As a Project MVP, I get to help customers globally, and I get to review approaches for MS Project and other scheduling technologies, including what is new and what will be potentially coming out in the future. As a note, I want to point out that MVPs (myself included) can’t guarantee new capabilities, but we can help guide and reinforce the growth and improvements for Project PPM.
What’s exciting is that over the last ten years, the Engineering Team at Microsoft has really begun approaching the development of Microsoft Project and Project PPM capabilities in a very different manner. Instead of being “feature” focused, they have been much more “solution” focused.
That means that Microsoft is focusing on what problems need solving. Remember that, in requirements gathering, a feature or new function is a “solution” vs. a true requirement. The question that’s being asked is “What problem does this solve?” To take it a step further, when I lead Project Online or Project Server implementations, we focus on asking “What of value does this give you?” There are many ways to build dashboards and views, as well as manage the project lifecycle in Project PPM, but the key is aligning culture, process, and productivity with the solution/approach that best fits the need/requirement. By asking “What of value does this give you?” attention is directed to delivering a requirement with perhaps many different solutions.
This is hugely important for those wanting to influence the Engineering Team at Microsoft and the Project Team in what and where they focus their limited time and budget. If you haven’t seen the User Voice option now available for all O365 products, this is the perfect and best place to share your thoughts.
As I detail out what is coming, I want you to understand the mind of the Engineering Team at Microsoft in their drive to take Project PPM to the next level and support the growing PPM community of practice with both current and future technologies and technology enhancements.
Ensure You Have the Latest Version
Before we get started, many people have asked how to make sure that they are getting the latest features with MS Project.
You absolutely want to make sure that you are using Project Pro for Office 365 and are leveraging the “Click-to-Run” version. This will allow the Microsoft Office update engine to continue to roll these updates to you automatically.
As shown in the image, Current Version of Project, you can easily check to see if you are using a version of Project that will allow these updates to be passed to you.
You may notice you are on the monthly, semi-annual, or annual channel. If you are on an update channel that takes longer, you may wish to request being moved to a faster channel to see the updates appear in your version of Project sooner.
Improving MS Project through User Voice
Microsoft’s Project Team has fully begun leveraging and listening to the User Voice function that comes with Project and other O365 Products. This means you can send feedback directly (and have it read by a person) at the Project Engineering Team. They also even respond, so don’t be surprised, if you include your email in the dialogue, if you get an answer on how something works or a response pointing out where functionality already exists.
This fits with the operating approach that the Microsoft Project Team is working under, which is to “delight and excite” end users and do so in an Agile fashion (as we are seeing all of Office 365 doing). You no longer have to wait three years to get features released, go to a Project conference, or find that the only way the “User Voice” can be heard is to call a partner or a Project MVP. Now, you can share your thoughts and feature requests directly with the Project Team!
As much as I’d love to give out local phone numbers for the Engineering Team, utilizing User Voice is truly the best vehicle for getting your ideas and feedback heard. In fact, for many products, like Power BI for example, this is the most influential way analytics are collected. This is literally the data that results in making or supporting changes.
Of course, you aren’t limited to just MS Project, you can provide feedback from within all Office 2016 or Office products. If you look at Project or any Office 365 or Office 2016 product, you will see a smiley face in the upper right-hand corner, as shown in the screenshot, User Voice 1.
Simply click on the face. Alternatively, you can find feedback in the File Tab towards the bottom of the list of options. Choose to send a smile, a frown, or provide more suggestions on the Project User Voice website as seen in the image, User Voice 2.
Remember, if you want the Engineering Team to provide you direct feedback or to ask questions, you will need to provide an email address along with your thoughts.
As seen in the image, User Voice 3, you can enter your email address directly on the screen along with the active screenshot of what you are working on in MS Project.
I do want to state for the record that Microsoft may reach out to you with questions about what you are stating, but they will NEVER, EVER ask you for credit card information or personal information, so please don’t be a victim of scammers. The Engineering Team at Microsoft takes your feedback very seriously and will only ask questions about what you are suggesting.
Let’s continue our discussion of what new elements you can find showing up most recently within MS Project. One thing you may suddenly notice is that the icon for “Resource Overallocation” has changed from a full person, to a half torso.
This change was predicated because there needed to be a different color red and an overall visibility improvement to resource overallocation, and the Engineering Team found it was easier to evolve the icon vs. trying to re-tune the original.
While some people think this is a minor change, it’s one of the key change approaches that the MS Project Engineering Team is doing and has a huge impact on some users. Primarily for people using MS Project and Project PPM Tools that may have visual impairments.
While at Microsoft, the Project Engineering Team shared a real-world scenario, where a Project Manager, who was blind, was unable to do their job because the key tool for project managers in that organization was to use MS Project. Can you imagine that scenario?
