The Project 2010 Interview: Microsoft's Chris Capossela Talks to the Microsoft Project CommunityChris Capossela is a busy guy. This senior VP in the Microsoft Business Division is responsible for marketing the company’s productivity products. Those include Microsoft Office, SharePoint, Exchange, Office Communications Server, Visio, Duet, and, of course, Project — almost all of which will be offered in new, shiny versions in the first half of 2010. Capossela and his team have to sort out pricing, packaging, markets, branding, and advertising, as well as integrate the new releases into the sales channels and partner ecosystem.

This is nothing new for Capossela, who has been with Microsoft for 18-plus years. His experiences include running the Microsoft Project business, serving as Bill Gates’ speech assistant, and acting as chief of staff to the president of Microsoft EMEA.

Recently, Capossela took time out from his schedule to speak at length with MPUG via email. In the following interview, he explains why he considers Project 2010 — the next release of the project management system — the most important in a decade, lays out how it fits with other Microsoft offerings on the horizon, provides peeks into internal projects at Microsoft where Project 2010 is already keeping work on track, and shares what he sees on the landscape for project managers in the coming new year.

MPUG: You’ve said that you consider Project 2010 the most important release of Project in a decade. How so?

Project 2010 has significant new capabilities across the full Project family of products: Project Standard 2010, Project Professional 2010, and Project Server 2010. With a new and intuitive user interface, unified project and portfolio management, and deeper interoperability with other Microsoft technologies like SharePoint, Exchange, and Visual Studio Team Foundation Server, [Project 2010] truly is a watershed release. There are a ton of new enhancements, but there are three big areas that really stick out for me.

The first is a new simple and intuitive user experience. Project 2010 features the new Ribbon user interface and other ease-of-use enhancements that improve the productivity of both occasional and professional project managers.

The Ribbon UI was first introduced in the Office 2007 applications, and it makes it easier for users to discover commands in the context of their work. I can’t think of a better application for the Ribbon than Project. It provides contextual menu groupings that are customizable — in many cases exposing features that existed already that people couldn’t find or didn’t know about. In other cases it simplifies commands, tasks, and formatting making it easier to get started and get things done faster.

There are other important ease-of-use enhancements as well. For example, with web-based project editing users can create and edit simple projects directly from Project Server’s web interface without requiring Project Professional for many common scenarios.
In addition, User Controlled Scheduling allows users to enter task and project information free-form without having to know a lot of information about a project to get started. This allows for top-down, more dynamic planning with Project’s scheduling engine available to support more advanced scheduling requirements.

And two of the most popular new features are the Timeline View and Team Planner. The Timeline View provides a graphical view of tasks, milestones, and phases. It makes it easy to see, share, and communicate the plan at a higher level than the Gantt view. You can pan and zoom using the Timeline, and, you can drill into details of the plan. What’s better is that you can paste the timeline into a presentation or email as a drawing object so you can continue to format and modify the timeline for your customized presentations. The Team Planner allows you visualize and drag and drop task assignments with an interactive graphical view of resources; you can identify unassigned or unscheduled tasks, and then automatically level over allocated resources on a task by task basis by simply dragging and dropping tasks.

The second area is unified project and portfolio management. In this release, we’ve brought together the portfolio management capabilities of Project Portfolio Server 2007 with the Enterprise Project Management capabilities of Project Server 2007 to provide a unified server with end-to-end PPM capabilities. This means a consistent web interface, a common data store, centralized administration, and no more need for the Project Server Gateway. In addition to unifying PPM capabilities in Project Server 2010, we’ve also added a number of key enhancements in areas like demand management, customizable workflow, portfolio analytics, resource capacity planning, and time status and reporting. For example, organizations can now capture all project and work requests in a centralized system using web-based project initiation forms with flexible workflow and business rules to guide the project initiation and selection process. Projects are prioritized and selected based on cost vs. benefit and strategic impact, as well as available resource capacity.

The third area is interoperability with other Microsoft technologies, in particular SharePoint. Project Professional 2010 can now connect directly with SharePoint Foundation (formerly Windows SharePoint Services), without requiring Project Server 2010. Sync to SharePoint Tasks Lists is a new Project Pro feature that enables round-trip synchronization between SharePoint and Project Pro so team members can update task status directly from SharePoint, providing a lightweight project collaboration environment for smaller teams and a pathway to the more advanced capabilities of Project Server.

Then to support more advanced enterprise requirements, Project Server 2010 is built on SharePoint Server 2010, bringing together the leading project and portfolio management software with SharePoint’s business collaboration platform. Customers have told us they’re using SharePoint already for things like collaboration, content management, workflow, and search. They don’t want some additional project management system with its own separate collaboration and information management technology. Project Server 2010 is an extension of their existing SharePoint environment, with the same familiar user interface, shared infrastructure, and a common technology platform. This also means that Project Server 2010 can take advantage of SharePoint’s powerful [business intelligence] and reporting capabilities, including things like the Report Center, advanced charting, and [key performance indicators] (KPIs), PerformancePoint Services, and Excel Services. The benefit is that customers can create powerful dashboards, as well as make it easy for end users to create and modify reports simply using Excel.

Given the amazing breadth of work we’ve done in 2010, how can you not say it’s the most important release ever? 🙂

How does Project 2010 fit into the other areas of technology development Microsoft has been rolling out for the last several months (and continues rolling out)?

Project 2010 will be released in the first half of 2010 as part of the broader Office 2010 family of products, including Office 2010, SharePoint 2010, Visio 2010, and Office Mobile 2010. Office 2010 and related products provide the best productivity experience across the PC, phone, and browser. By enabling people to connect, collaborate, and be productive in multiple environments, these products will help our customers save money and increase productivity.

