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Microsoft’s PPM Cloud Strategy Failed: What Now?

One thing Edward Snowden has taught the world is this: Never trust the US Government or any other government for that matter! US intelligence is into everything they can get their hands in or as the saying goes, can “force their elbow into,” including software applications or datasets owned by US‑based organizations.

I believe this is why Microsoft’s PPM (Project & Portfolio Management) Cloud strategy (see here) is failing, and why it is still failing even after Microsoft has built datacenters in countries across the world. One of the main problems is that Microsoft still cannot guarantee that the data NEVER travels via US-based Internet points (IP-addresses). This allows the CIA to eavesdrop on our Cloud data. Only if a firewall is put around an entire country (as we saw China do), can there be some level of protection from curious foreign intelligence eyes.

This is why I think that:

  • Project Online has been adopted at such a low rate outside the US (i.e. the rest of the world): I have had numerous conversations with clients in Canada, and have learned that they are not allowed to buy or will not buy subscriptions to Microsoft Project Online. This is true for Canadian Federal Government departments, government agencies, large Canadian companies, and even medium-sized Canadian companies. If this is true for Canada, it is likely also true for the rest of the world.
  • Project Server installed on-premise is a much more viable proposition for any organization outside of the US.

In hindsight, Microsoft created its own downward spiral:

  1. All Microsoft PPM partners were forced by Microsoft to ONLY sell subscriptions of the cloud-based Project Online since about 2015. Project Server for on-premise was discontinued at the same time.
  2. Microsoft PPM partners failed to sell Project Online because nobody outside of the US trusts Microsoft (or the CIA) with their trade secret data, intellectual property, inventions, or even timelines for their inventions (i.e. Microsoft Project schedules).
  3. As a result, Microsoft saw a huge decline in their PPM sales revenue stream. Microsoft wondered why and started to dis-invest in Project Online and dis-invest in Microsoft Project (now called ‘Project Online Desktop Client’). By the way, who came up with that?
  4. Desperate at this juncture, Microsoft has begun to develop new products: Planner (that does not integrate well with Microsoft Project), Project for the Web (a mickey mouse tool without much business value), and Project Operations (a competing product from the Microsoft Dynamics development group).
  5. The marketing of all these offered products is now so confusing that nobody understands them any longer. MPUG recently featured an article entitled, Cloudy Conditions: Clarifying MS Project’s Plans and Pricing Structures on the topic. Cloudy conditions, indeed!
  6. We have not seen a major upgrade in Microsoft Project or Project Server functionality since 2010, the year the new ribbon interface and many new features were introduced. Let’s not forget that is ten years ago now!
  7. Microsoft has not developed any significant new features in Microsoft Project since 2013 (seven years ago!!) even though their promise was that if we adopted Project Online, we would get a continuous stream of new features. In my view, this turned out to be a false promise, even though Microsoft would argue it’s because Project Online did not sell enough subscriptions.

 

Again, in my view Microsoft basically destructed their own Microsoft PPM business line of products and profit center for Microsoft Project and Project Server. Given the fact that there are an estimated 30 Million users of Microsoft Project worldwide, the user community is large and vibrant. The PPM market is potentially profitable in my opinion, if Microsoft makes a U-turn in their PPM strategy sooner rather than later.

So, how can Microsoft get out of this downward spiral, you may be asking. I’ve listed below my five “shoulds” for Microsoft at this juncture:

  1. Microsoft should define a new strategy for its PPM division.
  2. Microsoft should start investing again in their on-premise PPM products: Microsoft Project, Microsoft Project Server, and Microsoft PWA (Project Web App).
  3. Microsoft should re-instate the three-year development cycle for their on-premise PPM products and develop a major upgrade for 2022.
  4. Microsoft should listen more carefully to its PPM user community: There are over 400 new feature suggestions on the UserVoice pages for Microsoft Project (see here), so there surely isn’t a lack of ideas.
  5. Microsoft should listen more carefully to their Microsoft Project MVPs who interact with more MS Project users every year than any Microsoft program manager or developer ever will. Last year, I gracefully declined Microsoft’s invitation back into the MVP program, simply because in the seven years I was an MVP, Microsoft never gave me the sense that they heard what I or other MVP’s were trying to tell them.

 

Microsoft Project and Project Server deserve to be resuscitated by Microsoft! I think it has been difficult enough for Microsoft Partners in the PPM space these last few years, and I’d like to see Microsoft Project users rally together to encourage Microsoft to change its course in the PPM space.

If you agree with this opinion, please express your support in the comments section below. If you disagree, please explain why. Thank you!

