Office 365, Program Framework, Project Management Practice, Project Online, Project Server

Microsoft Project 2016 comes to Office 365

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2015 has been an exciting year in the world of project management, with a whole range of exciting products and updates released. Looking back over the past twelve months, there have been many standout moments, but the announcements around Microsoft Project 2016 were particularly impressive.

Immediately available to Office 365 users, Microsoft launched Project 2016 at the end of September to minimal fanfare. Nonetheless, the low key release wasn’t indicative of a low key product refresh. Rumours about the updates had been circulating for some time, so we were very excited to get our hands on Project 2016 – and we weren’t disappointed.

How has Microsoft improved and updated Project, and how will that affect you?

Project for an unpredictable world

The 2014 4th Annual Global PPM Survey – from analyst firm PWC – took insight from more than 3000 PMs, and a key finding was that project managers are struggling to negotiate change. Markets are more unpredictable than ever, and this is presenting major challenges to project success. To quote the report:

“However you choose to look at the facts, the undeniable issue is that markets are becoming increasingly disrupted due to economic and demographic shifts, as well the growing digital economy and changes in the characteristics and expectations of customers.”

These findings are mirrored in the conversations we’ve been having with our customers, partners and at the many industry events we have attended in 2015. The good news, however, is that a growing number of PPM tools are emerging which help PMs handle this challenge (Tempus Resource, from ProSymmetry, is a standout example here). The product team at Microsoft are clearly aware of these challenges too, and Project 2016 is their answer. We think they’ve done a very good job indeed.

Where are Project 2016’s standout features?

1. Resource management

Resource management is all about ensuring employees and other resources are used in the most efficient way possible. Until now, most PPM tools have only provided a very limited resource management capability. Project 2016 extends this considerably.

Users will now be allowed access to a simple resource management request form that is plugged into a workflow. This then generates an email to the resource manager. Project 2016 provides the ability to systematically request whatever resource is appropriate for the task at hand. Once such a request has been approved, the requesting Project Manager can then lock that resource to guarantee their availability.

This means that a PM will always have an up to date ‘point in time’ view of their requests. Once a locked resource is assigned to a project for a duration of time, any other PM colleague that tries to reserve (or ‘poach’) that specific resource will get an automated email advising them that the individual or tool they want is overbooked.

2. Views

Not every resource manager is a fully-fledged project manager (and vice versa) – or is even experienced in the nuances of project and portfolio management. To encourage resource managers to collaborate with their project managers, Project 2016 now offers a dedicated section where resource managers can review all incoming resourcing requests. Furthermore, the new resource view affords the ability to understand the capacity utilisation of resources at a quick glance.

3. Heat maps

The concept of a heat map has been seen in various software packages and analytical tools for some time. In Project 2016, Microsoft is adding the concept of resource capacity heat maps. As we know, under and over utilisation of project resources can present problems. Heat maps allow you to quickly visualise how close to capacity your resources currently are.

This kind of visual approach to capacity management makes it much easier to make rapid judgements about resource availability. Compare this to looking at a black and white spreadsheet, and the intuitive power of colour coding is clear.

Project Online

Besides new features of Project itself, users will now have a greater access to the tool via mobile thanks to a range of third party apps which Office 365 can now incorporate.

Microsoft’s wider technology strategy has emphasised cloud services and mobile accessibility. With the launch of Project 2016, Microsoft is demonstrating its commitment to this strategy. Interestingly, Microsoft chose to leverage their Partner Network to open up Project to the mobile arena. Exciting new additions for cloud and mobile include a range of Sensei apps which let you visualise project progress, resource capacity and time sheets via a mobile screen.

Besides these dashboard style apps, there are a range of additional apps that allow you to work with financials and other relevant project metrics. These and many more apps are available in the Windows Store.

Find out more

The changes happening in Project Online are very exciting indeed. With a greater emphasis on resource management, the emergence of a series of impressive mobile apps and the configuration with apps from the Windows Store; 2016 is set to be an exciting year.

Interested in learning more about leveraging the power of Project Online? Join our upcoming webinar on Tuesday 12th January at 16:00 GMT.