Project Server and Business Process Management Byline: William Raymond, Microsoft Project MVP, Pcubed (Member, Boston Chapter) Recently, I‟ve been focusing my attention on how existing customers are making use of Microsoft Project Server. Some implementations emphasize better management of resources through the use of Timesheets and detailed FTE (Full Time Equivalent) planning, while others use it to bring accountability and collaboration to dispersed teams and projects. Speaking with customers that have already used Project Server for some time is always enlightening. Some are incredibly successful and Project Server is being adopted into new areas of the organization. In other cases, where further adoption is slower, companies learned to scale back on the sheer amount of work required to create and maintain projects. When we work with clients, there are typically requirements to customize the product – if even just a little. Maybe there is a need to integrate with an in-house application or they need special reports created. Sometimes macros do the trick to automate the more mundane tasks of re-publishing projects or prefilling custom fields. This is very important information to know, because when interviewing customers, the last question I ask is: “So what‟s next?” A year ago, I would have heard (in capital letters) “UPGRADE TO 2003”. As we are well into 2004, most people are upgraded or on the path to migration. They see big things for Project Server 2003. They want more adoption of the tool and more advanced customizations. But here is the difference, the new advanced „customizations‟ are not really features at all. They are an overall driver for change. What I mean is they have a tested, stable platform on which to maintain projects and collaborate with teams. However, there are less common standards around how the tool is used and what business processes need to be followed. Now, Project Server owners want to drive standards and best practices into the toolset. So maybe this is the next phase of your own Project Server implementation. Building a formal process that defines best practices, or even policies for, how a project is identified, estimated, scoped, approved, executed, updated, and monitored. Taking this process work to the next level, an adopting organization can start to build criteria for just how much work a Project Manager must put into the maintenance of their schedule. For example, if a project is of a certain size, scope or risk, a set of pre-defined templates can build an appropriately sized project. The milestones, deliverables and major phases of work required will be driven by the same criteria. This will drive how projects will be reported and the level of governance and oversight required by your organization. At this point, you might be wondering whether I‟m talking about a Project Management Office (PMO) or Decision Support Office (DSO). Well maybe, or it could be that your particular department just wants to do a better job of incorporating your best practices into the tool. If you are thinking “we tried this before”, I would ask you to stop and ask yourselves if “you had a fully integrated tool available to you at the time you tried it”? Many of our mature client users are really thinking things are different this time. These clients are increasing consistency, gaining maturity, and ultimately pulling ahead of their competition. They are achieving this now because Project Server 2003 finally provides a consistent platform for a centralized project management and decision support capability. Some unique examples are as follows: 1. With the nearly limitless capabilities of Microsoft Project Server‟s technology platform, we can now build data-driven InfoPath forms that automate the process of filling out/initiating business cases and scope documents. Using Windows SharePoint Services (WSS), InfoPath forms can be shared by all
(based on security permissions). If you tried doing something similar in the past, you know all too well that so-called disconnected Excel Spreadsheets and Word documents tend to just float around to people‟s e-mails and shared drives. This caused frustration because the version numbers are not always updated; people question if they have the right information; and no one knows where to go to find the right version. 2. With BizTalk Server 2004, business processes can be fully defined to allow forms to be automatically routed to the appropriate stakeholders for approval. To make the right decision, these stakeholders may require budgets and actual costs which are currently collected in their financial system. This can be accomplished by using Microsoft‟s new SQL Reporting Services to aggregate and migrate data from the financial system and the Project Server database. This information can then be delivered to the governance team via Excel spreadsheets accompanied by the appropriate InfoPath request form(s). As forms are put into a workflow, the version numbers are automatically updated on the form and in the back-end database. The administration requirements to deliver this data in a timely fashion can go from two people spending weeks collecting and validating the information to a nearly 100% fully automated solution. Talking with many of our clients, most say initial PMO/DSO attempts failed because people say “the processes were too complex” or “the processes never really worked”. What really didn‟t work was the manual process of getting updates to critical information. By automating the processes and providing websites, e-mail and of course, human interaction, we can greatly increase the effectiveness of our Project Management capabilities. 3. In addition, we can utilize other tools to increase understanding and adoption of our processes. Companies may have volumes of books that define their processes and standards, so why not use Visio to graphically display and access the processes through PWA? If people want more information they could drill-down a little further, but never be overloaded with too much detail at once. In addition, centrally maintaining these documents will ensure everyone is using the latest and greatest version. To see an example of Pcubed‟s own 6D® methodology incorporated into PWA, see Figure 1.
Figure 1: Pcubed‟s 6D® methodology In conclusion, if you have a successful Project Server implementation and are looking to extend its reach, consider embedding your processes into the toolset. This will provide greater consistency and
repeatability thus allowing more informed decision making and ultimately better project success. The tools are finally here allowing the opportunity to dramatically improve business practices and efficiencies as well as increase user adoption of the Microsoft Project Server platform.
William Raymond presented similar work as he described above at the Microsoft Project Technical Briefing „04 and won the “Best Microsoft Project Solution” at the Solution Shootout.