Welcome to the year of the cloud! For the first time, Microsoft is releasing its most powerful Project and Portfolio Management system in two variations. Microsoft Project Online is now available as a monthly subscription for organizations using Office 365 and for installation behind your firewall. This release, heavily influenced by the SaaS and IaaS revolution and Microsoft’s continuing mission to rewire Project Server 2013 into the SharePoint 2013 framework, is one of the most compelling ever.

1. Governance workflows using SharePoint Designer 2013

For those of us already living in the Project Server world, I believe the ability to use SharePoint Designer to build governance workflows is the likely top pick for reasons to upgrade to Project Server 2013. This long overdue ease-of-use feature unleashes the ultimate business tool potential of Project Server 2013. Workflows allow you to embed intelligence into business processes automation. SharePoint Designer 2013 allows non-programmers to build governance workflows. While the declarative (non-code) workflows you build using free-for-download SharePoint Designer 2013 are limited when you compare them to Visual Studio or third-party add-ons, this new ability using a familiar tool finally enables many organizations to get off work-flow square one. I know that in our Implementing and Administering Project Server 2013 training, that building a project governance workflow is a class highlight for every student.

2. Project Online (Office 365)

For Microsoft, this is the play for the decades and a very big gamble. For the small and mid-market public sector, this is the software win of a lifetime. The ability to arm a business with enterprise class software for nothing but a monthly payment commitment is finally a reality. The barrier to entry is so low that the challenge for Microsoft and its partners is to help people with a simplified approach to a very complex technology that provides an opportunity for growth that no other competitor provides. Certainly this is a landmark event in Project Server history and that’s why we cover it thoroughly in all of our books for Project Server 2013.

3. SharePoint Permissions Mode

At the center of a simplified management approach to Project Server 2013, SharePoint permission mode is a complete mask to Project Server security, a necessarily complex matrix for some, but not for the larger masses and certainly not necessary for midmarket customers that might be strongly attracted to Project Online. Although taken by itself, it doesn’t sound like much but it enables new lightweight project management support and much of the maturity story that Project Server 2013 now supports. With that statement I open a can of worms that requires more explanation than the confines of this blog post allow.

4. Ideation and Demand Management Improvements

Most companies require a simple, easy to use solution to capture great ideas. Sometimes these ideas transform into projects that you want to triage through portfolio selection and manage with Project Server. Although you need only a SharePoint list, you can now create SharePoint sites for employees to propose ideas, or even request on-demand support tickets. Project Server 2013 provides the missing link between free-form ideation and formal portfolio selection with both manual transferability and workflow governance. You can create SharePoint workflows to govern the ideation or proposal process and seamlessly hand them off the SharePoint list items to Project Server for governance without writing code. Say hello to PPM for the masses!

5. Architecture and Performance

Microsoft made a huge under–the-hood investment in Project Server 2013, upgrading and refitting it with performance characteristics worthy of the Office 365 infrastructure. While the Project Online user may be oblivious to these improvements the organization installing Project Server 2013 in its datacenter immensely benefits from them. I can best compare it to upgrading the airplane from turbo prop to jet propulsion. It takes a while to build and tune the environment, but it is quite amazing how well it performs. Most of the students in our first two classes have been well experienced with Project Server and just as amazed as we are by the whiplash speed we have Project Server 2013 running in our training environment.

After more than a year of working with various iterations of this software, these are my top picks of the most influential drivers for Project Server 2013 adoption. Keep in mind that this is barely scratching the surface of the changes in this version and that it is not just a Project Server story when you include SharePoint and SQL Server.