Beginning on May 12, 2010, the rules of project management will change. Before Microsoft Project 2010 officially appears, older versions of Microsoft Project are still enforcing strict and formal compliance to project management standards, and we hold project managers accountable to own and deliver on a project schedule that is near perfection without exception. We expect our experienced team leads in Microsoft Project Server to follow a path already laid out for them in a schedule; making critical changes is considered taboo without the project manager entering the changes for them.

With Microsoft Project 2010 much of this formality will now be optional.

Wait! Don’t worry! It’s OK! For you purists and sticklers for detail, the features and functions you need won’t go away. For people who have abandoned Microsoft Project for Excel and PowerPoint, it’s time for a second-look at this very powerful project management tool.

In evaluatingMicrosoft Project 2010, it’ll be important to know the significant new changes to adopt them effectively. This guide is intended to help you better understand what you need to do to prepare yourself and your organization.

What’s New

At the top of this article I made a bold statement that the rules will change and Excel users should take notice — so let’s look at one of the most significant new changes in the Desktop version of Project 2010.

Manual scheduling is essentially an Excel-like approach to setting up your plan without having to know all the details. Where Project would modify dates and change your schedule “for you” with a very powerful scheduling engine, you can now turn that off for tasks.

Figure 1. Schedules don’t have to be perfect from the outset. Tasks can be manually scheduled where dates aren’t defined.

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Timeline View is the second most popular new feature of Microsoft Project. While the Gantt chart can be extremely helpful to project managers and their teams, it’s not executive-friendly. I’ve been to many offices and seen my share of full-wall printouts of a Gantt chart showing delivery schedules in all their glory. And the executives sitting right by that wall still ask, “When will ‘x’ delivery be met” ? With the new Project, you will now have a Timeline View that shows the most important dates, tasks, and milestones you wish to share with a wider audience.

Figure 2. The new timeline view allows you to select tasks and display them in a format easily read by anyone unfamiliar with project management tools.

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Web-based Scheduling is a key feature for those individuals who require the ability to make simple changes to a plan without having to request the change from the project manager and without having to know the complexities of using Project on the desktop. Imagine scenarios such as a team leader needing to add tasks to their part of a plan, a resource manager adding tasks and assigning them to appropriate members of their department, and so on.

Figure 3. It’s now possible to give security rights to users that need to edit a project plan online using Project Server 2010.

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SharePoint Integration enables you to share your plan online whether in Microsoft Project Standard with lightweight task management integration or with Microsoft Project Professional connecting to Project Server. SharePoint itself has been updated to provide more features that will be of particular interest to project teams such as new and improved workflow and document management.

Portfolio Server is now part of Project Server, so you can provide a fully integrated project intake, optimization, and selection process via the SharePoint-based Project Server environment.

Reports Central in Project Server is a central location for sharing reports and will make heavy use of Excel and SharePoint’s Excel Services. You will find creating reports a familiar experience by using Excel as the primary interface to write and publish reports online.

Many more features are included in this significant new release, including the Fluent (tabbed) user interface, feature-rich copy/paste with Excel, and Compare Projects. The features I share in more detail are the ones I think you should really be preparing for.

Preparing for Project 2010

As you may have surmised, Project 2010 is a significant release and Microsoft has gone to great pains to really improve the experience of managing project schedules. With that, let’s look at what we should be focusing on in the next release. Included are some important next steps in preparing you and your organization for Project 2010.

For Executives

Microsoft Project is a leading project management tool, which is sometimes considered too complex for the average user. If you or your staff have used Project in the past but struggled with these complexities, there are powerful new features in Project 2010 that would suggest a second look is in order.

With integrated portfolio management, business users will have a powerful tool that manages the entire lifecycle of a project, from initial conception to budgeting and delivering on the projects. Reports are typically delivered via a SharePoint website that can be presented in the form of dashboards.

In preparation for Project 2010, there are some key elements business users will want to consider.

  • In regards to portfolio management, consider how you want to capture new project ideas. Perhaps you just want to capture some simple details like a name for the idea and a general description. You may want to capture more advanced data like scope, requesting business units, value to the business, and so on.
  • Using the portfolio optimization engine will allow you to identify a set of five to seven key business drivers. These business drivers will be used to select projects that will add the most value to your organization.
  • In the area of reporting, consider having an end-to-end solution for identifying, selecting, and delivering on projects. What are the key metrics you’ll want to track? These metrics will help put scope around a Project 2010 implementation. Also, since the reporting solution is based on SharePoint and Excel, consider different ways in which you would want to see this data.

For Program or Project Managers

Whether you’re a seasoned project manager with an extensive background in critical path management or new to the role, you’ll find features here for you. Some are powerful and will more than likely change how you work in Microsoft Project.

Get Ready for Manual Scheduling

In a perfect world, we know all the dates we plan to deliver. Reality is, we never know all these details. Manual scheduling can be a boon to those project teams where there really are unknowns or the project isn’t critical enough that certain dates must absolutely be on the mark.

Even if you don’t have Project 2010 on your desktop today, consider the following to prepare for manual scheduling.

Standards

  • You might follow a lifecycle methodology where certain phases are too difficult to plan upfront. Consider a standard by which it’s OK to schedule tasks manually.
  • Baselines are a critical element of a schedule; but with manually scheduled tasks those baselines won’t provide the detail you may need. Consider a base lining process that takes manually scheduled tasks into consideration.
  • Most projects have the dreaded “must complete by” dates. You can use the constraint method built into Microsoft Project, but using Manual Scheduling may be an option that can ensure the date stays where it belongs.