Microsoft’s Engineering Teams across the board, have been working to improve their products for those who are visually impaired or who may use screen readers. Screen readers are software programs that allow blind or visually impaired users to read the text that is displayed on the computer screen with a speech synthesizer or a braille display. This supports the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and other initiatives for improving work environments for those with visual imparities and allowing them to be able to better navigate colors, fonts, and text.
In developing these application improvements, the Project Team has found other elements that would benefit from updating. I, for one, am very proud to support companies that really think about doing both social good and working to improve their applications for all users. Stay tuned for more on this topic later as the list of subtle enhancements will continue.
Part of the improved enhancements to Project PPM is the addition of Project Home. Project Home is focused on project managers who may not want to go to the Project Center View in Project Online (or for those of us who had only the choice of Project Center in on-premise versions of Project Server).
This allows you to see your most recent projects, ones that are shared with you or created by you, and for you to pin your favorite projects to the top.
This is also key for creating one of the newest capabilities (and almost an entirely new product) called Roadmap. More on Roadmap later in this article.
Just like on your cell phone, you can pin your favorite or most recent project plans or “Roadmaps” and find them easily without having to scroll through the many views or other Projects in the Old Project Center. You can still jump to the Project Center, as this view is still very useful, but typically more of a dashboard or overall rollup view, vs. the focused view of getting to projects and editing them.
Icons A‘ Comin’
Across all of Office 365, you are going to start seeing new icons for products. This will, of course, include Planner and MS Project. Get ready for these icons to “magically” appear soon.
If you are going to your Office login page or you begin to click on the “waffle” in the upper right hand corner of your Office 365 environment to select an application to launch, you may notice that many of the icons have already changed, as seen in Image: New Icons Coming 2 below.
Project Platform Evolving
In the Fall of 2018, Microsoft announced some of the upcoming changes around MS Project. This created quite a stir as the discussion was about changing the back end (both the data model, called Common Data Model (CDM 2.0) and the Application Engine or what is referred to as the Common Data Service (CDS 2.0)).
While this may have sounded earth shattering, and it is pretty significant, think about the fact that Microsoft will continue to evolve and innovate their technology and products. They understand that if you don’t evolve, you become extinct.
This is true for software, databases, and for streamlining and improving efficiencies. The key is always that the end users are supported with a comfortable and capable product. Imagine, you’re sitting in your favorite car, and then found that someone improved the performance of the engine, increasing its gas efficiency by 3,000% while also maximizing its power and handling. Most people wouldn’t complain, as long as they can get in, enjoy the comfort of the interior, and didn’t lose any leg room or cargo space. I know some of you still miss those 8-Track tapes (you younglings go look that one up), but frankly music and the quality of the recordings have gotten better, so why not have a better experience?
With that being said, let me now discuss some of the earth shaking, concept changing and generally mind-blowing new features.
Dynamics and MS Project – It’s Now the Same Thing
Project, Dynamics, same thing … yes, you read that correctly!
While I was at the MVP Summit this year, it was very exciting to see a very different topic structure. Specifically, how the Dynamics 365 team was represented in the Project Management discussions.
Howard Crowe and the Project Engineering Team kept reminding us, especially when we would say “Dynamics does it this way, or Dynamics can’t do this with their schedule engine,” that the MS Project and Dynamics Team are the same team since they are now using the same platform.
I’ll let that sink in for a moment. What that means is that the same efficient engine that is being used for CRM, finance, field services, marketing, operations, and project management has the ability to work interchangeably.
What does that mean in MS Project terms? It means that the Project service automation engine, which has a great resource management module, extends that capability to MS Project, and MS Project extends to task management and its scheduling engine – an all-around “kick-butt and take names” Project Management tool, to the rest of the Dynamics suite.
In the picture, Project is Dynamics 2, you see a Dynamics PSA (Project Service Automation) scheduling tool that has links and tasks, etc. Does this look kind of familiar to you, MS Project users? It should, as it’s similar to MS Project’s Gantt view. This will be replaced with MS Project (the New Modern Project), and the power of forecast scheduling, resource management, and the entire lifecycle of CRM will be blended together, with the integration with Dynamics ERP/Accounting and Finance. All under one roof.
Wow, that’s quite a series of connected systems. This is why Microsoft wanted to begin letting organizations know that as they start and continue to use MS Project and related features (like Roadmap, etc.) that the Office 365 engine (Flow, PowerApps, Power BI, etc.) will be drawing from the same location, providing extended benefits to people who want to automate or create better views, reports, dashboards, or generally their own applications. All while still providing you the full capabilities and functionality of existing products (like CRM and/or MS Project) that we have been enjoying all along.
This is not something that will happen overnight, but over a much longer process. However, it’s begun and is continuing to grow in connectedness and capabilities, as the Microsoft Engineering Teams focus on security and enhanced user experience with the existing tools we are now using.
