Microsoft Project 2010
The official blog of the Microsoft Office product development group. Learn how to manage your work effectively

January, 2010

  • Microsoft Project 2010

    Task Statusing and the new Grid

    • 7 Comments

    A few weeks back Patrick Conlan posted an overview of some of the Time Tracking investment areas for Project Server 2010. Today we are going to drill in on one such investment area, namely the Statusing feature area. This screenshots used for this example are taken from a post-Beta Build of Project Server 2010, so if you noticed differences from our November Beta release it could be because no one has seen some of this yet J

    Time Tracking is where we focus our efforts on the “Team Member” experience. For those unfamiliar with Project terminology, “Team Members” are generally the set of individuals on a project responsible for task completion, or, put more simply, they are the “Project Team”. Sometimes referred to as “Resources”, organizations know that empowering Team Members to create, status and manage their own work reduces management overhead, increases transparency and encourages individuals to complete tasks in a timely manner. With Team Members as our focus in Project Server 2010 we identified a number of goals to improve the experience:

    · Make Statusing easier to use

    · Empower the Team Member to customize how they view/manage their own work.

    · Help people complete tasks in a timely manner

    Easier to Use - Making the Statusing of work easier to use was one of the primary goals of this release. Reporting task progress should not be a complex job that people have to be trained to do, but rather something that should be as easy as using any Microsoft Office product. To achieve this we invested in a number of enhancements, listed below:

    Fluent UI: In 2007, Office received a UI makeover. This redesign made it even easier for end users to figure out what actions could be performed merely by glancing at the page. In Project Server 2010 this same user interface comes to the world of Statusing (shown below). Simply select your tasks and the available actions for that task will “light up” in the user interface.

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    We got a lot of feedback over the years that sometimes it was difficult to know what action a button will perform. In Project Server 2010 this is made much easier through the use of enhanced tooltips. The button tooltip will give a complete description of the button action making it easier to try new actions (shown below).

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    Keyboard Shortcuts: You will also notice in the tooltip screenshot above that we have added keyboard shortcuts to common actions. For an action like Save, it will improve the overall experience as well as allow keyboard-loving Team Members to spend less time reporting work and more time working.

    Microsoft Excel-Like Interaction: We spent many weeks in the usability lab working on Statusing in Project Server 2010, with the goal of making input and task manipulation a seamless end user experience. What was striking throughout our studies were people’s affinity and familiarity with Excel. As such, we modeled much of Statusing’s interaction paradigms off of Excel. As users complete work they merely open the page and type in the cell and save, much like they would update an Excel spreadsheet (see below).

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    Sometimes the Team Member needs to do more than just enter text. Imagine I wanted to change the start date of the “Draft Due” task above. I could achieve this by focusing the Start cell and typing a date (like Excel) or by focusing the cell and selecting a date from a date picker (shown below). clip_image008

    This allows the user interface to provide for your expert users (who want speed), yet still support your novice users (who need more guidance).

    Updated Left Navigation: In Project Server 2010 we have also updated the left navigation pane to help Team Members navigate around the server. We have provided visual feedback as to where you are in the left navigation menu. Since I am currently on the “Tasks” page viewing my work you will see the “Task” link highlighted in blue.

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    Another improvement that Team Members will notice (especially those on smaller display screens) is the ability to hide the left navigation menu to make more space for the main grid – just click on the “Nav button” (inside joke) to contract/expand the menu:

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    Error Handling: When Team Members make an error while trying to status their tasks we can usually catch the error before the tasks are saved. The experience is very similar to the underlining of misspelled words you have come to expect in Microsoft Word. For example, imagine I had worked 6 hours today on my “Draft Due” work item. I log into project server and want to mark two hours remaining. While doing so I mistype “hours”. Project Server 2010 immediately corrects me by outlining the cell in red. When I focus the cell it provides more information helping me resolve the issue.

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    Technical Note: this kind of validation is complex as Project supports many ways of entering duration, so we make a non-blocking server round trip to call a “textconv” routine. This is why you may occasionally see a slight lag between the edit and the error, especially over high-latency networks.

    Empower the Team Member – Another important design goal of Statusing in Project 2010 is to empower the Team Member to manage their tasks, their way. During usability testing we discovered that people are very particular about how they track their work and we wanted to provide Team Members with the flexibility to view their tasks in many ways.

