Data Management

What's new in Microsoft Office Project Server 2003?

With just over a year between the release of Project Server 2002 and Project Server 2003, you might doubt the value of the enhancements to the latest version. But the changes are based on specific requests from product users.

In June, Microsoft announced the pending release of the next version of its Enterprise Project Management solution: Microsoft Office Project Server 2003. Project Server 2003 provides organizations with several important features for managing their organizational project management workload. It provides a central repository not only for an organization's projects but also for its pool of resources. This makes reporting on the status, cost, and workload of projects and resources a much easier task than if resource information and projects are spread out across different file shares.

This central repository concept also helps Project Management Offices control the ways that managers work with Project by allowing for the creation of enterprise templates and by creating enterprise-level custom fields that are controlled by a central administrator.

Project Server 2003 also brings some welcome additions to the product. Nearly every change seen in this version is the result of customer feedback and feature requests received by the product team about Project Server 2002. Performance upgrades, scalability enhancements, and many bug fixes are also key additions to this release. Here’s an overview of a few of the key improvements and feature additions that make up this release.

First in a series
This is the first installment in a series that discusses the enhancements made to Project Server 2003. Upcoming articles will address a full timesheet API, Active Directory synchronization with the Enterprise Pool, and Project Server Security Groups.

Improved setup and deployment
The biggest outward change between 2002 and 2003 is the way deployment is handled. Deploying Project Server 2002 was tough at times. During the past several months, many new documents have come out of Microsoft to help aid 2002 deployments, but no matter how you slice it, Project Server 2002 installation had many people frustrated. This was particularly true when trying to install the system for a large, multi-server deployment.

Project Server 2003 has greatly improved this area of the product. The wizard that comes up on autorun, shown in Figure A, walks you through everything and allows you to install specific components onto specific machines and asks for the location of these other servers so that the whole, multi-server installation goes smoothly.

Figure A

As part of the larger deployment improvements, Project Server 2003 now supports the partitioning of the database across more than one server. Partitioning was added to provide a way to increase overall system performance since it was found that the biggest constraint on the SQL server performance in Project Server 2002 was the server’s NIC card.

If the tables are broken out across multiple servers, you not only gain the benefit of reduced processor traffic, you also have less overall data going across any one NIC card in the system. You can choose to have the tables into which Project Professional saves its data on one SQL Server, the tables that Project Web Access reads from for its views on a second SQL server, and the remaining tables, including the OLAP cube tables, on a third SQL Server.

Windows SharePoint Services
A big part of the Project Server 2003 feature enhancements is the integration with Windows Sharepoint Services (WSS). WSS is basically version 2.0 of Sharepoint Team Services, which is now a service that runs on Windows Server 2003. In addition to having some of its own bugs worked out, WSS provides a rich combination of what was in Sharepoint Team Services and Sharepoint Portal Server.

Figure B shows one of the new additions to Project Server 2003 that WSS integration brings: risk tracking. This form lets you associate risks to projects or individual tasks. You can capture information about the risk, such as the probability, exposure, and impact of the risk, as well as text-based information about the risk.

Figure B

You can even link the risk to tasks within the project to define which tasks act as the trigger event, mitigation tasks, or contingency tasks for the risk. Such information about all the risks for a project can also be exported to Excel for further calculations or analysis.

WSS integration also brings expanded document management functionality, such as version control and document check-in and check-out functionality. Now you can more tightly control access to documents held in the Project Server document libraries, and these documents can be edited and versioned so that team members can refer to previous versions of documents.

WSS also allows for easier customization of its interface to support the building of new and specialized sources of information for your team. The entire interface is based on a template concept so that customized templates can be created around specific requirements.

Web-based resource allocation
Project Server 2002 supported the concept of a resource manager, which could be given the permissions to assign specific resources to projects in response to requests made by project managers for generic skill types within their project schedules. This assignment was done within Project Professional. This meant that anyone filling the role of a resource manager had to have a copy of Project Professional and they had to be at their workstation to assign resources to projects.

Project 2003 has changed this by adding “Team Builder Lite” within Project Web Access. This is a Web-based version of the Build Team from Enterprise dialog found in Project Professional. Figure C shows Team Builder Lite. The left side shows resources currently assigned to the project. I've selected Adam Barr and clicked the Match button to show all the other resources in the enterprise pool with skills matching the ones possessed by Barr.

Figure C

This allows the resource manager to replace resources on projects with other resources with the same skills or add new resources to a project all directly from the Project Web Access interface and without having to have Project Professional installed.

More on Project Server 2002
These TechRepublic articles cover features of Project Server 2002:

Managed reporting periods
Project Server 2003 adds the ability to define specific time reporting periods. These periods can then be closed so that resources can no longer submit time for these periods without an administrator’s approval. This locking down of past reporting periods aids in the transfer of timesheet information to outside accounting applications.

In Project Server 2002, you couldn't lock down time periods and the result was that a set of data could be passed to an accounting package but a resource could still enter time for that same period without an administrator being aware of the new update. This allowed the accounting system and Project Server to have different numbers. This new feature (see Figure D) makes sure that when a resource needs to submit status for a past period, the administrator knows and can pass this new information along to the accounting system.

Figure D

Along with the locking of time periods is the ability of administrators to protect the actual work for the projects so that even project managers cannot adjust the actual work on a task within Project Professional. This concept of Protected Actuals can ensure that project managers don't accidentally make changes to the actual work submitted by the resources on the project. If adjustments do need to be made, the protected actual work can be adjusted by an administrator.

Proposed booking of resources
Proposed resource assignments to projects are another new feature of Project Server 2003. Sometimes called soft booking in the professional services industry, proposed booking helps organizations bridge the gap between the functionality of generic resources which track the use of a type of resource and the use of real people. Proposed booking lets organizations assign a real person to a project but mark that assignment to the project in a way that tells other resource managers and project managers that it is not a committed assignment. When viewing resource usage data in a Portfolio Analyzer view, you can see which assignments are Proposed and which are Committed. This can help gauge the demand for particular resources without having to actually assign and commit the resource to all the projects that want them.

Outlook integration
Project Server 2003 ships with an Outlook COM add-in that adds a custom Calendar item form to an installation of Outlook 2000, XP, or 2003. This add-in is given information about the user’s Project Server account and then whenever the user is assigned a new task by a project manager, that task appears in their Outlook calendar as an appointment. When this appointment is opened, it comes up in a custom form that has a tab on it that lets the user submit their status to the project manager without having to log into Project Server Web Access. Figure E shows how Project Server tasks appear on the Outlook Calendar.

Figure E

Open one of these special appointments and you'll see the form shown in Figure F. The form adds the tab called Project Web Access, which gives access to the correct tracking method depending on which method the project manager has decided to use.

Figure F

With this feature, users can continue to work in the application they choose. If they're more comfortable in Web Access, they can work there. If they “live” in Outlook, they can stay there and still keep their project manager up to date.

The development cycle for Project Server 2003 was much shorter than usual, due to the nature of the release. It was less focused on massive feature enhancements than it was on addressing the suggestions and needs of current users. Lots of organizations installed Project Server 2002 and they found features they wanted changed or added. The Project Product team did a good job of listening, and Microsoft Office Project Server 2003 is the result.

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