While Project 2013 desktop application is coming out with a number of improvements for project managers and their teams, Microsoft hasn’t forgotten the cloud. Project Online, Microsoft’s cloud-based Project Portfolio Management (PPM) solution, is rolling out with improvements and is a better fit into the new world of SharePoint 2013/Office 2013 than Microsoft Project. It comes with 25 user licenses, and your team can access project information from a range of browsers and mobile devices. Project Online is also a much more simplified application to use than Microsoft Project.

Project on the web

Making a cloud project management application accessible through the next version of Office 365 has been on my wish list since the Office 365 Beta. While my experience with the Project Online Preview ran slowly, the user interface and features still buoy my optimism that Project Online is heading in the right direction. The primary method for project managers and their teams to interact with Project Online is going to be through the Project Web App (Figure A). The tiled interface is nice and should make the app more accessible for users who aren’t trained project managers.
Figure A

Project Web App (Click the image to enlarge.)

Project Online revolves around Project Portfolios and gaining visibility over your teams’ tasks. This view over multiple projects is what you want to get to if you face challenges with competing requests vs. budget constraints but don’t have a true picture of your resource utilization. Figure B shows the Project Center, which is where you can view all of your ongoing projects and run reports.
Figure B

The Project Center (Click the image to enlarge.)

With Project Online, you can also use views to drill down into your recent deliverables, risks, and issues just by clicking options on the sidebar.

Business intelligence (BI) is becoming a game changer in many industries, and Project Online includes a Business Intelligence Center, Interactive Report Designer, and Dashboard sharing. The inclusion of BI tools in Project Online places this platform in another class for enterprises.

Project Online/SharePoint/Project integration

Project Online integrates with SharePoint Online, Project Pro for Office 365, and Project Web App. You have the option to create workflows using SharePoint Designer to implement appropriate controls and governance through the project life cycle. This is all great and good and a natural step in the maturation. What I am not seeing so readily is the knowledge base and the tools to back up these moves. It’s platforms like Project Online that can help SharePoint gain renewed acceptance inside enterprises where it has gotten a bad start.

Team communications and collaboration

I fall squarely into the camp that says collaboration and communications features are integral to the success and adoption of project management applications. Project Online enables teams to share documents and follow people and sites through a social layer in the platform.

Coming up through the ranks, I’ve also become a believer in the democratization of project management data, and Project Online provides web access to summary dashboards, timelines, and other project information. You don’t need to be a ninth degree black belt PMP Ninja to use these tools, so you could even open up access to Project Online to business users and not fear your phone lighting up with questions. I especially like being able to create new projects using SharePoint task lists, which is ideal for teams that have members who may not embrace the ubiquitous Gantt chart. I ran into errors when I tried to create task lists, which was disappointing.

The Dashboard is based on Silverlight and the Excel Web Apps. Figure C shows an example of a Project Online Overview Dashboard.
Figure C

Project Overview Dashboard (Click the image to enlarge.)

IT management

Project Online is available as a subscription, which means it won’t tax internal IT resources. Moving to Project Online is miles away from having to shuffle around Microsoft Project licenses. It’s also easier to accommodate mobile workforces and geographically dispersed project teams without licensing hassles.

Taking Project to the cloud

Despite some performance hiccups in the Project Online Preview, I feel comfortable saying that Project Online brings together the best of usability, collaboration, and accessibility into a project management application that provides project managers and other stakeholders a view into one project or their entire portfolio.