It’s that time again—the new version of Microsoft Project is out and your clients are all asking for your input. “What does it do? Why do I need it? When can we get it installed?”

Microsoft Project 2002 attempts to expand project management capabilities beyond team leaders and into the enterprise. Project 2002 is meant to be paired with Project Server 2002—a completely new product—to expand on enterprise-level reporting and analytical capabilities. I’ll help you get up to speed with basic information about what Project Server is and is not,and what you should start thinking about if you’re going to install Project Server/Project 2002 on a client site.

More info on Project

You’ll find plenty of Microsoft documents on the Microsoft Project Web site and on Technet that offer a feature-by-feature breakdown of Project.

A product family
The following are the four products in the Microsoft Project family:

  • Project Server 2002 provides the guts of the new enterprise features that reside in SQL 2000 and in the application tier on the Web Server (IIS). Project Server 2002 replaces Microsoft Project Central Server and serves as the platform for the other Project family products. It requires Microsoft Windows 2000 Server and Microsoft SQL Server 2000 if enterprise functions are required.
  • Project 2002 Professional Edition is the new version of Project that, when connected to a Project Server installation, contains many of the new enterprise features, such as the ability to create and modify project plans and enterprise resources, which can all be saved to the Project Server 2002 database. Without Project Server, having Project 2002 Professional is the same as having Project 2002 Standard.
  • Project 2002 Standard is Project 2002 Professional without any of the enterprise features, such as the Resource Substitution Wizard, Enterprise Global, and Enterprise Resource Pool. Many new features that don’t require Project Server are included, such as the ability to save multiple, full baselines instead of having just one per project as in 2000, and the new Project Guide, a customizable wizard-like interface that can guide users through creating projects, estimating tasks, and assigning resources. These features would be available in the 2002 Standard, stand-alone scenario.
  • Project Web Access is the user interface you get when you connect to the Project Server with Internet Explorer.

Those of you who are familiar with Project Central, which allows for collaborative planning, can think of the combination of Project Server and Project Web Access as the next version of Project Central, although that would be a big understatement. The combinations of Project Server and the two versions of Project 2002 can be a little confusing. For example, Project 2002 Standard and Project Server can work together and still provide basically the same kinds of functionality as Project 2000 and Project Central. The only big difference is that Project Server provides a much richer user experience and more control by the project manager.

Project 2002 Standard can also operate alone in the same way that Project 2000 commonly acted alone in the majority of installations.

2002 Pro and Project Server
The real breakthrough is with the combination of Project 2002 Professional and Project Server. This combination is an enterprise application in a class with SQL and Exchange. It uses XML, SOAP, and SQL 2000 Analysis Services. If you know Project Central, it will seem familiar, but this is not Project Central 2.0.

When Project 2002 Pro and Project Server are hooked up, project managers will have access to full-fledged enterprise project management functionality, including the following:

Enterprise Global
The Enterprise Global feature allows you to have enterprise views, toolbars, bar styles, etc., maintained on the server and overlaid onto the Global.mpt (Microsoft Project) file that the users have on their local machines. Enterprise Global allows the administrator to ensure that common views are always available for all the projects on the server, while still allowing users to create their own views. (This Enterprise Global fixes the problem of how to “share” a global.mpt file among many users, which was an issue in 98 and 2000.)

Enterprise Resource Pool
Project 2002 fixed everything that was hard about using resource pools in 98 and 2000, such as the large number of dialog boxes users were required to navigate through. Every resource available in the organization is now located in one place on the server, and your project has access to them at any time without actually having to be connected to the pool.

Generic Resources
The Generic Resources feature is a new type of resource that represents other resources, such as Programmer or Network Admin. You can use Generic Resources to load your tasks and get an idea of how many resources you might need without having to assign actual people. (To see how to do this in 2000, read my earlier article on generic resourcing.)

Say, for example, that you create a plan and you don’t really know what specific resources you’ll need but you do know what skills you’ll need for the tasks. You use Generic Resources to load the tasks in your plan. Now you have earmarked certain skills that you’ll need for your project. You, other project managers, and the portfolio/resource manager for your company can now run reports that will project the demand for certain skill types for certain periods. You can use this information to justify adding new staff or you can use it to reschedule projects to times when resource demand is lower.

Enterprise Code fields
Enterprise Code fields are a huge leap for Project 2002 and are at the heart of what Project Server and 2002 Professional really bring to the party. The code fields help describe resources and projects. These descriptions are used for grouping within the online analytical processing (OLAP) functionality in the Portfolio Analyzer and in the Enterprise Team Builder, which uses outline codes to match resources with similar skills, locations, and other attributes, and the Resource Substitution Wizard, which levels resource assignments across groups of projects by using, among other factors, the matching of outline codes.

This is not a complete list of features, but these are the ones that will require the most self-examination from your clients and the most consultation from you. The list above begs questions like these:

  • Which resources should be available to the projects that occur in my organization?
  • How do I describe my resources? (For example, skills, location, etc.)
  • How do I describe my tasks and my projects? What are the attributes that are used to categorize and define them?
  • What are the standard graphical views that should be used (or at least available) across all my organization’s projects?

Most importantly, how will your clients be able to standardize all of these things across the many organizations that will be using the tool? In many companies, each suborganization has its own way of doing things and describing things.

Most IT managers would say that you can’t describe a software development project in the same way that you describe a server upgrade. In some ways, that is true, but for enterprise project management to work, you need to find common denominators across all the types of projects so that meaningful reports can be created. The combination of Project 2002 Pro and Project Server allows the cross-departmental collaboration that can help your clients standardize project workflows.

Not your average upgrade
My final point about Project Server is that it is not just Project Central with new “stuff.” This is an almost entirely new application. If the documents you have seen from Microsoft on this product seem a little complicated, it’s because this is an application, in my opinion, that will be used to completely change the way that your organization thinks about project work and tracks and manages those projects.

More help

Microsoft maintains a listing of partners that are experts in implementing this software. Don’t underestimate the software or the level of effort required to get it running. Help from such partners at key points in the installation process and during the long-term implementation of enterprise best practices will ensure that you’re getting the most from these applications.