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Arpan Shah, Head of Microsoft Project Product Management, Discusses Service Pack 1

Later this month Microsoft will be releasing its first service pack for Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010. Included in that collection of updates, enhancements, and fixes will be at least 200 specifically for Microsoft Project Standard 2010, Project Professional 2010, and Project Server 2010. SP1, as it’s called, will also roll up all previously released fixes for the Project 2010 platform. The Microsoft Project team has blogged extensively in recent days about some of the bigger issues the service pack addresses.

Arpan Shah, Head of Microsoft Project Product Management, Discusses Service Pack 1MPUG recently had the opportunity to talk with Arpan Shah, who heads up the Microsoft Project team’s product management. A product manager at Microsoft plays an influential role in determining what the requirements should be for a new release and does a lot of listening to customers through multiple channels — online, in person, at conferences — to figure out what the next version of a new product should have.

Shah joined the Microsoft Project team in July 2010 after heading up technical product management in the SharePoint organization. In this interview, he shares some of the highlights of the new service pack, gives his take on how to explain integration between Project and SharePoint, offers hints about a future version of cloud-based Project, and invites us to attend the next Project conference, taking place in 2012.

MPUG: Microsoft said it will soon be releasing the first service pack for the 2010 releases of Office and SharePoint. If I’m a typical project manager, is it essential that I download it and get it installed if I’m on Project 2010?

Arpan Shah: Microsoft Project Standard, Microsoft Project Professional and Microsoft Project Server 2010 Service Pack 1 will be available by the end of June this year. And we’re excited about releasing it because it rolls up a bunch of fixes. We also have some great enhancements in this service pack. But to answer your question, we’ve had some great business and consumer momentum around Project 2010, where people are deploying and using the software without the service pack — so from a quality perspective, it is not essential to wait for Service Pack 1. We feel really good about the quality of the product.

But there are some enhancements that customers might find useful. On the Project Server side with Service Pack 1 we now have multi-browser support specifically around the time entry scenarios in the Project Web App based on feedback that we’ve received from enterprise customers.

We’ve also made enhancements to bi-directional synchronization with Project Professional and SharePoint task lists and that SharePoint [installation] can be on premises or in the cloud with Office 365. Before, without Service Pack 1, we synched manually scheduled tasks; with Service Pack 1 we now support auto-scheduled tasks as well.

We also have included support for manually scheduled tasks. Now you can effectively enter hours instead of just percentage complete when it comes to time phase data for manually scheduled tasks.

We’ve also made some improvements around project scheduling in our Project Web App, which is part of Project Server.

So all in all, it’s a great set of enhancements. But, no, you don’t have to wait for Service Pack 1 to use Project 2010.

MPUG: How are sales of Project 2010 going?

Shah: I can’t comment on numbers but I can say that we’ve had some great momentum on the sales, customer, and deployment side of the house. We’ve published some case studies at http://www.microsoft.com/project/en/us/customer-success.aspx.

MPUG: Is the pick-up on the Project Standard side, the Professional side or the Server side?

Shah: We’re seeing it across the board, to be honest. We are seeing a lot more people get very excited about the Project Professional product because of some of the new features around the bi-directional sync with SharePoint and with the Team Planner view, which are unique to the Professional version. On Standard, people are really excited about the Timeline view, which is a new way to share the timeline of a project with others. With Project Server, there are a number of investments with Portfolio Management being unified along with some of the deep integration we’ve done with SharePoint.

MPUG: We have arguments within MPUG about just how much coverage we should be giving to Project 2010 vs. Project 2007. How is pick-up among existing customers moving to Project 2010 and off of 2007?

Shah: Pick-up is really good. What we’re finding is that a lot of people are impressed with the features that Project 2010 has to offer. Some people may not migrate as quickly or move up as quickly, whether because they’re waiting to refresh their desktops or some other reason. But from a pure feature value perspective, everyone I’ve spoken to is excited about what there is to offer. So we’re seeing many people buy Project 2010 and we’re also seeing deployment faster than I would have expected given that we’re only a year out.

MPUG: There’s going to be a lot of information that Microsoft will be pumping out around Service Pack 1, and it can get very confusing to wade through all the knowledge base articles and the webcasts and white-papers before deploying the service pack. Do you have any advice for preparing for implementation?

Shah: I recommend that people follow our team blog. One of the things that we’re trying to be very judicious with is publishing really good content, whether it’s best practices, marketing information, how-to’s; we’re trying to keep that information fresh. In fact, we’ve released blog posts in which we do a deep dive on specific topics around Service Pack 1. So if people follow our blog, they’ll get detailed information.