One element that I was excited about (for those of you who have not played or worked with Dynamics’s Project Service Automation module) was the huge enhancements to manage resources for the Line Managers, Functional Managers, or Resource Managers. As seen below in the Project is Dynamics 3 image, the idea of looking at time-phased work requests and making time tracking easier for the end user is a key capability that people request who manage resources.
While I think there are examples in the marketplace of better or more streamlined resource engagement/management, it is really good to know that for MS Project users, this will be one of the capabilities that will continue to extend down to those using Project.
Doing Things More Agilely
Over the last year you have also seen many new “Agile” features appear in MS Project, from sprint views to Kanban views and the integration of Project and Office 365 Planner.
This focus on “Agile” will continue as we see MS To-Do Planner and other Views, as well as reports with MS Project supporting the Agile space. Some of this will be also continued with Roadmap, the Project Team’s latest released feature that connects Azure DevOps (Visual Studio and Team Foundation Server for us older users).
Azure DevOps Integration (Roadmap)
Let’s dig a little deeper into Azure DevOps and the integration with one of the most powerful and fully capable productivity tools for developers.
The latest incarnation of Microsoft’s continued support for the developer community builds with the Visual Studio Online environment is shown in the picture below.
Azure DevOps gives developers the ability to write their source code, check it in and out, track progress to the assigned work, and link requirements, Epics, User Stories, Sprints, and Story Points, right to the actual tasks or activities that are connected to the source code being written.
Now, here is where it really gets helpful. The new feature, Microsoft Projects Roadmap, integrates MS Projects across different tenants, and also across Azure DevOps (called Azure Boards) to bring in any of the key work activities found there directly into a view that gives you a roadmap across different tools.
In this next image, MS Project Roadmap, you can see MS Project schedules, tasks, milestones, and other systems all brought into a high-level view to help give a bigger-picture story to the Project to Portfolio managers who would be monitoring and tracking progress.
This is just the beginning of this new feature’s capability. What I want people to grasp is the concept of a “bridging” tool, bringing in not only Project or Microsoft information, but reaching out to other tools (like Jira, etc.) and creating a single source of truth for a big-picture view of activities and deliverables.
The Future: Modern Project (Name TBA)
At the Ignite Conference in late 2018, Microsoft gave some early screenshots and started the discussion around improving MS Project with the focus of helping a wider audience leverage MS Project and to create a better online experience. See the picture, Modern MS Project 1, below.
Remember there are three different elements to managing a project:
- Task Management (small activities that most commonly never make it to a MS Project schedule)
- Work Management (larger activities that project teams typically work on, but that may still be small and not require a full level of effort in estimating; things end users would manage in a more Agile way (Kanban, Post-it Note, etc.)
- Full Project Management to Portfolio Management (resource capacity planning from predecessor/successor to alignment with milestones across different projects, business drivers, and cost forecasting)
While all of these are important, in most tactical scenarios, the project team members and the project manager work daily to communicate and track progress. This is why the MS Project Engineering Team has begun releasing new products (like Office 365 Planner, which now has over 150 million users and is the number one tab added to MS Teams) and integrating with other task management tools (like Wunderlist, which is now MS To-Do, or for us Outlook users, Outlook Tasks now… 😊).
The MS Project Team has begun rethinking its development for MS Project with a no-holds barred, start from scratch and build a world-class product mindset. The goal is to focus on “what solutions need solved” and what can be done with 21st century technology to really make the user experience world-class.
In the early concept image released by Microsoft at the Ignite 2018 conference and seen in the picture below, Modern MS Project 2, the idea of having a cleaner interface, one that is web or mobile device driven, has begun to resonate with the information workers of today’s generation. The goal is to get in, get out, and get back to work, all while not having to overthink project management technology.
Using the Right License for the Right Functionality
Instead of building all project management related features and capabilities into a single product and including the right licenses for project management, task management, and program to portfolio management, the Microsoft Engineering Teams are working to enable the right set of licenses in Office 365 to get users the features they need.
Do you need CRM and Resource Capacity management? Perhaps adding those elements to your licensing mix will be enough with MS Project? Or maybe just being on the Office 365 platform will be enough, with Office 365 Planner and MS To-Do (which are free) integrated with MS Project and its Roadmap features?
There can be many combinations, but add-what-you-need vs. working around features you may not need is a much better approach.
I hope you enjoyed this article, reviewing both what is new and what is coming for MS Project PPM. What is exciting is that it’s not just isolated to a single product, but really incorporates a blend of technologies that provide project, program, and portfolio managers, as well as the normal information worker, the ability to increase productivity, have visibility in their work, and easily get in, get out, and get back to work, while still driving information to executives through dashboards and reporting.
I encourage you to keep checking MPUG or the Advisicon website for more blogs and webinars. You can also reach out to me directly with any questions at Tim.Runcie@Advisicon.com.