Why Microsoft Project Server / Project Online?


+++ The Advantages of an Enterprise-Wide Microsoft Project Solution over a Standalone Tool +++

By Johann Strasser                                                                                                                Read article in German

Microsoft has had a server version of Microsoft Project on offer since as early as the year 2002. In the meantime, it has become a standard in many companies’ project environment. Still, many companies do not know the advantages of the central solution.

This article is addressed to an audience looking for expandable and performant software for enterprise-wide multi-project management tried and tested over the long term with a plethora of references and customer success stories.

It will provide project and program managers, IT decision-makers or PMO members with arguments for Microsoft Project Server or the cloud-based version Project Online. You will also become familiar with the differences compared to the standalone tool Microsoft Project Standard.

Special Download: Advantages of MS Project Server / Project Online over MS Project Standard

Please click here to download the PDF and learn why you should prefer the server over the client version.

What is Microsoft PPM?

Unlike the standalone tool on the desktop, the enterprise-wide solution for project and portfolio management is based on a central server. Microsoft refers to it as Project and Portfolio Management from which the acronym Microsoft PPM is derived.

Microsoft PPM supports all roles in enterprise-wide project and portfolio management. What it offers:

  • Central data storage
  • Central resource administration
  • Role-specific use
  • Individual expandability

Microsoft PPM is available on-premises or in the cloud. It is fully integrated in SharePoint.

The Components of On-Premises Microsoft PPM

A PPM solution installed and operated at your own company, i.e.  “on-premises”, requires the following components:

  • Microsoft Project Server including Project Web App
  • Microsoft SharePoint Server
  • Microsoft SQL Server
  • Microsoft Project Professional or Microsoft Project Online Professional

The Components of Microsoft PPM in the Cloud

Project Online provides almost all capabilities of the on-premises solution. When it comes to the integration with Office 365, it offers even more. There are different licenses available taking into account the functional needs for different stakeholders:

  • Microsoft Project Online Essentials for Team Members with limited functionality
  • Microsoft Project Online Professional including Project Web App and Microsoft Project Professional for Project Managers
  • Microsoft Project Online Premium including Project Web App and Microsoft Project Professional for Administrators, Resource Managers and Portfolio Managers

Note: Besides the components for the on-premises and cloud solutions, Microsoft also uses additional terms for different license options. Find more information on this at the end of the article (under the heading Microsoft PPM in the Cloud – Licenses).

The Components of Microsoft PPM at a Glance

The figure below provides an overview of the components of a Microsoft PPM solution.

The Most Important Advantages of Microsoft PPM

Below, you will find the most important advantages of the server-based solution Microsoft PPM over the simple standalone tool without connection to a server.

1. Transparency and Good Bases for Decision-Making

Using Microsoft PPM as the enterprise-wide portfolio and project management solution, you will achieve one thing above all: Transparency in the multi-project environment. This transparency will become the basis for correct decisions at all levels.

Dashboards will help you to identify variances in the current portfolio. The central overview takes you to the relevant projects via drill-down. There, status reports and various graphical representations will inform you about the reasons for the current status of every single project.

Your advantage over the standalone tool:
You have a complete overview of all running projects, deadlines, states and responsibilities. Therefore, you have the best possible decision-making basis available at all times.

Why Microsoft Project Server / Project Online? 3

Figure: Microsoft PPM is the basis of a central portfolio & project management solution and offers options to drill down to reporting details

2. Central Project List

As a project manager, you work with the Microsoft Project desktop application as usual. But you save your projects in Project Server or Project Online rather than as files. This provides all stakeholders with a central project list. Depending on permissions, this list is easy to access via the Project Web App and only shows the projects the user is authorized to see.

Administrators can create additional user fields for projects. This makes it possible to display further information, such as:

  • project status
  • site
  • developed product
  • name of the customer
  • budget
  • total costs
  • risks
  • etc.

A current and meaningful project list is the first and most important step in multi-project management. It is the perfect basis for all evaluations and decisions in portfolio meetings and steering committees.

Your advantage over the standalone tool:
You identify critical projects and make necessary decisions early across your portfolio. This allows you to interfere in the right places in a timely and circumspect manner.

Why Microsoft Project Server / Project Online 4

Figure: The central project list in the Project Center shows all important information at a glance

3. Workflows and Portfolio Planning

Depending on the company organization and the type of project, it can make sense to divide the project initiation into steps with different authorization levels and permissions. You define this process in Microsoft PPM with workflows that can be started directly from the Project Center.

As a rule, it is also very important to select the projects in line with corporate strategy. Microsoft PPM allows you to assign strategic drivers to the projects. Through the specification of budgets and available resources, Microsoft PPM suggests which projects you should select with due regard to the priorities. And which ones could be started later or not at all.

Your advantage over the standalone tool:
You are equipped with the capability to prepare the selection of projects centrally. Objective investment decisions mean that you work only on the right projects.

Why Project Server / Project Online?

Figure: The portfolio management function supports you in the selection of the projects. The highest effort should go towards the most important projects.