MPUG: I think a lot of people are still confused about how Project and SharePoint fit together. How do you explain it to people?

Shah: I explain it two ways. When we talk about SharePoint integration, Project Professional 2010 integrates with the SharePoint 2010 Task List; and that bi-directional synchronization is an out-of-the-box feature of the Professional 2010 client that allows you to sync project tasks with SharePoint tasks. This works for any flavor of SharePoint 2010, whether it’s Foundation, Standard, or Enterprise, whether it’s on premises or in the cloud with Office 365. So that’s one piece from an integration perspective.

The other is that Project Server 2010 is built right on top of SharePoint Server 2010. What that means is that we take advantage of all the great collaboration capabilities and all the great business intelligence capabilities. If you’re an existing SharePoint customer, you’re really taking advantage of the underlying platform. If you’re not, you’re getting all the great benefits around collaboration and business intelligence that other project suites wouldn’t typically give you.

So as we think about it, people who do project management often want to do collaboration, want to do business intelligence, want to see how the projects are being executed. Given that we’re built right on top of that platform, it gives our customers and partners a lot of great value. So those are the two ways that I think about it.

We have many customers that have deployed Project 2010 today for project and portfolio management. They’re building custom business intelligence reports using functionality that we ship with SharePoint. So they’re trying to visualize data in different ways, and they’re using Excel Services, PerformancePoint Services, or Reporting Services — any of the BI components — and bringing those reports to life. They may have very custom needs, and they’re able to go ahead and make all of the customization right on the platform.

MPUG: You’ve been in your newest role for about 10 months now. What are you learning about the Project community that makes it unique from the larger Office community? Any thoughts there?

Shah: The Project community is very passionate, which is absolutely fantastic. They are passionate not only about the product but about different [project management] methodologies. So it’s always great to talk to the community, because there’s so much to learn.

MPUG: The Project 2010 exam was recently released, and there’s been a wave of people taking the beta version of that exam. Now the live exam is out too. Are people signing up to tackle that?

Shah: They are. Like everything else, what we find is that there’s definitely a lot of demand for people who understand project management and use Project technology. By passing the exam, not only does it help them to become experts through the training and exam, but it also allows them to differentiate themselves. So we are seeing uptake on the exam thus far.

We also have a partner PPM competency, which is a way for Microsoft partners to differentiate themselves with a specialization in project and portfolio management. So we’re finding a lot of momentum on that on the partner side as well.

MPUG: Companies such as BeMo are now offering on-demand access to Project and SharePoint. Now with Office 365 we’ll be seeing SharePoint Online. When will Microsoft be selling cloud access to Project?

Shah: There are a couple key points. The first is that for customers who want access to Microsoft Project in the cloud, it’s there today. We have partners that host Microsoft Project Server today. We have them listed on our website at http://www.microsoft.com/project/en/us/on-demand-hosting.aspx. We also have the Microsoft Project Professional 2010 integration with SharePoint Online in Office 365, which we talked about earlier in the interview. And in the near future we plan to have Microsoft Project available in Office 365. I can’t share details on that though.

MPUG: Microsoft has a new conference announced for next year. The last one was all about Project 2010 and what we could expect there. Now that’s out. What are you going to be sharing with the Project community next year?

Shah: For me conferences are an opportunity for people to get together and learn from each other, so we’re hoping that this is a great way to share best practices — not just Microsoft sharing with the community, but the community sharing among itself. We’re really focusing on allowing people to connect with each other through networking. And we’re hoping to land some new content as well in terms of methodologies and other guidance that we’ll have by then. So it should be a great conference for anyone who’s using Microsoft Project 2010 or looking to use it.

MPUG: Any final words of advice for readers?

Shah: We’ve really tried to build Microsoft Project so that it can be used by many different people, whether you’re a specialized project manager or an occasional project manager. But the technology is only one piece. The other piece, of course, is making sure you have a methodology that can be adopted very easily. So really thinking about those two together vs. thinking of them separately.

Lastly, whether you are looking to deploy today or waiting for Service Pack 1, quality is something that Microsoft has spent a lot of time focusing on with this release. I encourage you to deploy Microsoft Project 2010 now.


Read Arpan Shah’s blog on MSDN.

Learn more about the Project components of the Microsoft Office 2010 Service Pack 1 on MSDN.

The Microsoft Office 2010 Project Service Pack 1 will be available in Microsoft’s Download Center.

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