Project Server Coming of Age

I had a great meeting this afternoon with some senior members of the Microsoft Project team to better understand, among other things, what changes are coming to the world of project management with the wave of Office 15 updates. As someone with an extensive background in project management who often owned project operations and tools, as well as a couple consulting forays into portfolio management firms back in the early 2000’s, it is a space I’ve always been interested in – and a category which nobody has dominated in the 20+ years I’ve been paying attention to it.image

Microsoft has the biggest opportunity of any vendor out there to dominate this space. The question has been – why haven’t they? I repeated a statement today I made a couple years ago when Arpan Shah left the SharePoint side of the house and went over to Project to help move the needle on Project Server: Project is too complicated. It’s like a novice web developer trying to build their first site. The instruction manual walks you through the first couple steps in a way you can understand, and then it’s a steep drop off into the deep end of the instructional pool, and you just about drown in the murky water.

The problem with Project has always been that hardly anyone uses the deep, complex functionality it provides. It’s an either/or problem – either you do get trained on using all of it, or you turn it off and stick with your Excel spreadsheet. Project, historically, has not provided the “Casual PM” with the tools they need – more than a simple work breakdown structure and Gantt chart, less than the detailed resource management tools and analytics. Most people – well, most project managers – want something in-between. Something that allows them to get more work done, check deadlines across projects (the portfolio view), and NOT get hung up in advances features that burden rather than help.

So….what is different? A few important things, namely the normalization of project management activities. By that I mean that its more a part of what you do day to day, and not this scary, PM-only toolset any more. Sure, there are still the rich features available to that secret sect of project management nerds in every organization, but Microsoft has recognized (finally) that there need to be baby steps into the complexity, and that a project management framework is more powerful when everyone participates (cause its about collaboration, folks).

Here is what jumps out to me in SharePoint 2013 and the revamped Project service:

  • How it is talked about. The language has been changed from tasks and projects (scary, intimidating language to some) to deadlines. It may not sound like a big thing, but this is actually enormous. Microsoft has put it into terms that everyone can understand, and baby steps us into better managing our day to day activities. For some, this may always be just a deadline they’re keeping track of with a couple activities that lead them toward that deadline. And that view of the world is just fine. People who need more, who need to manage one or more projects, still have that capability. For everyone else, its about deadlines.
  • Portfolio view without the complexity. Point your simple dashboard view to a number of your deadlines, and you are presented with an easy to consume portfolio view. Now you can see all of your deadlines, side by side, in a single view. That’s it. No other complexity to confuse you. If all you want and need is a quick visual, you got it. If you need to monitor more complexity – you can do that too.
  • My Tasks. This was one of the first things I saw in my first SP2013 demo back in March, and I was jazzed. One place for all of the tasks assigned to you across every project, every deadline, every SharePoint site. If your name is assigned to a task, this will surface it to one place. Oh yeah, as well as your Exchange tasks.
  • Workflow. Here is where the SharePoint integration comes in handy. Workflow is the top productivity driver inside SharePoint. According to the recent AIIM study, 97% or organizations surveyed are using workflow. Now tasks and projects (sorry, deadlines) can be tied to, included within workflows.

Of course, I’m still exploring, trying to understand everything that is there, but I am thoroughly impressed by what I’ve seen so far – and came away from the meeting today with a task to work with my engineering team to get the preview version installed so that I can play with it more. You can find more information here on the Microsoft site.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.