Microsoft Project Sever – Why you should use it

A Role-Based Enterprise Solution with Multiple Options

What is Microsoft Project Server / Project Online (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.

Important news dated September 28th, 2018:
Microsoft unveils product roadmap for project and portfolio management (PPM) – New “Project” Service announced.
Read more about the New “Project” Service in this blog article.
(The article will be constantly updated.)

 

The Components of Microsoft PPM at a Glance

Microsoft PPM On-Premises

A on-premises Microsoft PPM solution installed and operated at your own company 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

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 under „Microsoft PPM in the Cloud – Licenses”.

The following figure below provides an overview of the components of a Microsoft PPM solution. Below, you will find out more about the individual components.

Figure: Overview of Microsoft PPM Components (click image to enlarge)
Microsoft PPM Components

Microsoft Project Standard is a standalone tool. It is not meant for use across departments or projects. It does not enable connection to Microsoft Project Server / Project Online.

Microsoft Project Professional can be used as a single-user tool. Or it can be connected to a server. It also possesses additional functions. This version is the basis for working in a multi-project environment with an on-premises Project Server and Project Online. In the classic installation process, your IT administration uses local installation packages.

Microsoft Project Online Professional is the cloud version of Microsoft Project Professional. It can be used as a standalone tool but also in connection with Project Server “on-premises” or Project Online. There is no classic installation. Instead, it is drawn and updated from the Microsoft Cloud. This is important, as new functions are made available in Project Online on a regular basis. Those functions can only be used with this version of the software.

Microsoft Project Web App – Project Access for all Project Participants in the Browser

The browser-based Microsoft Project Web App is available both in Microsoft Project Server and in Project Online. With all established browsers, its users have role-specific access to central data, resources and functions. It allows project managers to plan projects. However, the desktop version offers a notably higher range of functions.

Microsoft Project Server – The Central Platform Solution

Microsoft Project Server is a flexible platform for multi-project and portfolio management. As a central solution, Project Server provides you with well-tried capabilities for planning, reporting, and project team collaboration. In addition, it supports resource management. It enables the central and uniform storage of your company’s project and resource data.

Microsoft Project Server is a service within Microsoft SharePoint. Along with Microsoft SQL-Server, the latter is installed and operated “on-premises” as part of your infrastructure. Thus, the integration in Microsoft SharePoint Server is available to you. This means that, within this solution, you can use functions for file management and collaboration for increased team efficiency.

Project Online – The Cloud Solution

As a component of Office 365, Project Online is a service provided by Microsoft in the cloud. The range of functions corresponds to Microsoft Project Server. However, Project Online is continuously extended with new functions.

You can subscribe to Project Online as required. You will not need your own server infrastructure at your company. The users connect their desktop application directly to the service running in the cloud. Or they access the Project Web App directly from their browser.

The Most Important Advantages of MS Project Server / Project Online (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.

Figure: Microsoft PPM is the basis of a central portfolio & project management solution and offers options to drill down to reporting details (click image to enlarge)
MS Project Server / Project Online Solution

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 the project status, the 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.

Figure: The central project list in the Project Center shows all important information at a glance (click image to enlarge)
MS Project Server central project list

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.

Figure: The portfolio management function supports you in the selection of the projects. The highest effort should go towards the most important projects. (click image to enlarge)
MS Project Server Portfolio Management

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. 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.

Figure: The central resource pool shows the assignment and workload of staff members (click image to enlarge)
MS Project Server Resource Pool

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.

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.

Figure: The Project Web App gives staff members access to their information and allows them to report actual hours or the progress made (click image to enlarge)
MS Project Server Web App

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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.

Figure: Project-specific websites assemble all documents and information on the project in a central place (click image to enlarge)
Project-specific websites in MS Project Server

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.

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

Figure: Project Online provides a secure solution for cross-company projects (click image to enlarge)
Project Online cross-company solution

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