After a couple of weeks of rest, I wanted to give my impressions of the Project Conference and P12. It was great to see the big crowd and interest in Project. You could get a real sense for the number of attendees in the keynotes (over 1500) ... but otherwise the layout of the facility made it tough to feel the buzz of a big set of people. While I loved being in Seattle for the evening events, I missed the layout of the Microsoft Briefing Center during the sessions. Thanks to everyone who attended the conference. It is a big commitment in time and money. I hope that we (product group) gave you what you needed and wanted wrt technical content on P12.

On to P12 ... I am now able to talk about a few features that were kept under wraps before the Project Conference. I am going to start with features that may have been too subtle (or our presentation too fast) for folks to fully grok their potential.

1. Operations Activities: This feature is an umbrella term for the ability to create web-based task lists that support dependencies, scheduling, assignments, timesheeting, reporting, etc. We view this feature being used primarily to capture work that does not need or is difficult to manage like a project. You are provided with a very simple web-based UI in Project Web Access that lets you create the task list. In the Project Server back-end, operations activities are simply projects with a unique type. Operations activities can be upgraded so they can be edited using Project Professional.

2. Resource Plans: This feature allows you to define PLANNED work independent of tasks in a project plan. Once you have created a project or operations actitivies (even with zero tasks), you can then use Project Web Access to define how much effort will be spent by resources for how long on the project. You can express effort in hours per day, days per week, and full-time equivalents (similar to units in Project). Resource plans result in the creation of summary resource assignments. This allows the effort defined in the resource plan to show up exactly the same as effort defined through task assignments in a project plan.

These two features open up a number of new scenarios for the Project EPM Solution.

Maintenance and Operations Work

The first is the ability to now easily track maintenance work with Project EPM. Maintenance work is a "routine" activity where it is difficult to exactly predict when it might occur. An example might be applying security patches to your web server. With P12, you can create a zero task operational activity using Project Web Access. Typically you would set the start and end of the operational activity to map to your calendar or fiscal year. Next you create resource plans for the individuals (or team, I will get to that feature next post) that last all year and define the effort as maybe .1 FTE. You have now captured that these individuals will be spending 10% of their available time during the year on patching your web servers. At this point, you will have visibility into ALL the planned work coming from operational activities AND projects. So you get a complete picture of where your resources are planned to be utilized.

How about tracking actual time spent on operational activities? With the new time tracking feature in P12, team members can simply add a row on their timesheet for the operational activity and enter time spent on the activity. You can do this at the project level with no actual assignments on the project. This gets pushed through the reporting system. Now, you can take a look at actual effort spent on the operational activity (coming from timesheets) against the planned effort (coming from resource plans).

This all gets done using a web browser, without Project Professional, and without a SINGLE task in the project plan. The user interface is so simple that no-one should be able to legitmately complain that the UI or process is too complex for them to report planned and actual effort. AND all this functionality is exposed through the Project Server Interface, so you could write your own UI (or synch to your own existing systems) to capture resource plan, operational tasks, and timesheets.

These two features really do enable any organization at virtually any level of project management maturity to begin collecting information on what work is planned, which resources are allocated to that work, and how actuals compare to plans. This opens up a level of visibility and control that was very hard to get in prior versions of Project. And unlike competitive projects, operations work completely fits into Project Server reporting PLUS it is easily upgraded so you can start using Project when operations work require more project management.

Rolling Wave Planning

Who has ever done the following? You are asked to build out a project plan. You know the detailed tasks for the first 30% of the project but the rest of the project is only understood at a high level. But folks want to know the planned resourcing levels for the entire project. So you end up creating a "dummy" sub-task under the summary tasks in the future and assigning resources to them. Later, you create a real WBS under the summary tasks and divide the work formally on the sub-task onto the real tasks. This is a real pain.

In P12, you can represent a project and its potential resource needs from day one w/o any knowledge of how you will get the project done (i.e., a WBS). You create an operational activity with no tasks, just a start and finish date. Then you create resource plans. At this point, you can go through a project review/selection process. As you add details to the plan, you upgrade the operational activity to Project professional and adjust the resource plans so they are only used for the latter parts of the project where you do not yet know the tasks.

This really does give you the best of both worlds. You can quickly capture high-level resource demand while also being able to switch to detailed tasks. Instead of needing to edit all those dummy tasks, you manage one resource plan per resource on the project.

These P12 features are going to enable folks to capture project ideas and resource demand far earlier and easier than ever before. Again, you get the same great reporting features in Project Server from operational activities and projects. Plus operational activities are easily upgraded to projects when you are ready to build out a detailed project plan.

Wrap-Up

IMO, these two features alone completely change the range of customers who could benefit from Project EPM. With P12, you have the ability to capture all the work going on in your organization ... and can do so with very low complexity = web-based (no deployment issues) and simple UI (very limited training required). Once you have all of your resource demands understood, the quality of your project and resourcing decision-making is going to improve significantly. When you add these new capabilities with the new portfolio management technology that we have acquired from UMT, you really have a big leap forward in the value of Project EPM for making decisions at the CxO level.