Using Microsoft Project 98 or 2000 to manage multiple projects used to be like walking a tightrope. If you were sharp and paid close attention, you could make a living at it, but you were bound to fall eventually. Project Server 2002 makes it easier to handle multiple projects because it uses a better way to share pooled resources.

The problem with Project 98 and 2000 was the way they pooled resources, with a central .mpp file that acted as the resource pool. But like any other .mpp file, only one person can have it open for editing at a time. To regulate these editing rights, Project had to keep track of everyone who had access to the file at a given time and what rights they had. Project did this through a fairly complex set of dialog boxes that it presented to users each time they opened a file that shared pooled resources. Users who didn’t pay close attention often didn’t get the kind of access they needed.

This is the main reason that many organizations don’t use resource pooling. While it has some benefits, it’s too hard for many organizations to use. Project Server 2002 changes everything with a better way to share resources across multiple projects.

The resource pool
First, the resource pool is a standard feature that is part of Project Server 2002’s core functionality. It’s not something you have to add: it’s part of the database, so there’s no file on your network.

When starting a new project, the project manager adds new resources from the pool by clicking on the Insert | New Resource From | Microsoft Project Server menu item, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

This brings up the Team Builder dialog box shown in Figure B. Although this dialog box provides access to many new features in Project Server/Project 2002 Pro, for the scope of this article it’s simply where you add new resources to a project.

Figure B

The project manager picks resources by selecting them on the left side of this dialog box and clicking the Add button. This “moves” the resource to the right side, which means that the resource can be assigned to work on this project. The resource’s name still appears on the left side, but it’s “grayed out,” as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

The project manager can now assign Joe and Dell to tasks on this project. But this is just the superficially visible part of the pooling changes in 2002. The real changes to the system take place behind the scenes. When the project manager next opens the project, Project Server checks to see if it contains any “Enterprise Resources,” which are any resource contained in the Enterprise Resource Pool.

If it does, then for each of these resources, the server checks the resource pool to see if any information about the resource has changed. If information has changed, these changes are propagated to the project.

This can be useful if, for example, a resource manager has changed a resource’s rates or edited the resource’s calendar of availability. These changes will be “sent down” to the project so that the project manger has the most current information. This initial check is the only connection from the project to the pool. Unlike in Project 98 or 2000, there’s no longer a permanent connection between the pool and the project.

A final thought
If you’re new to resource pooling in MS Project, this might not seem very revolutionary, but for those who have struggled with multiproject management in 98 or 2000, this feature itself is nearly worth the price of the upgrade. It really makes all the other features possible by providing a reliable and workable solution to sharing and managing resources. Without this, none of the other features that Project Server adds really mean anything.