 

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17 Comments
  1. Jigs Gaton

    What now? indeed. I don’t have a clue, to be honest. I’ve been using http://www.projectplan365.com for years now, after being disillusioned in 2015 by actually going through all the steps to set up an on-premise Project server. For the love of god, that was difficult, even for an old IT pro like myself. So if they do ever resuscitate that beast, they better include a better wizard to set it all up – I will never go thru that hell again, unless they do. However, once configured, I thought it was great – better than running multiple instances of the “client” in stand-alone mode, for sure.

    On security, I doubt it’s the CIA association that holds people back, but instead the total lack of basic security whatsoever. For example, no one in this part of the world will include salary data, hourly rates, etc.inside the project, because it can’t be hidden from others who have access to the .mpp (without a lot of custom programming, and even then). That’s crazy. I can see why most people I interview, would rather try other SaaS options that may (or may not) have better security than anything in the current MSP suite. Plus, most other solutions are much less expensive per seat.

    But as a MSP user since DOS, I am not willing to give up, and I still recommend any tools that produce data in the .mpp format. I feel it’s a more rich framework than anything else on the market (except perhaps with Primavera).

    So thx for bringing up the convo; should be interesting to hear what others have to say!

    Reply
  2. Eric, excellent summary of the recent PPM history of MS Project and MS Project Server. Visibility & Security of a firm’s R&D portfolio is certainly a concern I have seen, as a major impediment to moving to any cloud solution. Ease of Reporting from the cloud the second. Great work Eric.

    Reply
  3. Ben Howard

    These are interesting points Eric. I have no insight into Microsoft’s PPM sales, either inside or outside of the US (I’m based in Europe). I agree there is a need for good scheduling software for sure, and today neither Planner nor P4W quite hit the mark, but that’s not quite the point, because MS Project is still available, and is good enough for the majority of of customers, in fact, it’s capability exceeds that of the majority of customers. I think in the “far” future, sophisticated scheduling and the like (think demand/resource management, EVM, portfolio analysis), will be left to tools like primevera as I don’t believe Microsoft want to engage in this more sophisticated market place.

    Reply
  4. Michael Wharton

    Thank you Eric for talking about the elephant in the room or should I say the “Emperor’s New Cloths”! LOL

    I must agree with your assessment of Microsoft PPM strategy. Microsoft is looking at numbers, license sold and marketing to push their strategy and not so much as to the usefulness of their tools. Microsoft paints a picture saying that is how millennial think and work, but do they or should they? Does the new tool make it more confusing as to what the deliverables are? Fuzzy goals defined such that they can be assume successful when nothing gets done.. Personally, I couldn’t get excited about their new direction, because it felt like fake excitement. Project Management 101 has been replaced with agile, and agile is not the answer to all projects. My best example, is do you want your house built using Agile.

    Reply
  5. Nice article. I was a PMO Lead in 2019 and I was about to implement Project Online for a PMO when Microsoft announced that their strategy has changed and Project Online will still be around but they will start moving towards the new Project. The problem was that the new Project had much fewer features than Project Online. I basically got stuck. There were also other considerations in terms of integrating with Dynamics 365 and the project Service Automation module. This was all very confusing and I just felt that there was no clear path to using the product. Needless tp say, I did not implement Project Online as I could just not figure out a roadmap.

    Reply
  6. As well as being a PPM Partner for Project I am also a partner for one of the newer slicker cloud project management tools which “just works”. With the new breed of apps I can easily explain to customers how the licencing works; I can share information easily without insisting everyone has a licence inside the organisation; I can access ALL of the data for reporting without having to setup separate datastores because of OData limitations, I can setup detailed workflows without needing a degree in how to use eg SharePoint Designer, I have all functionality within one app rather than the myriad of Planner,PfTW apps that have sprung up and the customers can use the software much more easily because it is simpler and they can get benefit from it quickly without having to get implementation partners to take them through a long consultancy process. I used to love promoting Microsoft PPM solutions but it is no longer my preferred pitch.

    Reply
  7. Eric, thanks for succinctly describing your view of the poor state of affairs in Msoft w.r.t. “Project”. Some customers, i’m one, wld like to move to something that gets attention and upgrades from years of input and requests, Msoft doesn’t deserve to have its position in the market place. I’m interested in Steve York’s 17th Nov @11:38 “Post”……. can a link/name be indicated…..

    Reply
  8. Eric, thanks for summarising the fragmented and confusing state of Microsoft’s offering in the PPM space. Microsoft does appear to be squandering their heritage in the project management world. David

    Reply
  9. Hi Eric – I’m really sorry but I have to disagree with you on many of the things about this article.

    I run a MS Gold Partner company specialising in MS project tools and MS’s Power Platform apps. In the past, I have been the part time MS sales specialist for Project in SE Asia for 6½ years. The last year included Australia. During that time, the only concern about using the MS O365 Cloud (not specifically Project Online which is part of the O365 family) came from Government departments. Interestingly, Australian Government departments were one of the first to embrace O365 and in consequence Project Online.

