MS Project Server 2013 and Project Online – Ready to Compete

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.

Using MS Project Server for Resource Management

One of the consistent struggles of working in a “standalone” project management environment is the fact that you do not have visibility of the “total picture” associated with resources. Resource loading in MS Project provides visibility of resource utilization vs. capacity on your project – not across all resource commitments (e.g., other projects and operational activities). You can utilize the “max units %” to reflect that a resource is something less than 100% available to the project, but this information is only relevant if it is regularly reviewed and updated.

In my opinion, the most significant benefit associated with Enterprise Project Management tools such as MS Project Server, is providing enterprise wide visibility of planned resource utilization vs. capacity. As a by-product of maintaining resource loaded project and operational schedules within MS Project Server, up-to-date resource utilization information is available in a very flexible and easy to access and consume manner.

 

5 Benefits of Using MS Project Server for Resource Management

1. Consistent definition of resources – Maintaining the Global Resource Pool in MS Project Server ensures that resources are defined in a consistent manner across all projects. Without consistency it is difficult to efficiently roll-up resource utilization information from multiple projects. Key elements maintained in the Global Resource Pool are:

  • Resource Name – It is important to establish a standard format for resource names (e.g., first name, last name).
  • Role – The role field provides the ability to view groupings of resources that perform a similar function across projects (e.g., Business Analyst, SharePoint Developer).
  • Base Calendar – The calendar field establishes the appropriate calendar for the resource (e.g., non-working days, working hours).
  • Generic Resources – The generic resource flag provides the ability to create generic resources that are utilized for resource loading purposes prior to assigning a named resource to the project.
  • RBS / Team Name / Department – MS Project Server provides a lot of flexibility to define the attributes/hierarchy specific to your organization (RBS, departments, and teams).
  • Booking Type – This field is utilized to establish the default booking type for the resource assignment. “Committed” represents a firm commitment/assignment to the project, and “proposed” represents a future/planned assignment.
  • Current Max Units % – Max units represents the % resources are available for work that is scheduled in MS Project Server. This field is utilized to calculate the resource capacity displayed on the resource availability charts.
  • Rate – The rate fields establish the standard and overtime rates utilized for costing / billing purposes.

Below is a summary view of the Global Resource Pool. Views can be tailored to meet the needs of your organization in the same manner that views are created in SharePoint.

 

Below are screen shots of the details captured for each resource.

 

 

2. Understanding resource availability across multiple projects – The Resource Availability feature in MS Project Server provides very useful views of planned resource utilization vs. capacity. These views display resource utilization for specified periods (days, weeks, months) for each of the schedules maintained in MS Project Server. The views are available in both chart and table format (depicted below). In addition, you have the ability to view utilization for a single resource or a group of resources.

3. Visibility of Firm vs. Planned Resource Commitments – Within the “build team” function, you have the ability to specify whether resources are loaded into the schedule as firm commitments (committed) or planned future assignments (proposed). The proposed booking type is utilized for planning resource utilization at a high level for future projects/periods.

 

The chart below depicts including proposed hours (in addition to committed hours) in the resource availability view.

 

4. Ability View Availability for Resource Groups – MS Project Server provides the ability to select groups of resources to view total resource utilization vs. capacity for a specific role (e.g., business analysts). This feature is particularly helpful when you have resources that are interchangeable across projects.

The chart below depicts resource utilization vs. capacity by resource for the selected periods (days, weeks, months).

5. Ability to “Drill Down” to View Resource Utilization – From the resource availability views MS Project Server provides the ability to “drill down” to view the detail task assignments for a specific resource or group of resources. The resource assignment details provide resource and project managers with the information required to resolve specific “peaks” or “valleys” in resource utilization.

 

3 Critical Success Factors for Effective Resource Management

The following are 3 factors that are critical to realize the benefits of using MS Project Server for resource management within your project environment.

1. Resource Pool – Data captured in the resource pool must be defined and captured based upon the resource management needs of your organization. This success factor includes standard naming convention for resources, logical structure of the organization and team hierarchy, and meaningful definition of the project roles. These decisions drive how data is displayed within many of the resource management views.

2. Resource Capacity – The capacity line is driven from the Max Units % maintained for each resource. This percent must reflect the availability of the resource to be scheduled on the projects and operational activities maintained within the MS Project Server implementation. For example, if MS Project Server implementation does not include system support activities, then the Max Unit % should be reduced to reflect the time allocated to these activities for each resource. A process should be established for reviewing and updating this information on a regular basis (I recommend monthly or quarterly).

3. Resource Loaded Projects – The information associated with planned resource utilization on projects and operational activities is only as good as the accuracy and completeness of the resource loading within the individual project schedules. This is a very obvious statement, but I have seen many Enterprise Project Management implementations fail because the resource data within project schedules did not reflect reality. Coaching and mentoring of individual project managers is often required to ensure that project schedules are resource loaded and updated accurately throughout the project life cycle.