4. Shared Resource Pool

Microsoft PPM features a central resource pool. All project managers have access to it. This comes with the following related advantages:

  • You ensure the central and correct maintenance of capacities and qualifications
  • All resource assignments are visible across projects
  • In contrast to Project Standard, you have a functioning basis for your multi-project planning – even with hundreds of projects and several thousand resources.

You can also represent the company organization in the resource pool. Enterprise custom fields allow you to maintain skills, sites, and other information. Calendars, vacation and cost rates are also stored centrally.

You may also like the article on Using Resource Engagements in MS Project.

In accordance with the access permissions, these data are available in the Project Web App for evaluation. You can see the cross-project workload per staff member. And what tasks the latter are working on.

Your advantage over the standalone tool:
At all times, you have the complete and enterprise-wide overview of the resource utilization and deployment. You can see if staff members are over-allocated. And if there are remaining capacities for new projects.

Why Microsoft Project Server / Project Online? 6

Figure: The central resource pool shows the assignment and workload of staff members

5. Personal Responsibilities and Time Tracking

Via the Project Web App, your team members can see all projects for which they are assigned. Likewise, they can record their actual hours and add comments. This is how the status of tasks and work packages can be documented in a transparent and direct way.

If you are using a standalone tool without connection to Project Server / Project Online, the exchange of information between project manager and team is more cumbersome.

The project manager has to collect the actual hours of the team members and enter them into the project plan manually. Then, he or she has to inform the team members about their individual resource utilization (e.g. via PDF). In addition, you cannot create an overall report on the resource utilization across different projects at the push of a button.

Why Microsoft Project Server / Project Online? 7

Figure: Laborious time tracking and file-based assignment of tasks without Microsoft PPM

Microsoft PPM transfers the entries the staff members made in the Project Web App into the plan with a click. And the generation of reports aggregated across all relevant projects is possible.

Your advantage over the standalone tool:
The project managers are relieved from manual information collection and data entry. Staff members can see their individual tasks and are able to report actual hours or the progress made.


Why Microsoft Project Server / Project Online? 8

Figure: The Project Web App gives staff members access to their information and allows them to report actual hours or the progress made

6. Project-Specific Workspaces

Besides the project plan, you tend to require various other documents and lists during project execution. In the standalone tool Project Standard, it is necessary to create additional folders in which you save the documents. What is more, they are not automatically linked to the corresponding project. In this case, lists usually consist of Excel files, which cannot be edited simultaneously and do not have a history.

Microsoft PPM, on the other hand, is a tool already running in the Microsoft SharePoint environment. Therefore, it provides all advantages for team collaboration.

From different templates, it is possible to create a project website automatically for every project. This website already contains documents and lists. SharePoint makes lists available to all authorized team members for simultaneous editing.

Project managers are the administrators of their project-specific websites and can edit them as required. In this activity, they are independent from internal IT.

In the Microsoft App Store, they can also obtain suitable extensions from a range of offers for their project website, for example: Risk analyses, Milestone Trend Analyses, WBS charts etc.

Your advantage over the standalone tool:
The central storage of documents for each project in one database means you have fewer losses due to internal friction. And your communication becomes much more efficient.

Why Microsoft Project Server / Project Online? 9

Figure: Project-specific websites assemble all documents and information on the project in a central place

7. Handling Cross-Company Projects

Many companies are working with external partners and contractors. In most cases, you will not want them to access your internal infrastructure. Project Online offers a modern solution for this business case.

Depending on permissions, every stakeholder gets access to a joint planning environment in the cloud and therefore outside of your company. Thereby, you avoid potential security risks and reduce the effort for your own IT’s digital rights management.

What is more, you are flexible timewise in making the environment available to the participants. This is possible at a reasonable price, and accounting is transparent.

Why Microsoft Project Server / Project Online? 10

Figure: Project Online provides a secure solution for cross-company projects

Your advantage over the standalone tool:
Even outside the company, you handle your projects securely with the aid of a transparent permissions system.

Advantages of Microsoft PPM with Add-On Products

Two options make Microsoft PPM particularly attractive: You can extend the Microsoft PPM platform with additional products. And you can integrate it with other business systems. These options enable you to have the best possible decision-making bases at the highest process efficiency.

Enterprise-Wide Solution with Integration

Microsoft PPM offers many possibilities for setting up enterprise-wide project and portfolio management. Moreover, you can integrate other systems and processes. The tool provides a comprehensive interface for the automated import and export of:

  • master data
  • project data
  • resource data
  • task data

Many Project Web App contents regarding costs, scheduling etc. can be integrated into other portals. Through Web Add-Ins, it is possible to view external contents on the project websites or also on the Project Details page.

Interested in the Integration of Microsoft Project with JIRA or TFS? Read article.

Web Add-Ins allow you to roll out company-specific solutions centrally step by step. The advantage is that your project managers can simply use these solutions without having to create them themselves. This involvement of other roles at the company will help you increase effectiveness and efficiency in project and portfolio management.

  • Connection to ERP systems:
    By synchronizing the project structures with the cost structures in your ERP system, you optimize the collaboration of project management, controlling and accounting. This is the basis for transferring the forecast from projects to e.g. SAP. In addition, this allows you to transfer the pending commitments and actual costs accrued from SAP to the projects. Depending on the business case, actual hours can also be synchronized in both directions.
Why Microsoft Project Server / Project Online?