    In my view, the reason why MS is moving away from Project Online is because of MS’s strategy to move everything to the cloud (for reasons outside of this discussion). And you could argue that they have done a good job of this. It seems to me that they cannot create the same functionality of MS Project (the core scheduling engine for Project Online) to be cloud based. This means that they can’t get away from single user access and the dreaded checkin/checkout. It’s also saddled with a now dated user interface and SharePoint technology (for the project sites) which means that SP Designer is still needed (as the fancy new Power Automate doesn’t work in key functional processes). This lists a few of the problems.

    That said, Project Online still is a good tool for clients who want governance and control, a good scheduling engine and timesheets. It works, warts and all, and will still be around for another 5 years. It will then be replaced by PfW, which by that time will be on par or better than Project Online, and in some aspects it already is. By then, I think users will also still be able to buy Project Server (btw organisations can still buy Project Server now).

    For me, the positioning of the MS project tools couldn’t be easier. Planner (which is included in O365) is a simple tool designed for teams to work together and is an entry level tool into project management, of a sort. Project Online for the full PPM solution. And PfW is in-between but with a sexy looking interface to compete with the likes of Wrike and Monday. PfW is pretty simple but will get better pretty quickly. I’m recommending it to clients who don’t have a need for detailed scheduling and timesheets.

    What I would agree with you is that MS has made a pig’s ear of positioning these tools but then again, like us, they are not perfect.

    Cheers
    James

    Reply
    • Eric Uyttewaal

      James, Thank you for detailed thoughts from your experience of selling Microsoft PPM for 6 years. You raised the following points:
      – Microsoft has not been able to turn Microsoft Project into a multi-user access tool as one of the reasons of losing market share. In my mind, Microsoft Project will never be a multi-user access tool and it does not need to be either: I cannot imagine myself working in the backend of a schedule while someone else is working in the frontend making changes: The result will be that I will see my schedule dancing on my screen going from right to left and left to right on and off the screen. A multi-user access in Microsoft Project where all items are dependent upon one another does not add value in my mind. This is where Microsoft Project is fundamentally different from Microsoft Word, Excel or Access.
      – Microsoft “cannot create the core scheduling engine for Project Online to be cloud based.” If ProjectLibre can do this (see ‘MOBrien’ post), why would Microsoft not be able to do this? Again in my mind, it is a matter of strategy and willingness to invest, which seemed to have evaporated at Microsoft.

      Reply
  10. Eric, i do agree with some of your statements but do not agree with your general narrative. As a German Microsoft PPM Partner we have been in a field where cloud technology was hard to sell at the beginning. There was also the attempt to establish a German Microsoft cloud due to the concerns in the German market. But after a little while (mostly after Exchange Servers where moved to the Microsoft Cloud Data Centers) we did and are still successfully implementing Project Online successfully for small, medium and grand size customers.
    Microsoft Project is in a transition. Project for the web doesn’t have a feature parity with Project Online and doesn’t aim to have it. The game changer for our business is the Power Platform and all other Work-, Project-, Collaboration Management services from Microsoft and the easy way to integrate them and other tools like Jira. Microsoft PPM isn’t a PPM Platform, but a Platform for PPM. It was never that easy to integrate and extend the right tools for a customer or a customers business unit. If you need e.g. Idea Management, Resource Management or Portfolio Management you can easily build it, and depending on the maturity level also sometimes with the out of the box functionality of the Power Platform. Missing Interproject dependencies in Project for the web? No-Code extend the Project Model-Driven App. You need direct query reporting? Build your Power BI reports with Tabular Data Stream on base of Dataverse (CDS).
    Unfortunately new features for Project for the web do not come that fast as we all wanted them. But it is definitely the right way to have a more simple tool for the next generation of PMs.

    Gerd

    Reply
    • Eric Uyttewaal

      Gerd, I agree with your observation that the Power Platform is the only way forward on the longer term for Microsoft PPM Partners if Microsoft does not correct its strategic direction soon as I suggested. Thanks! Eric

      Reply
  11. This was an excellent article and corresponds to to confusion/questions we are hearing from the ProjectLIbre community. http://www.projectlibre.org promotes project management as a profession and education around the world. The open source software alternative to Microsoft Project is currently only on the desktop but has been downloaded 4,800,000 in over 200 countries. Great job at the MPUG promoting MSP and spreading best practices with project management globally!

    Reply
  12. Eric makes some good points but there are some #fakenews elements of this post. As an insider until this time last year I can clear up some points (within the bounds of NDA).

    Eric I take you up on your ask to comments good or bad !

