, I once built an approval that routes a project to the steering committee members. Building this to handle varying numbers of steering committee members per project was a significant amount of work.

Procurement Management

Inspire Planner doesn’t really have any procurement management functionality. You could add some custom fields and build some reports to allow you to forecast cash flows and capture vendor spend against contracts.

Quality Management

Inspire Planner doesn’t really have any functionality for testing software or other quality control. You could add an ‘acceptance criteria’ field to the user stories in the Agile projects. You could also add a ‘Test’ column in the Kanban to designate user stories that are ready to test.

Resource Management

Inspire Planner has strong functionality in the resource management process. The only significant gap I found is the ability to plan and forecast resources at a high level a the beginning of a project. All the planning starts at the task level. So there isn’t any way to simply plan resources at the project level. For example to allocate a person or a skill to a project at 50% of their time.

Strength: Time Series Resource Allocation

There is a very clean and intuitive screen where a manager can review resource allocations across all projects for different time periods: day, week, month, quarter. The manager can view the data as hours or as percentage of available time. Please note: I found a bug where the percentage allocation is only calculated correctly by day.

Weakness: Financial Access

There isn’t a way to block a team member’s access to financial data for a specific project. There are instances where a project manager doesn’t want all team members to see how much things cost or how much is being paid to a certain vendor. You could create a custom permission set which prevents certain users from viewing financial data on any projects. But, you won’t be able to control this on a project-by-project basis.

Risk Management

Inspire Planner has all the risk management functionality you should need. The only gap is the lack of a risk matrix that lists all risks with a quantitative measures of the impact to the budget or schedule. However, I’ve never found risk matrices to be very useful.

One thing to note is that a risk can be related to an Inspire Planner task to address the risk. I think it would be more helpful to associate multiple Inspire Planner tasks to a single risk. However, this can be addressed in one of two ways. First, you could associate the risk to a task with a checklist. Or, you could associate multiple standard Salesforce tasks to the risk.

Schedule Management

Schedule Management is Inspire Planner’s main strength. It is the best native Salesforce scheduling tool I have found. It has all the basic scheduling functionality found in Microsoft Project. It only lacks some of Project’s advanced features around work effort scheduling and resource load leveling. For example, it is the only native Salesforce tool I’ve found which supports constraints (i.e. Must Finish On, Must Start On, etc.).

It only has two gaps which I think are significant. First, it doesn’t re-schedule downstream dependent tasks based upon the actual completion date. So if a preceding task finishes late or early, the expected finish date needs to be updated along with the actual finish date to update the downstream tasks.

Second, it doesn’t have any functionality to address inter-project dependencies. Meaning, you cannot record that a project or task is dependent upon a deliverable from another project. You cannot create dependencies between tasks on different projects.

Strength: Advanced Scheduling Features

It supports all dependency types (Finish-Start, Finish-Finish, etc.), predecessor lag and all but two types of constraints. It will also display the critical path. These are features often not supported by the native Salesforce scheduling tools. The only two types of constraints it does not support are: As Soon As Possible and As Late As Possible.

Strength: Large Work Breakdown Structure

You can create a large number of task groupings by simply indenting the tasks as you can do in Microsoft Project. This gives you the flexibility to create the work breakdown structure you want. I often use at least four to five levels within my project schedules. Most native Salesforce scheduling tools only support one or two levels.

Strength: Good Gantt Design

I really like the Gantt design as it mimics the Microsoft Project design which I’m used to you and I find very efficient for building project plans. You customize the task data columns listed on the left side of the window. It is very easy to create tasks and to create task groups. Tasks can be re-ordered by dragging and dropping. Dependencies can be created by dragging and dropping.

Weakness: Doesn’t Reschedule Based on Actual Finish Date

If you build a chain of dependencies between tasks, the downstream tasks are only rescheduled if the estimated finish date is updated. The downstream tasks are not rescheduled when the actual finish date is updated. This can be worked around by also updating the estimated finish date when a task is completed.

Weakness: Doesn’t Support Inter-Project Dependencies

There isn’t any way to record or track inter-project dependencies. You cannot make a task on one project dependent upon the completion of a task on another project. You can work around this to some extent by duplicating the other project’s task on your project and assigning the task to the other project’s project manager. However, your project’s schedule won’t be automatically updated if the other project slips.

Scope Management

Inspire Planner only has two pieces of scope management functionality. First, it supports creating a detailed work breakdown structure. Secondly, the Agile project type supports defining components to be built.

Strength: Detailed Work Breakdown Structure

Most Salesforce native schedule tools limit the levels of tasks that can be grouped in the Gantt chart to 1 or 2 levels. Inspire Planner does not have such a limitation. This allows you to thoroughly organize the work by a logical structure: stage, release and deliverable/component.

Strength: Documents Components

Technical components can be defined and inventoried so the team has a clear understanding of what needs to be built. At the beginning of projects, I use components to estimate the overall project effort and required resources. The component object is only available when using the Agile project type.

Weakness: Lacks Detailed Scope Definition

There isn’t a way to document details about what is in scope and what is out of scope for the project. Ideally, scope is defined within three categories: people/org, processes and technology/systems.

Weakness: No Change Orders

Cannot create change orders and route them for approval when the scope, budget or schedule change from the original plan.

Stakeholder Management

Inspire Planner is not intended to be a change management tool and therefore, doesn’t have any real functionality to document or manage project stakeholders. You are able to assign custom project roles, so you could create a ‘steering committee’ role and assign individuals to the team. This would at least give your most important stakeholders access to the project.

In Conclusion

Inspire Planner is a fantastic native Salesforce scheduling tool. I haven’t found anything better and have recommended it to clients. However, if you are looking for a PSA tool you will want to consider other dedicated PSA apps. Though you might want to poor scheduling tool in most PSA tools with Inspire Planner. If you are looking for a broad PMO or PPM tool, you should consider other apps and integrating them with Inspire Planner for the scheduling functionality.

In fact, I built a cutting edge project management solution for a client using Inspire Planner integrated with a custom project object and other tools. This was an automated solution where the Inspire Planner schedules used standard tasks which then drove automated workflows. When the user opened their assigned task they were presented the project-specific documentation required to perform the task, a screen flow to walk them to the process, and links to procedure documentation to explain the task. This solution integrated the flexibility of scheduling the tasks with the consistency of standard workflows and procedures. You can read more about it here.

Regards,

Brian

Additional References

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