SolutionBase: Learn how Microsoft Project Server can extend project management capabilities

Microsoft Project can help you get a handle on big projects, but it's difficult to share project files with teammates. That's where Microsoft Project Server comes in. Here's a brief introduction about what it can do.

Microsoft Project has been around for a long time, enabling project managers and people with similar responsibilities to create projects, track resources, and manage timelines. With the release of Project Professional 2003 and Project Server 2003, Microsoft has moved project management from the desktop level to the enterprise. You can publish projects to the web, collaborate on project management tasks, and accomplish a broad range of other tasks in relation to your projects. In this article, I explore Microsoft's latest releases in its Project product line to help you understand what Project Server is all about and where it might fit in your organization.

Moving beyond the desktop

If you have ever used Microsoft Project on the desktop, you know it's a great tool for organizing and managing all types of projects. You can create project timelines and milestones, define phases and tasks, assign resources, estimate costs, and more. Project can be an indispensable tool to help project managers stay on top of their projects.

Larger organizations and larger projects typically require the involvement of additional team members to help manage the project. Enabling team members to view project data and collaborate with other team members can be an extremely important means for moving the project along and ensuring a successful completion. Integrating the team members more effectively in project planning and execution can also cut costs associated with the project. Better collaboration typically leads to increased productivity and lower cost.

Project Standard allows you to save a project to a Windows SharePoint Services site, enabling others to work with the project file and related documents that have also been published to the site. This type of collaboration, although certainly useful, doesn't really provide enterprise-wide collaboration for team members who need to participate in project management or project tracking. That's where Project Server comes into the picture.

Microsoft Office Enterprise Project Management Solution

Microsoft Project Server 2003 is just one of the components that make enterprise-wide project management possible. Microsoft Office Enterprise Project Management (EPM) Solution comprises two core Microsoft products, the first of which is Project Server 2003.

Project Server is a backend server application that hosts project data and provides the framework for publishing project information and making it available through the Web. Project managers can perform a variety of tasks with Project Server to manage their projects:

  • Assign and track tasks - Project managers can assign tasks to team members, receive task completion updates, and integrate task information in the project.
  • Perform reporting - Project Server offers a broad range of customizable report formats to help managers track projects and prepare reports for the team and their managers.
  • Analyze project costs and other variables - Project Server provides the framework by which project managers can create multiple versions of a project to perform what-if analysis on the project, changing costs, resource allocations, schedules, and other factors to determine the impact on the project.
  • Manage resource availability - Project managers can build a team based on team members' skills and certifications, allocate resources to tasks, identify backup resources, and otherwise manage the project's teams and physical resources.

Because Project Server is all about collaboration, project team members can also use Project Server to participate in the project planning and execution. Team members can:

  • Manage their tasks - Team members can review the tasks assigned by the project manager, respond to those task assignments, and update their task status. They can create tasks and submit them to the project manager for approval, and team members with the appropriate permissions can delegate tasks to other team members.
  • View tasks and timelines - Project Server enables team members to view tasks in the project timeline in a Gantt Chart format and view their tasks in relation to others in the project. The view can be filtered, grouped, and sorted to help team members reduce the view to focus on specific tasks. Team members with the appropriate permissions can view status information for the entire project, rather than just their own tasks.
  • View project tasks with Microsoft Outlook - Project Server enables team members and project managers to view and update project tasks in Microsoft Outlook.

The other core component in EPM is Project Professional 2003. This product runs on the project manager's desktop and provides all of the capabilities need to create and develop projects. Project Professional goes beyond Project Standard to add the capability to publish projects to Project Server. The project manager can use Project to manage tasks and other changes, and Project can synchronize those changes to Project Server. Likewise, Project can synchronize member-generated updates, tasks, and other information to Project on the manager's desktop.

Bring in the team

After the project manager creates and publishes a project to Project Server, team members can start to access and work with the project. Members use Project Web Access, a backend component of Project Server, to access the project over the network or Internet. All the team members need is a Web browser to access their tasks, submit updates and additional tasks, respond to task requests, and subject to their permissions, accomplish other tasks such as viewing related tasks and overall project status. So, team members don't need Project on their desktops, although Microsoft Outlook 2003 is a good addition to enable integration with their email, contacts, and so on.

Project Web Access provides a Web-based interface for access to projects. As such, Project Web Access offers several pages to support different tasks. For example, the Home page lists outstanding tasks, status reports, and other information targeted at the logged-on user. The Tasks page provides a Gantt chart or timesheet view for viewing task assignments. Other pages target other tasks, such as managing resources, viewing a portfolio of projects, updating project tasks and work times, viewing reports, and accessing several SharePoint document libraries related to the project. Project managers and administrators can use the Admin page to set defaults, define users, configure security, and perform other administrative tasks for Project Server and Project Web Access.

While the project manager needs Project Professional to create the project, he or she can use both Project Professional and Project Web Access to manage the project. For example, the manager can use Project to create new tasks, manage team assignments, and receive and approve (or deny) updates submitted through Project Web Access. Some of the information displayed by Project Web Access isn't available directly in Project however, so managers can also use Project Web Access to view project and resource status and perform many of the other tasks that are available from Project.

Requirements and costs

Project Server 2003 and Project Profession 2003 are the two software components of EPM. You also need a Microsoft Project Server 2003 Client Access License (CAL) for each device or user that accesses Project Server. An optional Project Server 2003 External Connector allows business partners and other non-employees to access Project Server.

As you might expect, Project Server requires a supporting cast of products. Project Server runs on Windows 2000 Server or Windows 2000 Advance Server with SP3 or later, or Windows Server 2003 Standard or Enterprise Editions. To support issue tracking, document check-in / check-out, and risk management, Project Server requires Windows SharePoint Services running on Windows Server 2003.

In addition, Project Server also requires a database backend to store project data and provide data analysis and reporting features. To that end, you also will need Microsoft SQL Server 2000 SP3 or later. Accessing certain advanced features across the Internet requires SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition.

On the client end, team members need only a Web browser for basic interaction with Project Server and any related SharePoint sites. However, the addition of Outlook 2003 enables team members to use Outlook to view and manage tasks in their Outlook calendars.

Project Server lists for $1,499. Retail copies include five CALs, and you can obtain additional CALs from Open Licensing, Select Licensing, and Enterprise Agreements. Project Server CALs are not available through retail channels.

On the client side, you'll need Project Professional 2003 at the project managers' desks. Project Professional 2003 lists for $999 for new users and $599 for upgrades. Each licensed copy includes one Project Server 2003 CAL.