In addition to SharePoint, which I discussed previously, Project 2010 takes advantage of other Office 2010 enhancements such as Visual Reports with Visio 2010 and Excel 2010. And, Project Server 2010 provides integration with Microsoft Exchange 2010 to enable team members to manage and report on tasks directly from Microsoft Outlook.

We have focused on interoperability with other Microsoft technologies as well — for example, integration with Visual Studio Team Foundation Server to support Application Lifecycle Management and integration with the latest versions of Dynamics AX for ERP and Dynamics SL for project accounting.

One of our goals for this release was to make Project 2010 a scalable and connected platform and enable end users to work in the tools they’re already familiar with such as Microsoft Office and SharePoint.

Are we going to have to wait until after our organizations have installed the newest rev of Office or Windows on the server or desktop to make use of Project 2010?

Nope — Project Standard 2010 and Project Professional 2010 don’t require Office 2010 or Windows 7, so there shouldn’t be any major limitations to getting started with the Beta right away.

Project Server 2010 requires SharePoint Server 2010. As I described earlier, there are many benefits to implementing Project Server 2010 and SharePoint Server 2010 together as a way to bring together business collaboration capabilities with project and portfolio management. As part of our Beta program, we provide a significant amount of resources at our Microsoft TechNet web properties to help guide our partners and IT organizations on how best to architect and deploy solutions with the Office 2010 family of products including Project Professional and Project Server 2010.

Tell us about some really interesting project within Microsoft that’s being managed with Project and Project Server… What versions are being used How’s the project going?

There are a number of groups within Microsoft already successfully using Project 2010 such as Microsoft IT and our own Office software development teams, but there are two projects within Microsoft that come to mind that really showcase the business value of Project 2010.

The first is Microsoft HR. Our [human resources] team uses Project Server 2010 to manage the global portfolio of HR initiatives, which impact more than 90,000 Microsoft employees worldwide. They use the new portfolio analysis capabilities within Microsoft Project Server to prioritize and select the optimal set of business initiatives that align with Microsoft’s strategic HR objectives such as recruiting and retaining top talent and fostering a culture of innovation. In addition, they use Project Server 2010 to assign resources to projects and to monitor and track progress against stated project objectives. No new HR project gets approved without first being selected as part of the governance process supported by Project Server 2010. And, of course, they use Project Professional 2010 for planning and scheduling the projects and ensuring they meet their deadlines on time and on budget.

Another exciting internal customer — perhaps not surprising — is our Office 2010 product launch team here in the [United States]. Our U.S. marketing organization is using Project 2010 to plan, manage, and report progress on their entire product launch, complete with customized KPIs and dashboards to track progress against key milestones such as content development, training, and event management.

How has project management changed in the time you’ve been a participant in the Project organization?

The project management discipline has been around for more than a century, with some important historical milestones such as the invention of the Gantt chart in 1910, Critical Path Method and PERT in the 1950s, and methodologies such as PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge, PRINCE, and Six Sigma in the 1980s. These approaches remain strong today along with the emergence of more recent methodologies such as Scrum and Agile for product development.

Microsoft has been providing software tools to support the project management needs of individuals, teams, and organizations for 30 years. During this time there have been a number of significant changes. For example, a shift from primarily smaller more disconnected projects where scheduling is king to a world of larger, more complex and interrelated projects and programs that span across organizational boundaries. Today things like collaboration, resource management, and enterprise reporting are critical success factors. Perhaps the biggest change in the past seven or eight years is the emergence of modern portfolio analysis and management techniques to aid in selecting the right projects and aligning investments and resources with business priorities.

As the world of project management has evolved, Microsoft Project has evolved too — from primarily a desktop scheduling tool to PC and web-based offerings that span collaborative project management, resource management, portfolio analytics, and enterprise reporting. Today we have over 20 million users of Microsoft Project and over 10,000 customer organizations that have purchased our EPM solution with Project Server and Portfolio Server.

What’s one aspect of project management that the tool will never be able to automate for project managers?

A good tool can be useful to manage projects of all sizes from simple tasks to complex projects and programs. However, a good tool is rarely enough. Successful project management is usually the result of a combination of the right technology coupled with effective governance, management practices and processes, change management, and training. Because of this, a lot of the secret sauce to project management will never be fully automated. An often overlooked factor in successful project management is effective leadership. Whether it’s gaining executive sponsorship, providing an inspiring vision, or mobilizing people with the right feedback and incentives, leadership is often the difference between success and failure. Because of this, we believe it’s important for individuals and organizations to invest in training, project management, and professional development skills to help them get the most value from Microsoft Project. User groups and communities like MPUG are a good example of the wealth of resources and knowledge that are available.

The head of PMI — Greg Balesteros — has said he believes that project management is at a tipping point — that soon organizations will begin to adopt project management discipline and tools in a more sustained way. What do you see on the landscape for project managers in 2010

The market is quite dynamic today. In the current economic climate companies are managing shrinking budgets and need to be smart about where they spend their money and allocate resources. Executives are increasingly turning to project and portfolio management software to reduce costs and drive efficiencies. The benefits span any department or organization that is looking to control costs and resources, gain operational efficiencies, and make smarter investment decisions. Examples include streamlining research and product development, improving branch banking operations, managing cross-company initiatives, and better controlling IT costs and resources. In fact, according to a recent Forrester report, a PPM tool investment is likely to provide an ROI of more than 250 percent.

Project and portfolio management has always been important, but today it’s mission critical. Successful implementations of PPM tools can help organizations align the right strategy with effective execution, and increasingly those organizations that can do both of these simultaneously will have a sustainable competitive advantage.

The release of the new Project 2010 and Project Server 2010 is coming at a very good time to help our customers reduce costs, drive operational efficiencies, and prepare for future growth.