    1. The whole CIA thing is a complete load of tosh, if it was the case no one would use O365 for mail which I promise is quite the contrary. This part is click bait and Eric you should know better.
    2. What is true for Canada is NOT true for the rest of the world.
    3. Project Server skills are a diminishing pool, yes there are some orgs that want to keep the data on prem but many less than you may think.
    4. Project Server AFAIK is still in the price book although I cant remember anybody buying new ones over the last 3-4 years.
    5. The trust thing is just not the case – we at Projectum are selling MS based PPM solutions globally.
    6. Eric, the money is still rolling in – the problem is that it is a cash cow and thus super profitable (this is a real issue)
    7. I absolutely agree that the Market positioning, functionality and Project for the web statements – it is a complete cluster f…
    8. There have been small increments but no big functional releases since 2010 (or is that 2013 you don’t seem to be sure yourself)
    9. There is no PPM division, there is engineering and marketing and as a percentage of Microsoft365 nobody really notices them
    10. Don’t hold your breath, there wont be any on prem investment (except a maintenance release of Project Server)
    11. Three year cycles forget it – they are playing in the born in the cloud space, they are just not doing it very well
    12. No lack of ideas in Uservoice, maybe a lack of engineers to build them or maybe they just don’t fit in the development strategy
    13 . You are correct about the MVP / PAC. my time spent with them was that most (but not all) were just there to wag there tails at MS.

    My recommendation is that partners should really investigate PowerApps, that is the strategic direction and if you don’t feel you want to build solutions from the ground up come and talk to us as we have OOB solutions that may Partners have already signed up to re-sell.

    Eric great article for stimulating discussion, Hartelejk bedankt and tot ziens.

    Reply
    • Eric Uyttewaal

      Ian, thank you for chiming in as a former insider at Microsoft; I appreciate your observations. Here are a few responses to and clarifications on your points:
      Re 1.: I respectfully disagree with you here.
      Re 8.: I made the distinction in my article between a major ‘upgrade’ and a ‘new feature’. A major upgrade is when the entire interface receives an overhaul, which last happened in the 2010 release. The last new feature that added real value was the ‘Report’ ribbon in the 2013 release. The feature of ‘Resource Engagements’ added in 2016, seemed to have generated very little traction, so I ignored it in my analysis.
      Re 12.: There is no lack of engineers at Microsoft and, in your point 6, you noted that Microsoft is still making a lot of money on the ‘cash cows’ of Microsoft Project, Project Server and Project Online, so, clearly, it is just a matter that Microsoft is deliberately not investing any longer in these tools even though they are making a lot of money on them as we speak.

      I know that Projectum, as one of the few Microsoft PPM partners has found a great niche on the Power Platform: Congratulations with this achievement! However, Microsoft essentially wrecked the revenue streams of many PPM partners in the last few years with their strategic choices.

      Respectfully, Eric

      Reply
      • Nice to engage

        Re 1: You entitled to your view we are opposite sides of the fence on that
        Re 8: 2007 was a horror story, 2010 went some way to fix it, 2013 fixed many of the things 2010 had not but essentially I don’t think the UI has had any significant overhaul since 2003, I to agree about RA, it was a complete waste of effort
        Re 12: You are wrong about Engineers they get moved around from product to product based on need (or pain !), yes there always engineering resource working on Project Server / Online but mostly stability, bug fixes or optimisation, I with a customer drove extreme focus on these things but was not thanked by Corp for my troubles – but I kept the customer and the partner was very happy 🙂 BTW more engineers = lest profit at a product level

        I agree regarding the last point but its not to late to get on board we are signing up partner across the globe so if you are reading this and wondering how Projectum does is email me ivw@projectum.com, our door is always open.

        Oh and thank you for the Respectfully, it is duly noted and reciprocated

        Ian

        Reply
  13. Microsoft’s strategy is to move their current PPM solution (Project Online) to the Power Platform. This move brings Project Management into the core of Microsoft’s technology vision, enabling direct access in Teams (announced today) and providing organizations with a flexibility Project Online could never offer. “Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, and Power Platform, on top of what we’re doing with Azure, is the core of what we are doing as a company”, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.
    The Project team recently announced that in December they will be releasing a Power Apps Project Accelerator solution that will include preconfigure Power Apps solution that will help customers and partners kick start their PPM solution on Power Apps.
    OnePlan has been working closely with Microsoft and have developed addition advance capabilities to extend the new Project Accelerator into a full featured Adaptive Project Portfolio Management solution that exceeds the functionality of Project Online. The OnePlan solution has a direct connection to Microsoft Project, giving users continuity with the use of the best of breed scheduling engine for predictive work management in PowerApps.

    You can view a 30 minute demo of the new Project Accelerator solution that is being released by visiting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRX7pOVhwWw&t=48s

    For a demo of our connection to Project Professional go here: https://youtu.be/vqTO3qFw6Yg

    If you are interested in learning more or would like to become a partner. Contact us at https://oneplan.ai/contact-us/

    Reply

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