Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Project Online: 2 free apps to make your admin or PMO life easier!

As Project Online admin or PMO, we know we all have some manual operations to perform on a regular basis in order to keep project data up to date or improve the overall process. Starting from Project Server 2003, I get used of spending (and asking my customer to spend) a certain time doing such time-consuming operations. Since I have no development or coding skills, I always had to rely on a technical team. It also meant to run all the way down kind of a mini-project for building admin tools: defining specifications, doing mock-up, testing, deploying, documenting (selling it to the customer...). So to earn time of administration, you spent time on developing administration tools.

Thanks God, Microsoft kept on investing, Project Online came up, the solution was more and more "sexy", the community of developers went bigger and bigger, starting playing with apps, scripts, code samples... It allowed administrators picking up apps in the Office store to make their daily jobs easier and most of all, bring added value to the native Project Online product. 

For example, when a customer says: Can I auto-publish all projects on a regular basis? Can I bulk edit project ECF in an Excel-like sheet? The answer was: "No you can't (or it'll cost you)". The answer is now: "Yes you can (and for free)".

Less job for the PMO/admin, customer happy, better sales rate for the consultant and less development, consultant happy.

This is to introduce 2 free apps I'll shorty present in this blog post. I obviously start by giving credits to my estimated colleagues who propose those apps on the Office Store:

I won't go in details on the procedure to install apps on your Project tenant, since this is child's play. Be sure to be connected to your Project tenant with your admin account. Click on the links above (or search in the Office Store the app name) and add it to your tenant. You'll get prompted with the usual dialog boxes, need to trust the app, accept the general terms, etc...

1- Bulk calculate and publish app
We all have struggled with custom fields with formulas not being calculated, such as formulas using now() functions which need to be updated each day. More generally, you can be in the tricky situation having false, empty or errored values for custom fields with formulas in the project center. Which is annoying knowing that the project center is often for manager a central point for portfolio/project data gathered among the organization. Also if the data is incorrect in the project center, it means that it is incorrect in the publish/reporting tables, consequently it'll also be incorrect in any type of reports (PowerBI, Excel, SSRS).
Solution is? Publishing projects of course! Here is where you don't have to do some PowerShell anymore to bulk publish projects. The app from PPM WORKS, once installed, allows the administrator to schedule on a regular basis (hourly, daily, weekly) your projects. You can set up email notifications entering emails separated by commas (it can be non-O365 email!!).
Another strength of the app is that it creates an "auto publish" project ECF so it will auto publish only flagged projects. 
Isn't it nice?

I was even wondering if it could be used to publish task updates after the PM approves it in the approval center. Digging this question and I'll come back asap with an answer.

2- Bulk edit app
Next question is: ok, I have scheduled my auto publish job with this nice app, but I now need to flag all my projects with the auto publish ECF!!! 800 projects need to be opened, checked-out, flagged, saved, published, checked-in. Let's say 20 seconds per projects, it makes almost 4.5hrs to update all projects. OMG!
More generally, if you're PMO or admin, it might happen for example to add a custom field to integrate a new need on an existing Project instance. So you also need to enter the new value for projects. For financial control, you might have cost ECF and update them on a monthly basis for reporting purpose.
Martin's app from NearBaseline allows you the bulk update your projects ECF in an Excel-like sheet. You first have to select the custom fields you want to display. Then just update the value. Some nice features :
  • Green check mark to show that the update has been published,
  • Possibility to defer updates,
  • Force check-in,
  • Possibility to extend cell's values like in Excel.

Interesting to check the queue while editing a project: you'll find the update, publish, reporting and check-in jobs processed. You might also see the "Synchronize Managed Project With Task List" in case it is activated on the project's EPT.