    Multiple Layouts: One of the first big investments in this area was the ability to support multiple different layouts in the “Tasks” page in Project Server 2010. To demonstrate this I will walkthrough how I have customized my own PWA tasks page to better match how I work. I will start with the default PWA view. You will see it displays task work on a day by day basis on the right side of the screen (shown in red).

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    This view is great but there’s a bunch of information I don’t care about. We are not required to give a day by day breakdown of work at my company. Fortunately Project Server 2010 allows me to customize this view to better match the way I work. The first thing I do is I go to the layouts dropdown in the Ribbon and turn on the “Sheet” View. Here, I can enable a “Gantt Chart” View of my tasks as well. After turning on the sheet view you will see a much simpler user interface.

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    Custom Grouping: I made my view simpler but it still doesn’t match my needs. There’s information I am still not interested in. For example my tasks are grouped by “Project Name”. Fortunately even that is customizable in Project Server 2010. I simply go to the “Group By” dropdown in the ribbon and select
    “Custom Group By”. After doing this, a dialog pops up that shows I am grouped by “Planning Window” (discussed later in this post) and then by “Project Name”. I set Project Name to “None” and press ok. This results in a set of tasks no longer grouped by “Project Name”.

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    Hide/Remove: Another investment area was enabling users to “customize” the fields which they view on screen as well as placement of important fields. To demonstrate this I will continue with my customization of my tasks. First I will remove some fields that don’t matter to me. Work, Remaining Work, and Actual Work are largely ignored in my organization. In fact, I am primarily concerned with task finish dates and % complete. Project Server 2010 allows me to remove the columns that I don’t need. To do this first I need to hover my mouse over the “Remaining Work” column header. This will expose a dropdown. When I press it I will see a menu. From here I will select “Configure Columns”. This will allow me to hide/unhide the columns that I am currently seeing on screen (shown below).

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    After hiding the work columns the tasks page now looks even simpler.

    Technical Note: when removing fields that no-one will use, it is best to do it in the administrative settings menu as this will improve performance as the data will then never move from the database to the page.

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    Sorting: In addition to simplifying the number of fields on the screen, I like to sort my task order based on the task finish date. I want tasks finishing soonest to be displayed at the top of the list. To do this I merely hover over the column header (just like above), except this time instead of “Configure Columns”, I will “Sort Ascending” on the Finish Date. Notice the updated column headers icon which now indicates I am sorted on finish date.

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    Units: For my next customization I want to change the way I see dates. Often I am interested in the day of the week a particular work item needs to be completed. Well I am in luck; the solution for this is just few, easy button clicks away. First I will click on the “Units” dropdown. Then I will highlight the Date item and select the format that matches the information I want displayed. The resulting page will now show dates in the format “Mon 12/14” instead of “12/14/2009”.

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    Reorganize/Resize Columns: The page looks almost perfect for how I want to view my work. As I mentioned earlier “Finish Date” is really the most important thing for me and I like to see it first when reading from left to right. That’s great because in Project Server 2010 I can simply mouse over the column header and then click and drag the column to the left side of the screen.

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    Finally I would like the “Finish” column to take up a bit less space on my screen. Since I change the date formatting I really don’t need such a wide column. This is flexible as well in Project Server 2010. I mouse back up to the column headers and pull and drag the right column divider to the left to achieve this affect.

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    View Persistence: Finally now that I have spent all this time getting just the right view of the work ahead of me, how do I save this view? This happens automatically in Project Server 2010 so there is no reason to save anything. The next time you return to the page your settings will be remembered auto-“magic”-ly on a per-view basis :)

    Technical Note: What happens if the underlying view definition changes? If the view definition is no longer compatible then the user is given a dialog warning them to reset to the default.

     

    Help people complete tasks – With the release of Project Server 2010 we really wanted to help Team Members accomplish their work goals. Obviously the interface changes already mentioned will help people spend less time “working” with Project Server and more time working on their work, but we wanted to go further this release and help people identify what they SHOULD be working on as well.

    Planning Window: If you’re like me, you’re constantly juggling many tasks, so there can be a lot of noise in my tasks page. Some need to be completed “Yesterday” and others really aren’t something you need to worry about today. In this mess of work sometimes it becomes difficult to focus on what you need to be doing NOW. