Microsoft officially unveiled the next version of the world’s best selling project scheduling tool at the Microsoft Project conference in Phoenix Arizona on 16th September 2009. The great news is that it has gotten a whole lot better.
* Please note; this article is based on a pre-beta release of Project Server 2010 which will not be available for sale until mid 2010.*
So what is so great about the new version of Microsoft Project and Microsoft Project Server 2010? Well apart from them dropping the clumsy “Office” appellation from the product title I guess the answers should be divided between the Project 2010 client scheduling tool and the enterprise functionality provided by the Project Server 2010 EPM solution.
In Microsoft Project Professional 2010 the biggest and most dramatic change is the “Ribbon” replacing the old menu and toolbar navigation. Whilst it represents a dramatic change to the look and feel of the tool it is intuitive and easy to get to grips with.
Project 2010 BackStage Area
The “BackStage” area is where a lot of the old file menu management actions on your project plans are conducted. The area features some enhancements, especially around the contentious area of printing.
Project 2010 Timeline
My favourite feature at the moment has to be the “Timeline” view as it portrays key schedule information in a powerful and intuitive graphical manner. You decide which tasks are included in the timeline so it can be used to communicate specific schedule information to people who may not understand a Gantt Chart.
By all accounts the Timeline view has gone “Viral” within Microsoft with people seeing it, “getting it” and then wanting it.
The Timeline view can be tweaked for clarity and can also be easily transposed into either an office document, be it Word, PowerPoint or Excel.
It can also be easily copied and pasted into an email.
Integration with Office Suite
General integration and consistency with the Office family of products has been improved, copying and pasting retains hierarchic relationships whether copying from a word document into to a project plan or from a task list in Project to a Word or PowerPoint document. Text wrapping and Auto-Complete are also much more Office oriented and consistent than previous versions of the tool.
Team Planner View
A neat feature of the tool is the Team Planner view, this again is a powerful graphical way to depict the workload of your team and to then manipulate assignments to smooth the demand on your people – it is a bit like resource levelling but you retain control which is a big benefit.
Those of you familiar with the Resource Usage view may notice similarities, however the Team Planner view gives you the opportunity to re-schedule or re-allocate work by simply clicking and dragging bars to clear windows of time.
A major upgrade on Project Server 2007 is that Project Server 2010 now incorporates Portfolio Server as part of the offering whereas previously this tool was a complimentary product to the EPM solution. As the need for greater transparency and accountability within organisations becomes ever more prevalent as the result of the shockwaves emanating from the recent financial crisis the ability to select projects on scientific and objective criteria is likely to be invaluable, providing an audit trail from inception through to completion.
Aligning projects to robust governance by means of in-built workflows marks a significant step in the maturity of this product. Previously senior management had the option to observe projects once they were published; now they can be engaged as part of the approval process from the outset.
User Controlled Scheduling
This feature has drawn a lot of positive feedback from the user community although I must admit I am struggling to be as enthused as some of my colleagues. To me it looks likely to introduce a more casual and less focused approach to planning projects as it does not observe the rigour of a traditionally constructed schedule. On the other hand making it easier to use the tool will probably convert some people who would otherwise resist the discipline that Microsoft Project has traditionally required of project schedules.
Inactive Tasks on the other hand are a nice addition as it means that tasks can be put on hold, useful if you are weighing up your options or looking to revise the scope of your project. Inactive tasks can always be reactivated in the future should the need arise which is a lot better than deleting and then reinstating tasks.
Formatting of Views
Formatting of views has also been significantly enhanced. Whichever view you are in the “Ribbon” will display relevant formatting options automatically. Simply hovering over a ribbon item results in the display being changed to reflect how that option will look.
Improved Filtering functionality, this feature is again an example of how Project is more closely aligned and consistent with the Office suite of products. As a big fan of filtering already I can envisage numerous ways in which this improved feature will benefit users.
The Task Inspector – an improvement on the task driver feature of Project 2007 with a lot more contextual information presented to the user in an easily understood interface.
For organisations that are not yet ready to go to Project Server 2010 Microsoft Project 2010 can now share task information with SharePoint lists which represents a potential interim step for organisations whose Project Management maturity is improving in a slow but steady and realistic fashion. This feature offers the potential to collaborate more effectively.
Web based schedule editing means that you can now edit a project plan in the browser in the same way as you can do when using the Microsoft Project scheduling tool.
Departments, this feature means that you can create projects where the custom fields are specific to a particular area of the business – for example an R&D project could report against totally different criteria to a project being undertaken by the HR or sales functions of an organisation.
Enterprise Project Types – this feature extends the potential of templates by also allowing differing workflows to be associated with different project types.
For those deploying the solution the elimination of Active X Controls and Office Web Components will be a big benefit as these “features” have been known to be problematical in the past.
Reporting is significantly enhanced with not only OLAP based reporting but now also Excel Services based reporting.
Delegation now allows people to update on behalf of colleagues, in effect a manager can delegate to a colleague responsibility for performing their role on a project for a limited time period. This feature allows individuals and teams to “self manage” situations where key players are out of the loop, for example when people are away at a conference or on vacation. It eliminates the need to request changes by those with Administrative responsibilities for Project Server.
* Please note; this article is based on a pre-beta release of Project Server 2010 which will not be available for sale until mid 2010. *
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