Figure: The integration of JIRA or TFS makes it possible to plan work packages and project tasks with the suitable tool in each case

  • Connection to work management systems:
    The connection to work management systems, such as for example JIRA or TFS, is another useful integration option with Microsoft PPM. In such a case, the work packages created in the projects are planned in more detail in JIRA, i.e. with issues and actions. They are also updated and reported there. The results are transferred back to the projects. This makes the collaboration between project managers and team members much more efficient and more precise, as the contents in both systems are in sync.
Why Microsoft Project Server / Project Online 12

Figure: The integration of JIRA or TFS makes it possible to plan work packages and project tasks with the suitable tool in each case

  • Connection to CRM systems:
    The connection to a CRM system facilitates the automated creation of projects in the sales process. Besides the project number, it is possible to transfer:
    – customer data
    – budgets
    – sales price
    – delivery dates
    In the course of the offer phase and later during project implementation, these continue to be synchronized.

Enterprise-Wide Solution with Multi-Project / Program Management

Cross-project links in programs are a huge challenge. By combining top-down targets and bottom-up responses for important milestones, you can master these reliably. You can create any required cross-project milestone overviews automatically. These you can update at any time at the click of a mouse.

Why Microsoft Project Server / Project Online 13

Figure: You can stay on top of program management with Microsoft PPM and an extension tool (TPG ProjectLink)

Enterprise-Wide Solution through Optimal Resource Coordination

Your resource planning in the matrix organization will only function optimally under one essential condition. Besides the project managers, you will have to involve the team leaders in the planning process. The team leaders commit the resources requested by the projects. On the other hand, they plan all activities in the line outside of projects.

Only this aspect makes the overview of available capacities complete and leads to the desired success in resource planning.

Find out how to transform your resource management with Microsoft SharePoint.

Why Microsoft Project Server / Project Online 14

Figure: Resource commitments to the project managers become more reliable through coordination with the team leaders (TPG TeamManager)

Microsoft PPM in the Cloud – Licenses

In the last few years, the IT services on offer are moving more and more towards cloud solutions. Therefore, we will go into more detail on the Project Online environment here, Microsoft’s offer for project and portfolio management in the cloud. Please, find an overview of the Project Online licenses and their prices below.

Figure: The different Project Online licenses including their target groups

Why Microsoft Project Server / Project Online? 16

Figure: Prices for Project Online licenses in the EU Cloud (02/2018) – Please note that the prices in the German cloud are about 25% higher

Why Microsoft Project Server / Project Online 17

Figure: Application areas of the licenses from the Project Online environment

The Microsoft Cloud Germany

Microsoft has offered Microsoft cloud services from German datacenters in Frankfurt am Main and Magdeburg since early 2017. The offer for Office 365 also includes Project Online.

In collaboration with the data trustee T-Systems International, the strict EU security and data protection regulations are complied with. All data are stored in German datacenters. This offer is only available to customers from the EU and EFTA (Switzerland).

As a Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) Indirect Reseller, TPG The Project Group supports you on your way into the Microsoft Cloud. We offer the comprehensive Microsoft Office 365 Enterprise or Business packages and provide everything you need from a single source:

  • identification of your actual requirements
  • consulting regarding the appropriate solution
  • procurement of Office 365 licenses
  • setup of your individual cloud or hybrid solution
  • support of the change process in the company
  • training of the user teams
  • technical support for your solution

For more information click here!

Introducing Microsoft PPM Fast

Introducing Microsoft PPM can be more or less of a big project. You should consider a few essential points. These include the expectations of the stakeholders and the project management office (PMO) as the central point of coordination.

And in any case you should take one step at a time. “Less is more” to begin with. The first steps into your PPM system should be simple and lead to its general acceptance at the company. At a later stage, you can still detail and expand it further as required.

For more information on PPM introduction, consult our article How to Introduce a PPM Solution.

Find out about the Project Management Trends for 2019 – Read now!

Conclusion – Why Microsoft Project Server / Project Online?

This article has introduced you to the features of Microsoft Project Server as well as the cloud-based version Project Online. It has highlighted the differences to the standalone tool MS Project Standard.

The Most Important Advantages of Microsoft PPM

1. Transparency in the multi-project environment and good bases for decision-making
2. Central project list
3. Workflow options and a portfolio planning function
4. Shared resource pool
5. Options for team members: overview of personal tasks and time tracking option
6. Project-specific workspaces
7. Support for handling cross-company projects

Project and program managers, IT decision-makers, and PMO members have also become acquainted with valid arguments for Microsoft PPM.

In addition, you have learned how you can get more out of Microsoft PPM with add-on products. These add-on products can:

  • facilitate the integration with other systems, e.g. the company’s ERP or work management system
  • support multi-project and program management environments
  • improve resource coordination.

What are your experiences with Microsoft Project Standard, Server or Online? Is there anything you would like to add? Feel free to comment or ask questions in the comment area below.

Final tip: Subscribe to the TPG Blog Newsletter now and never miss another blog post.


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