That was just 2 examples of the free apps you can find on the Office Store. Keep in mind that the community is more and more active and you'll find more and more apps or 3rd-party solutions which will be great added value for your customer, and great selling arguments for you.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

New projects and sites number limit & EPT configuration

Beginning of April, Microsoft announced in this article of few improvements, mostly related to Project Online performance, such as the new check-boxes in the Project Center I described in my last post. Another major improvement concerns the limit of projects created in a Project Online instance increased from 5,000 to 30,000. With this improvement comes another one concerning the project sites. The limit used to be 2,000 project sites. If you needed more than 2,000 sites, you had to create and work with several PWA instances. Now there is a one-to-one relationship, meaning that you can have 5,000 projects with 5,000 sites.

In order to optimize PWA instances performance with those news projects and sites limits, the EPT (Enterprise Project Type) configuration has also been updated. 
Previously the synchronization settings were at instance level, they are now at EPT level. Moreover, you can set a site creation location for each EPT. 

How you should use this new configuration? Here is how I see it. 
  • You might have an EPT with a large number of small projects running on a short period. In this case, you'll not create any project site and consequently you'll not check the sync permission options.
  • In parallel you might have another EPT with an small number of standard projects. In this case, you'll automatically create a project site, you'll check the sync options and locate the site creation in the normal PWA address.
  • Finally, you might have an EPT with specific long term projects dedicated to specific stakeholder with a large set of documentation. You'll also automatically create a site with sync options checked, but you'll locate the site creation in another site collection.

Consequently, since those options have been rolled down at EPT level, you won't see them anymore where they used to be. If you go to the Connected SharePoint Sites section in the server settings, you'll see that there is no more "Settings" button.

Also under "Manage User Sync Settings", you won't find anymore the site sync.

Check-out the Microsoft blog to see the other improvements, such as the modified dates added to some Odata entities.

What is happening if you already have some project sites created in the "old" way? (a jérome's edit)?

Well, the story is a bit more complicate then. By default, you have to know that the options are not as set as you would expect.
1. While the Project Site creation will be set to the choice which was made in the "old" menu

2. The synchronization options are both disabled. The impact is that all the team members are losing (or not gaining) the access to the project sites while the project is published. Tasks as well stops to be synchronized which means that no more seen in the home page nor in the tasks menu of the Project Site

It is also worth noticing that the Project site is now created at next publish and not at project creation as it was previously enabling a rapid project creation

So, to wrap-up, if your environment is already having project sites created, I would advise the to take the following steps:
1. Validate that the setting for each Enterprise Project Type is the expected one
2. Open the schedule and publish it (either from Project Online or from Project Professional) - that will trigger a tasks synchronization
3. Change your project team temporarily in adding or removing a resource (who can connect) and publish to trigger the Project Site Permission Synchronization. Then revert the change.

You should now be good to go. let me know if you find any weird behaviours, Guillaume and I would be happy to further complement that post.

As a cross-reference, I would like to link the great work done by Nate Auchter here

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Project Center update: small change good change!

Hi Folks,

You've got to stay on track with updates, which is not always obvious with the frequency of updates in Project Online!

Did you notice? No? Have a look to your project center ribbon... 

Got it? You have 2 new check-boxes, rollups and Gantt Chart. Quite easy for the second one, you can hide or display the Gantt Chart. I guess the first use concerns portfolio views where Portfolio Managers want to focus on data more than on the Gantt aspect.

The second one can be interesting also. You can hide or display rollups while using grouping data in views. The objective might be to load faster views

This could propose this type of interesting portfolio views.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

PowerBI dashboard integration in Microsoft TEAMS

Hi Folks, it's been a while! Back from a couple of very time consuming projects, I wanted to share with you a nice way to share PowerBI dashboards.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about how to embed a PowerBI dashboard in SharePoint/Project Online using a content editor webpart. That was a nice try, but if you read it until the end, you probably saw this disclaimer:

Warning: When you use Publish to web, the report or visual you publish can be viewed by anyone on the Internet. There is no authentication used when viewing these reports. Only use Publish to web with reports and data that the anyone on the Internet (unauthenticated members of the public) should be able to see. Do not use Publish to web with sensitive data, data that has financial implications, data that must remain confidential, or data that you do not have the license rights to publish.

Not good, isn't it!? Or at least pointless... Until then, you couldn't easily share a PowerBI dashboard out of PowerBI App.

Few weeks ago, Microsoft released TEAMS, a chat-based application for supporting team collaboration (see here for more details), accessible from the O365 waffle menu.

O365 Waffle menu with TEAMS
The principle is quite simple. Assuming you have created your PowerBI dashboard and configured your collaboration space in TEAMS, you can easily add in the teams section a PowerBI application.
Add a PowerBI application in TEAMS
Once done, you'll be prompted to choose among the PBI dashboards you can see.
Select PowerBI dashboard
That's done!
The good thing is that it isn't just an image of your dashboard but a frame embeding your PowerBI content. You can even play with the filter or start a discussion related to the dashboard.
Use the dashboard filter in the TEAM PowerBI tab

Start a conversation about the dashboard

Beyond this nice feature, I see advantages for organizations using teams which can create groups of users based on their reporting needs, such as portfolio managers, and share dashboards accordingly.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Project, Planner, Action list: tools versus granularity, what to choose?

Haven't you already faced some concerns from your customer such as: I have Planner, Project and also an action list in my project site... Which one is intended to track what?? 

Indeed this is a good concern. Without a clear guidance, what is at the beginning a relevant cohabitation of complementary tools can become a huge mess of redundant applications which leads to maintain a large amount of irrelevant data and thus loose sponsors and users adhesion. Garbage in, garbage out!

Which makes me talk in introduction about granularity and schedule type. The granularity is a key factor of success regarding the project weekly updates. Indeed, if the granularity is too much detailed, the project plan will be tedious to update on a regular basis and team members will have a long list of activities to update in their weekly timesheet. On the other hand, the granularity should be detailed enough to allow the project manager tracking with the appropriate visibility his project plan. Here is a recommendation (I say "a" because this is only based on my own experience). So granularity should be what helps you choosing a tool for each need.

  1. I do recommend to update a project plan in Project Online with an average of 200 tasks on a weekly basis (steering plan). It is handled by the project or program manager and should stay at activity level such as “specifications” or “chemical testing”. Activities should be between 5 and 20 days (duration), which will also make lighter and clearer timesheets for team members. This steering project plan is mandatory and dynamic.
  2. The project manager might need to establish at the project start (during the planning phase) a very detailed project plan in order to have a clear vision of the effort and task sequencing and milestones. In order to achieve this purpose, a definition plan might be created at this time, which might contain a lot of very detailed tasks. This plan is a “one-shot” standalone plan, not meant to be updated once the execution starts. Consequently, it should not be managed in Project Online but locally by the project manager (MS Project) and will be the starting point for the steering plan.
  3. Finally, as the steering plan might be too high level to track daily work, a task management application might be required. The task management should not be held by the project manager but by a work-package leader such as the engineering lead. It consists in a backlog tool to track team tasks which cannot be managed at project level. Many tools already exist and can be used for this purpose. Nevertheless, I do recommend Microsoft Planner, a task management solution part of the Office 365 ecosystem, in order to keep a consistency in your IT ecosystem (and also because we might one day have a connection between Planner and Project).

Another 4th item could have been added: actions or to-do's to track at project level such as "calling the provider to confirm the delivery date" or "booking a room for the executive committee". Those actions are not tracked in terms of duration or effort, but just simple tasks which must not be forgotten, thus recorded somehow. The project site action list should be the place for that.

Here is how it could be designed:

I do understand that it might seem tedious, but as soon as the guidance is clear as well as the responsiblities and accountabilities, everybody will understand and follow the best practices and all information will be tracked at the right level in the right tool.

In term of tools, we could summarize with the following recommandations:

  • MS Project should be used to build a detailed project schedule in the initial planning phase. This plan is a "one-shot" exercise and will not live during the project execution,
  • Project Online should be used by project manager to track project high level activities between 1 and 4 weeks, on a weekly basis,
  • Planner should be used by technical leaders to break down those activities into smaller technical tasks to be updated on a daily basis,
  • Action list on the project site should be used by the project manager to record and follow project actions assigned to members, which are not technical but rather related to the project management area.

