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Project Management

5 Strategies for Implementing Project Portfolio Management Using Project Server

As a Microsoft consulting partner, Timlin runs its core business using the tools and capabilities of Office 365 and Project Server Online.  All of Timlin’s project work — including project tracking, task management, resource planning, timesheet entry and project status reporting — is delivered using Project Server and SharePoint sites. Project Server has been around for a long time; however, only with recent enhancements to Project Server Online has the product evolved to the point where the long list of capabilities is getting easy enough to realize the benefits of a Project Portfolio Management (PPM) solution. The challenge in using Project Server Online is not that it requires coding or extensive customizations: it’s determining the best way to configure the product to meet an organization’s requirements in a user-friendly, easy-to-understand way.

In this blog, we’ll share some learnings and insights around implementing such a PPM solution using Project Server Online – and show what this solution looked like in action for one of Timlin’s recent clients: a neighborhood health care center that needed a better way to enter, prioritize, plan and track all of its enterprise projects.  

Setting the Stage

Based on our healthcare client’s PPM requirements and the built-in capabilities of Project Server Online, our expectation during the sales process was that most of the requirements would be delivered using out-of-the-box components.  During the project, we found this to be true. Here’s some of the strategies we used to provide the best-fit solution to meet their needs: 

1: Employ an Agile Approach

With the many features of Project Server — and the ability to quickly change configurations to meet the requirements — an agile, iterative approach is critical. Here are some of the ways were able to do this for our client: 

  • Hold working sessions with the client to go over the project requirements and goals
  • Develop the initial configuration of the application to meet those needs
  • Demonstrate our proposed configuration and make needed modifications
  • Revisit and simplify that approach to provide an easy-to-use for all the Program and Project Managers

By employing this approach, we learned that with in-depth knowledge and expertise on the capabilities of the application, the actual configuration was smooth and relatively simple.

2: Maintain an Open, Accessible Project Center

A central repository for all projects is vital. It allows senior management to quickly access and review the status, timeline and any related issues.  In configuring the Project Center for our client, we implemented the required new fields and views to allow the client’s senior management to ascertain this information at a glance. This central view was a huge win for all team members, and the built-in views helped senior management easily get updates to project status, see any risks, and quickly understand if certain issues required attention.

Color-coded indicators (along with distinguishable shapes for one color-blind project team member) denote project status. This is just one example of the product’s flexible, customizable format. 

3: Enable Project Prioritization and Approval

A customized PPM solution enables program and senior management team members to prioritize and put projects through a formal approval process.  Project Server Online has built-in capabilities to support this using the features of Project Strategy, allowing its users to:

  • Establish drivers (in other words, objectives that you can measure against)
  • Prioritize your projects using those defined drivers
  • Rate one driver against all or a subset of the remaining drivers (Project Server Online helps configure this by asking the user a series of questions)
  • Run a system check on the consistency of your answers – this provides an automated calculation of project priorities (a percentage of the priority against 100% for each driver)

Going back to our recent case study, we found that our client prioritized projects using a simple Excel spreadsheet with built-in functions to calculate project priority based on critical objectives. We quickly determined that the Microsoft strategy approach was too complicated and this particular client required a more simplified approach.  So to meet those requirements, we implemented a custom workflow where we built out phases to track the lifecycle of the project.  That way, new projects would go through a project approval workflow, and the approval process consisted of a simple calculation of the project priority.  The standard views were successful in allowing management to see projects throughout the stages defined in the workflow – which in this case, included: Proposal, Approval, Execution, and Retrospective.  

4: Customize Resource Allocation and Management

Resource Management is always a critical component and driver of project success. Once an organization reaches a certain size or number of projects, the task of managing resources across projects is particularly challenging. Project Server Online solves for this with features, that when properly configured and used, allow users to:

  • Make resource requests
  • Implement approval workflows to assign resources
  • Use the tools to match resources to projects based on their role
  • Assign and monitor resource utilization by project and across projects

For our recent project, we created a custom field to capture skills for each user, then used the match functionality to find and assign resources with the matching skill. For capacity planning purposes, simplified reporting views help team members quickly identify and act on over- or under-utilized resources. 

5: Implement Reporting, Tracking and Analysis Functions

One of the best benefits of using Project Server Online as a PPM tool is the excellent capabilities and flexibility of reporting on project data.  Out of the box, the tool provides a number of views, charts and graphs to easily report on the entire portfolio of projects.  If those functionalities aren’t enough, it is very easy to extend the reporting capabilities using Excel services, or connecting Power BI to the Project Server Online site and building out custom dashboards for full flexibility.  In addition, the recently added Office 365 Project Portfolio Dashboard app provides an out-of-the-box dashboard application. We found that this not only provided our client with tremendous reporting, but an easy-to-use mobile application to get your reporting from any device, anytime.

Using Past Learnings to Develop Future Best-Fit Solutions

In summary, Microsoft has shown us that its recent and continued innovation with Project Server Online has brought incredible improvements to the platform: it’s extremely flexible and configurable, and there are multiple ways to tackle any given problem. (Note: This is the same fundamental paradigm with SharePoint, and probably why both platforms often make developers and users confused on the best way to use the many tools available.) Additionally, as mentioned previously, PPM implementations can be configured out of the box with no custom code.

As with any implementation, it’s critical to understand your requirements, key goals, and the ability of your users to handle change before you start configuring the solution. As we learned in the project cited above, as well as in most of our SharePoint work, there are multiple ways to configure the application to meet the requirements. When done right, relatively minor customizations can greatly enhance the end user experience as well as user adoption. While the above strategies are a good overview, using Project Server Online as your PPM solution requires expertise and effort in order to get the very best custom-fit solution. If you’d like to connect with us to better understand the level of expertise we provide, please contact us at any time.

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