Figure 4. Project 2010 manages the entire lifecycle of a project from concept to delivery. Reports are delivered via a familiar web-based reporting environment.

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Project types

Perhaps you — or your company — demand absolute schedule over and above a certain budget threshold. You might consider manually scheduled tasks to be an option for those projects that don’t fall into that category.

Training and PM Maturity Growth

Considering many project managers are very often subject matter experts and not project management practitioners, they often turn to Excel spreadsheets because Microsoft Project’s scheduling engine can be too complex for their needs. With Manual Scheduling, there’s an opportunity to bring those Excel users into the fray of using a formal project management tool, allowing them to ease into more advanced features.

Figure 5. Sample Excel Reporting Dashboard displayed in SharePoint.

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Get Ready for Web-based Scheduling

As a project manager, you’ll still be making use of the desktop version of Microsoft Project 2010. You may want to make quick schedule changes via the web. Depending on how significant the changes are, you could go to SharePoint and make the updates.

Another scenario may be that you have a group of people who would also like to update the schedule. With previous versions of Project, we would typically lock people out of doing this since making updates could negatively impact the schedule. Although this tends to be a best practice, it may not be practical, especially if you have different team leads that own specific parts of the plan.

To prepare for web-based scheduling, consider the following:

  • If there are other people that need to edit the plan, come up with a clear and concise structure and naming convention so there are fewer chances of someone changing tasks that shouldn’t be edited.
  • Should you have concerns about many people editing your plan, consider using Manual Scheduling. This way, if someone makes a change you aren’t comfortable with, it doesn’t make a major change to the rest of the schedule.

Table 1. Considerations for when to use Auto vs. Manual scheduling.

Raymond Table 1

Get Ready for the Timeline View

The new timeline view is a nice feature that provides a view of your project that anyone could read and understand. That said, it’s all too easy to create a timeline view that contains too much information.

Figure 6. The Desktop version of Project 2010 provides a Timeline View that graphically depicts your schedule.

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In preparing for the timeline view, consider the following:

  • Identify any critical Tasks, Summary Tasks or Milestones that you would want to share with your team, executives, or any outside parties. Gain confirmation with all the appropriate parties that these are the components of the plan you’ll all agree to track. Of course, there may be other elements, but by getting agreement on the Timeline View, you can always pull out a slick report that doesn’t require editing or modification.
  • Name your tasks accordingly. As you can see in Figure 6, the timeline view is really designed for simplicity. Don’t use verbose task names for items you’ll put on this view or you’ll find yourself tweaking and editing the graphic in PowerPoint anytime you want to share it.
  • Limit the number of Timeline items you’ll add to the graphic. As you can see in Figure 6, there are only two rows that tasks can be added to, with an outside area at the top and bottom to place more task information. Adding too much detail will make it difficult for those trying to read the information.

As you can see, Microsoft Project 2010 is a fairly significant departure from the product you used to use. I hope that by taking some of these key steps, you’ll feel better prepared for tapping into the power of this new application.

Figure 7. The new Microsoft Project 2010 user interface.

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For IT Folks

Microsoft Project 2010 has now been upgraded to use the new Fluent (or tabbed) user interface. This means users who have been using Project in the past will have a learning curve. Like Excel, there are many common menu steps and shortcuts that Project users are familiar with that may not translate to this new user interface paradigm.

People really comfortable with Excel will more than likely take to the new version of Project 2010 with the new Manual Scheduling features. That said, the new interface and significant features list may compel you to want to invest in user training as part of your rollout plan.

Since there are very many new features, here’s a checklist of considerations to prepare your IT organization for a successful deployment of Microsoft Project 2010:

Prepare the Desktop Environment

  • Project relies heavily on other Office products, like PowerPoint for generating status reports, Excel for analyzing data and building reports, Visio for diagramming work breakdown structures, and so on. Although Project 2010 doesn’t require these products, consider Office 2010 as part of your rollout strategy.
  • Due to the sheer amount of data Project handles, you may want to consider upgrading the power users to a 64-bit platform of Windows 7 or Vista.

Prepare the Server Environment

Microsoft is investing heavily in SharePoint as a web-based collaboration platform. I sometimes liken it to “Windows for the Web.” All products will be integrated to SharePoint in some way, shape or form. Microsoft’s server products will all be based on 64 bits, so plan on upgrading any 32-bit servers now in anticipation of this new requirement. SharePoint 2010 will be a must for an enterprise solution, so you’ll want to plan an infrastructure to support Project Server.

Get Trained on the New Stack

  • Microsoft Project Server will have some very powerful new portfolio, program, and management features. With these advances, you’ll want to start learning how to write SharePoint workflows so you can tightly couple the project management process to the toolset.
  • Project Server 2010 will have a significant reliance on Excel Services and Excel-based reporting. Many organizations are familiar with using Excel, but not necessarily working with live data and building dashboard pages in SharePoint. Learning the new capabilities of Excel 2010 and SharePoint 2010 will be a must to provide best practices for your users.

Planning is Essential

Microsoft Project 2010 is a significant new release and provides a powerful set of new features that make it easier to run projects. Planning out how you will use these new features is critical to the success of your implementation. I hope this review helps you in this effort.