April 21, 2013 2 Comments
I have always been a big fan of MS Project Server. Project Server provides the ability to manage project schedules, budgets, and metrics across the enterprise, using the #1 project planning tool (MS Project) as the core engine for the platform. However, even though we (Cardinal Solutions) are a Microsoft Managed Partner, there has been limited interest from our customers in Project Server implementation services. In my opinion, this is primarily due to the fact that the Enterprise Project Management tools space is crowded with some very big players (Oracle, CA, Compuware, Planview, and HP to name a few). Although Microsoft has always had one of the leading stand-alone planning tools in MS Project, they did not seem to be “all in” in the EPM space. As a result, Project Server has traditionally lagged a bit functionally, as well as from a usability perspective. I think the other problem has been with the EPM solution space itself. Many organizations struggled to identify and/or demonstrate tangible benefits from EPM implementations, and therefore focused on solving other more pressing business problems.
With Project Server 2007, I think Microsoft demonstrated a bigger commitment to Project Server and really started to move up in the still very competitive market. Project Server’s positioning continued to improve with Project Server 2010, but I sincerely believe with the latest release (Project Server 2013 and Project Online) Microsoft is going to emerge as one of the leaders in the EPM tools space. In my opinion, Microsoft has addressed most of the functional and usability issues, and they now have the most compelling story around providing a scalable project management platform. This platform can be leveraged to drive tangible benefits through improved project team collaboration, as well as more effective management and measurement of project performance.
Project Server 2007 & 2010 Gains Ground
The following are the improvements associated prior releases of Project Server that set-up this platform to emerge as a leader with the release of Project Server 2013 and Project Online:
1. Integration with SharePoint – The Project Server platform was migrated to leverage the capabilities of the SharePoint collaboration platform. To me this was the biggest decision that Microsoft made that enabled them to improve the positioning of Project Server. The integration of Project Server into the SharePoint platform enabled significant flexibility within the already strong schedule management application (e.g., enterprise views, custom fields, and workflows). In addition, the integration provides the ability to provision and access team sites, configured to reinforce the organization’s project management best practices, from within the Project Server application. The most powerful aspect of this integration is that each Project Server release by default takes advantage of on-going improvements / enhancements to SharePoint.
2. Resource Management Capabilities – Enterprise-wide resource planning and utilization is one of the most challenging business problems solved by Enterprise Project Management tools. As a result of exposing resource loaded project schedules to the enterprise, the organization can improve visibility of resource demand. The capability to display a graphical representation of resource demand by resource, resource type, and project is impressive within Project Server. These capabilities include the ability to “drill down” to task level details associated with resource demand.
3. Streamlined Time Reporting – Creating a timesheet and updating task status in past versions of Project Server was cumbersome. As a result this function was a struggle to roll-out across the enterprise, and even more difficult to drive compliance / adoption. With Project Server 2010 this function is both streamlined and flexible based upon the specific time reporting needs of the organization. Time reporting in Project Server is also fully integrated in with schedule management processes to update / progress the project schedules in an automated manner (including configurable approval workflows).
Project Server 2013 is Ready to Compete
The following are the 5 key areas associated with Project Server 2013 that are very exciting to me, and I think will be leveraged to drive tangible improvements in an organization’s project performance:
1. Cloud Offering – With Project Server 2013, for the first time there is a true “cloud offering” for Project Server leveraging Office 365. This offering makes it much easier for small to mid-size organizations to start and scale out Project Server implementations. Also introduced with the Office 365 capabilities is the concept of Project Online. In simple terms, Project Online enables users to create and update project schedules without purchasing/installing the client software (MS Project Professional). This is a capability that could drive significant cost saving in the rollout of Project Server, but as a project manager I honestly would not be satisfied without access to MS Project Professional.
2. User Interface Improvements – The overall look and feel of Project Server 2013 is very slick. MS Project Professional and Project Server 2013 have fully implemented the Windows 8 look and feel. For the first time that I can remember, MS Project is on-par with the look and feel of the entire Office Suite of products. This is an intangible benefit associated with Project Server 2013, but I believe to be a very significant aspect of the ability to drive market acceptance of the product.
3. Lightweight Project Management – Project Server 2013 provides project managers with the option to use a SharePoint list to manage project tasks (vs. creating a project schedule using MS Project functionality). This capability addresses the argument that “I am managing a small project with a limited number of tasks, and MS Project is overkill and too difficult to use.” It also enables the ability for all team members to easily update the project tasks. This new feature was implemented in a manner that most SharePoint users will already be familiar and comfortable with.
4. Consolidated Task Management – One of the most significant functional improvements of Project Server 2013 is in the area of task management. The “My Tasks” feature provides a consolidated view of tasks from multiple sources (MS Project schedules, SharePoint task lists, and Outlook tasks). The new task management capabilities also provide consolidated views for task managers to review and assign tasks received from multiple sources (e.g., project task lists, project schedules, and customer support requests).
5. Demand Management Upgrade – Project Server 2013 expanded on the ability to capture project ideas, and manage project proposals through the project intake process (using SharePoint workflows). These capabilities include the ability to create views of the proposals in the pipeline. Although this area represents a step in the right direction, I still feel that “out-of-the-box” Project Server’s portfolio management capabilities fall short of other solutions.
I hope you share my enthusiasm for Project Server 2013 and Project Online. I am sincerely looking forward to future opportunities to engage with clients to implement Project Server 2013 and Project Online to upgrade their project environment.