Best tools for project management: Project Server

In this final post in the best tools for project management series I will take a close look at the Microsoft flagship; Project and Portfolio Management or PPM. This product comes in two variations: Project Server and Project Online, more on the difference between the two later. Earlier posts were about Excel, and Microsoft Project Professional.

The product comes with a whole bunch of  names that might confuse a first time user. A trainer or consultant might talk to you about: PWA, Project Server, Project and Portfolio Management, PPM, Project Online or he might even use the old terms Enterprise Project Management or EPM (which are the old names for the product).

To clear up these confusing names I will give a brief description of what they are:

PWA stands for Project Web App, and is basically the webpage that you visit when using he product.

Project Server is the software/hardware component that sits on top of SharePoint Server (2013) and will be installed on servers. So if you are a user, don’t worry your admins (or a consultant like me) got this working for you :).

Project and Portfolio Management or PPM for short is the whole package. It includes SharePoint Server, Project Server, Reporting capabilities, Microsoft Project Professional… and more I’m currently leaving out for your reading pleasure.

Project Online is PPM, only cloud based and “managed” by Microsoft instead of your own company. I say “managed” because Microsoft will not customize the tool for you, but it will update the software and hardware regularly. This will help you to stay ahead of the curve with state of the art tools.

Enterprise Project Management or EPM was the old name that Microsoft used for the product line of 2003, 2007 and 2010. Useful tools, but you might want to look for a upgrade. What are you still doing with tools that are at least 5 years old???

Ease of use

Now that we have the terms all cleared up. Here is my view on the ease of use. PPM has a role based interface. This means that you only get served the things you need to know or do.

As a consultant I can change the look and feel of the product so that a Project Manager only uses the web interface (PWA) to plan his/her projects. Most of the functionality of MS Project Professional can be found in the web interface now (this statement is even more true for Project Online).

But not only a PM, but also Resource managers, team leaders, team members, admins, portfolio managers have a role in the tool and a subset of activities.

Using the web interface of PPM to manage your projects will be easier (though a bit limited) than using the Project Professional tool. And because you only get what you need, you should be able to use the tool faster and more efficient. However! As with MS Project Professional, I do highly recommend training. More on that later.

Updating a Project/Schedule

PPM is a powerhouse when it comes to updating schedules. There are four options to track progress using the team members themselves.

Tracking method in Project Server

  1. Percent of work complete
  2. Actual work done and work remaining
  3. Hours of work done per period
  4. Freeform

You are not obligated to use any of the options above, a Project Manager can also set his own progress. However, we are talking enterprise wide scheduling, that means that the organization decides, as a whole, which method it wants to use. This might be the easiest method (Percent of work complete) to the most accurate (Hours of work done per period).

PPM gives the power to the team members to directly report on progress within their projects. They will submit their progress and a PM will monitor and preview the changes. This way a PM will be aware of changes in his schedule as soon as they pop-up.

With PPM a team member can also add Issues and Risks to the schedule, he uses the Project Site for this. A nifty extra you get when using Project Server, it creates a new Project Site with every Project you create. The Project Site is also an ideal location to store project related documentation.

Reporting capabilities

Oh yeah, my personal favorite domain. Project Server uses a SQL server database. Therefor you are able to create very powerful, Portfolio wide reports. You are able to use Excel, OLAP, SSRS and even send the data to tools like BO.

Now OLAP and SSRS are the two most powerful reporting tools at your disposal. So when Project Online came out without the functionality of creating OLAP cubes or accessing the data source to create SSRS reports, the community was very sad. Luckily Microsoft has a listening ear and created a SSIS OData connection.

WOW, that were a lot of acronyms, sorry for that. Here are some excellent examples of what you can do with the Reporting capabilities from PPM and Project Online:

  1. Paul Mathers report pack (6 great reports, for free!)
  2. The sample reports that get shipped with the product
  3. Just a random search


Sharing a schedule is easy as can be. Every team member automatically has access to his tasks and the Project Site to enter his/her progress and ad Project documentation. A senior or manager that is higher up in the tree will be able to see all projects created by his PM’s and CXO’s will have updated reports every day if they want to.

Frankly, PPM is all about collaboration. Make the people do what they need to do, and nothing more. No more long meeting discussions about the progress, just a quick update on the schedule and on with the show, lovely!

Now what about external users? There is a free share option which gives people limited access to the project sites, but you could also give them a bit more power by providing the (very cheap) Project Lite license during the time the Project life cycle (this is only an option on the Project Online environment). That way they will be able to monitor risks and issues and update their tasks within a project.

Training required

Again, there will be training required, but it will be less and more focused on the environment of the organization. This is because of the roles within the system, a CXO just needs to know where to find the reports, a team member just needs to know how to report his progress and how to add documents and issues and risks.

The person that updates the schedule will need to have the most extensive training. But 1 or 2 day’s will be enough to get familiar with the tools.

Overall score

Ease of use: 4

Updating a Project/Schedule: 5

Reporting capapbilities: 5

Collaboration: 5

Training required: 3

Overall rating: 4,4

Final note on the best tools for project management

That’s it. Another series completed, I hope you had fun reading the posts. For the complete list of all posts please take a look here. This is the third series on the blog, I also have one on the incorrect ways of using Microsoft Project and I do book reviews, those post might also be interesting for you.

I got a couple of people commenting that the post titles are misleading. This was due to the fact they are missing their own favorite PM tools. Just to give a little disclaimer here: I am a consultant working only with the Microsoft toolset. Therefore I am not able to provide a clear view on any of the other tools. But, please, let me know if you use any other tools, and maybe this post will indeed become the best location to get a complete list of all the best tool for project management!

Finally I have two other locations that you might be interested in. I have an extensive resource page that has links to other bloggers and other interesting content on Project and Project Server. And I created a free OneDrive where I share files I find interesting to share, if you start following the blog there is even a “members only” download page.

As always thank you for sticking around, hope you will keep reading my posts,

Kind regards,

Erik van Hurck

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