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The buzz is building behind the recently shipped Microsoft Project 2002 Pro and its new Project Server. Microsoft is putting on launch events, and lots of people are talking about Project Server’s powerful analytical tools and single database of all your company’s project information—from resources to budget to timelines.

Managers at all levels need answers to tough questions: How much am I spending on projects in the IT department? How much am I spending on development projects? How many developers will I need on staff next quarter, given the current load of projects? How complete are my projects?

Most organizations don’t have a standardized way of proposing, planning, and tracking their project, which makes it difficult to figure out which groups are doing how many projects. Even more challenging is the process of figuring out what’s in the pipe for next quarter or next year. Since there’s no single source for what kind of work is coming at the resource manager, resource planning and tracking can be next to impossible.

Even when MS Project users employ the Resource Pooling functionality of Project 98 or 2000, the results can be frustratingly slippery. You must wade through a sea of frustrating dialog boxes that ask about shared files and opening options.

Project Server brings all your data into a single database. It contains all the projects and resources and provides easy interfaces for project managers to filter. It gives executives and project management offices (PMOs) powerful tools to analyze data about projects.

Most notable among the new tools is the Portfolio Analyzer, which is really the Pivot Table and Pivot Chart controls from Excel 2002 in an ActiveX control. The Portfolio Analyzer accesses an OLAP cube on SQL 2000 that contains huge amounts of data about all the projects and resources in the database. You can create custom views of your data. You can see via a pivot table or chart exactly how many C++ developer hours you’ll need for all of next month’s projects, broken down by geographic location, as shown in  Figure A. Or you can see how much all projects in the Western Region cost, broken down by business unit, as shown in  Figure B.

Figure A
Project 2002 can sort project data by resources, such as developer hours.

Figure B
You can also sort on business unit and other criteria.

Employees have a voice in the process, too. Easy-to-use timesheets call for users to enter status about their assigned tasks. This information is then fed to the project manager, who approves it and “posts” it to the project. The project manager can see how the status submissions affect the remaining portions of the project and react accordingly. You can require users to submit status reports that are stored in the database as part of the permanent record for the project. Status report forms can be customized to include information that your organization needs to take project evaluation beyond mere numbers.

On the collaboration front, Project 2002 Pro uses a customization of Sharepoint Team Services to provide control of access to documents and interaction on issues that might come up during projects. Users can create new issues that are linked to specific projects or even specific tasks. Others involved with the project can start a dialog on the issue and document the work inside the issue itself. You can even link the issue to tasks that are created in the plan for addressing the issue.

Two elements that make this product a big improvement over Project 2000 are its Enterprise Resource Pool and Enterprise Global Template, which greatly improve the way Project works in a large-scale enterprise environment. The Enterprise Global Template lets you ensure that all project managers have access to a common set of views, field customizations, macros, and even toolbars. This template is a project, residing in the Project Server database, that Project 2002 Pro checks every time it opens. Project 2002 will still use the local Global.mpt file on the user’s hard drive so that individual users can make their own customizations and add their own fields and views. But the enterprise template will overlay that with views and customizations it contains. In Project 2000, to have standardized views, an organization would have to put a global.mpt file on a server share. That method doesn’t allow users to save their own customizations. This new system is the best of both worlds—the organization gets to easily distribute views, toolbars, and macros, and users still get to save their own stuff.

The Enterprise Resource Pool is an exciting change. In Project 2000, if project managers wanted to use a resource pool for a large number of projects, they had to be very careful about how they answered dialog boxes. It also opened up the pool to errors and problems because every project that used the pool contained every resource in it and was attached to that pool, often in a read/write mode. With Project Server, the pool is contained in the server database, and project managers build their project teams from the pool. Their projects contain only the resources they choose to use from the pool, not the entire pool. They still have instant access to the pool, but without all the messy dialogs, and their resources are kept up to date. This is one of the biggest improvements in the entire product. It makes working with pools easy, even for non-experts.

Project Server and Project 2002 Pro Edition offer many new features that will make it easier to use and easier to deploy in an organization. The ones we’ve covered can dramatically affect the management of an organization. Take a closer look at Project Server and see if it will help your organization make better use of its resources, time, and budget.

Looking to upgrade

Are you considering an upgrade to Project Server and Project 2002? Let us know about it or post a comment below.