Cloudy Conditions: Clarifying MS Project’s Plans and Pricing Structures

The Microsoft Project product family has so many solutions, pricing structures, and platforms to choose from that it can be confusing to many people on what to use. In this article, I hope to clear up some of this confusion and make some predictions. Let’s begin by comparing the different solutions.

On-Premise Solutions

The players here are Standard and Professional. Microsoft Project (MSP) Standard 2019 ($620) doesn’t have collaboration or other advanced tools and is a light version of MSP Professional 2019 ($1,030). Professional is a comprehensive management solution with a permanent license. However, there are no updates. MSP 2013 and 2016 ran on Windows 7 or 8. MSP 2013 contained a major upgrade (for example, all the text reports were replaced with graphical reports), and MSP 2016 and 2019 (running under Windows 10) included minor upgrades.

My Recommendation:

If you have MSP 2013 or 2016, I wouldn’t recommend upgrading to MSP 2019 because it is not worth the money. Additionally, I predict MSP 2019 will be the last major ‘version upgrade’ eventually being replaced with an online cloud service (see below). The reason for this is that all the other Project solutions are based in the Microsoft cloud, which allows for continued updates.

Project for the Web

Project for the web is used by administrators, portfolio managers, team members, and project managers (PMs). It is delivered through Microsoft Office 365 with an active subscription. Going forward, all innovations for Project for the web will be based on user feedback and usage data. This solution is built on the MS Power Platform. MS has three Project plans:

  • Plan 1 – $10/User/Month. This plan provides fundamental project management capabilities online with no pre-built reports. This is meant for simple project plans.

Beyond this level, Kanban boards, task priority boards, and sprint features (Agile) to expose progress and manage workflow, as well as many other features are included. Project for the web is already available for users of Project Online. MS provides automatic updates with new features.

  • Plan 3 – $30/User/Month. Formally known as Project Online Professional (or desktop client with up to 5 PCs), this plan includes all the capabilities of Plan 1 plus timesheet submission, resource management, and much more.
  • Plan 5 – $55/User/Month. Formally known as Project Online Premium (or desktop client with up to 5 PCs), this plan includes all the capabilities of Plans 1 and 3 plus demand management, portfolio selection and optimization, and much more. It also includes access to Power BI functionality.

Power BI (Business Intelligence) is a full-fledged, cloud-based analytical and visualization service (with executive summary, portfolio dashboard, and other reports). I view Power BI as the next generation of Excel because it has faster processing power and can handle larger amounts of data. If you are an Excel power-user, I recommend learning Power BI because many organizations are looking for people with these specific skills. Power BI links its’ data stores very easily to Project for the web, Project Online, and resource data. The Power BI Pack for Project for the web includes reports for portfolio details, projects/tasks/assignment overviews, resource governance, and calendar. BI is a long-term growth strategy for Microsoft, so I expect we should see more related web apps and innovations.

Project Online

Project Online provides access to the latest version of Project (up to 5 PCs), priced at $30/user/month, and the Project Web App (PWA), which is the web interface to Project Online. Project Online is a flexible solution for Project Portfolio Management (PPM) and everyday project management work. I predict that in the future Microsoft will focus its innovations on adding features to Project for the web, rather than Project Online. This will be like the way it upgrades its cloud-oriented, subscription products over the ones with permanent licenses. For the short-term, Project Online will be around for key performance and security improvements. Long-term, if you use Project Online, you should be planning a transition to Project for the web. Eventually, Microsoft plans to provide standard migration tools to move your Project Online data to Project for the web.

Project Online Desktop Client

Desktop Client used to be called Microsoft Project. Some PMs use this as a personal productivity tool for their needs; however, Project for the web provides most PMs with what they need now and in the future. Project for the web has about 50% of the features (such as Gantt view) which are found in the Desktop Client version. Based on user feedback, features, such as tracking deadlines, from the Desktop Client might be added to Project for the web. If Project for the web reaches feature parity with the Desktop Client, it’s possible that Microsoft would retire the Desktop Client and Project Online.

Project Server 2019

Server is a project portfolio management product that uses Microsoft’s Sharepoint as its foundation and supports MSP Professional as a client application. It’s the premise-based sibling to Project Online. The server drives efficient and effective management across projects, programs, and portfolios with strong team collaboration from anywhere. Server pricing is as follows:

  • Project Online Essentials – $7/user/month
  • Project Online Professional – $30/user/month
  • Project Online Premium – $55/user/month

Dynamics 365 Project Operations

Microsoft introduced Dynamics 365 Project Operations in the first quarter of 2020. The application brings together capabilities from existing Dynamics 365 Project Service Automation, Project for the web, and project management accounting within Dynamics 365 into a unified integrated offer. Like Project for the web, Dynamics 365 Project Operations is built on the MS Power Platform and includes additional Dynamics 365 applications. The bottom line is that Dynamics 365 Project Operations provides users with a unified online system for project management, resource management, sales, collaboration, and financials. With this, you now have two ways of obtaining Project for the web: as a separate application or through Dynamics 365 Project Operations. Your choice!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these solutions and the future of MS Project in the comments below. Thanks to my friends, Bonnie Biafore and Eric Uyttewaal, for their useful input.

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Creating and Using Project Templates in Project for the Web

Written by Ronald Smith
Ronald Smith has over four decades of experience as Senior PM/Program Manager. He retired from IBM having written four books and over four dozen articles (for example, PMI’s PM Network magazine and MPUG) on project management, and the systems development life cycle (SDLC). He’s been a member of PMI since 1998 and evaluates articles submitted to PMI’s Knowledge Shelf Library for potential publication. From 2011 - 2017, Ronald had been an Adjunct Professor for a Master of Science in Technology and taught PM courses at the University of Houston’s College of Technology. Teaching from his own book, Project Management Tools and Techniques – A Practical Guide, Ronald offers a perspective on project management that reflects his many years of experience. Lastly in the Houston area, he has started up two Toastmasters clubs and does voluntary work at various food banks.
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  1. Nice summary.

    Does this mean if we want people to submit timesheets, we need Plan 3 and we need to pay for everyone to have a license, not just project managers?

    • Hi Rose – no. There needs to be at least 1 PM who has Plan 3 (to apply resource names to tasks in the schedule). Those entering timesheets are considered team members and only need Plan 1. Note this is only available for Project Online only and not currently for Project for the Web.

      • Nice article. Just a couple of small things.
        – With Plan 3 and Plan 5 you can download the latest copy of MS Project Desktop
        – Project for the Web is a little limited at the moment but it will get better quickly. But it becomes substantially enhanced when you link it to PowerApps, though you do have to pay an additional $10 for the privilege if you don’t have PowerApps already. Though this additional cost might change in the near future.

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