Once more, there is not a unique model and it does depend on a lot of parameters: culture, maturity, business, IT ecosystem, etc. For example, a technical project manager might hold efficiently a detailed project plan without requiring the usage of a backlog. What do you think? I'd love to share your thoughts on this.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Heads up about Project certifications

Hi dear Project experts,

You recognize those logos? Have them, want them?
We are all convinced that having Project certifications is definitely a plus in order to be recognized as Project experts and are required to be Microsoft certified as a company. Moreover, it assures to our customers that we know what we are doing. Off the record, this is not always the case and not all certified professionals are Project expert, but this is another subject...

Anyway, I'm here today to give you a quick heads up on the new certification plan for Project. We had a good summary by Yuval Stern on the Yammer group, but since not all of you might have the information, here is what you need to know about the new plan.

  • Exam 74-343 "Managing Programs and Projects with Project Server 2013" will be retired and replaced by Exam 70-348 "Managing Projects and Portfolios with Microsoft PPM". The beta version is accessible here.
  • Exam 70-331 "Core Solutions of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013" will be retired and replaced by Exam 70-339 "Managing Microsoft SharePoint Server 2016". This one is a tuff one.
  • Please note that Exam 74-343 "Managing Projects with Microsoft Project" retains the same exam code and has been refreshed for better alignment with the latest Project client version. Good news if you already have it, it is still applicable!
Another good news? You can follow 2 free trainings on MS Project and Project Online through EDX, the Microsoft training partner. 

I've not been following the training but I had the feedback that they are pretty complete and well organized.

Get certified! 

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Work on summary task different from the sum of sub-tasks work! What is happening??

Back to the basics, I'll talk today about a support case I got today in MS Project. Always good to go back to scheduling challenges.
The issue? When running odata reports in Excel, a customer tells me that the work on the summary task is greater than the sum of the sub-tasks work.

Something like this:

2 tasks with 4 and 2 days of work, the work on the summary task should be 6 days and not 12 right? Here were my first thoughts that I submitted to my customer :

  • a filter might have been applied so some of the sub-tasks might not be visible. NO!
  • the tasks might not be sorted along the ID, so some sub-tasks might be located at another place in the WBS. NO!
  • the summary task might be manually scheduled. NO! (anyway this wouldn't have helped since even if it was the case, the sum should have been correct).

Any idea? Guess what, I've been telling for 10 years to my customers NOT TO ASSIGN RESOURCES ON SUMMARY TASKS, but I just didn't think about it! What puts me on the wrong way was the screenshot I received from the customer, similar to the one above: no resource is displayed near the summary task bar. Unfortunately, I didn't remember that the summary task bar style does not display any information around the bar.

So here is what happened:

Without any resource on the summary task, you get 6 days of work. If you add a resource on the summary task with the default unit (100%), on a 6-days duration task, you'll get 6 days of additional work, which makes 12 days in total.

Here is how 2 + 4 = 12 !

So keep that in mind, this is really a worst practice! Not convinced? I could give you several examples. Quite often, the use case about assigning resources of summary task is when you don't want to assign the same resource on 10 tasks, you think this is simpler to directly assign it on the summary task. Here is a simple reason why you should not: it can create ghost over or under allocations

Here is a use case with a resource assigned on 2 task with a positive lag. You can see that I have a duration of 8 days, but 6 days only of work since I have a 2-days lag.

If I assign the resource on the summary task which has no lag, the work is calculated based on the summary task duration (8 days). I thus have 8 days of work, which is not what I want.

Similarly, if I put a negative lag, meaning that the task cannot start earlier than 2 days before the predecessor is finished, I get a 4-days duration but 6-days work since 2 days are in parallel. Moreover, I have an over allocation since resource A is assigned on both task the 2 first days.

If you assign resource A on the summary task which is 4-days duration, you get 4 days of work instead of 6 and no over allocation.

Hope you are now convinced that there takes a lot of verifications when assigning resources of summary tasks. You might anyway need or want to do it (even if I do recommend not to do it), but be aware of the traps and consequences.

Have a good scheduling!

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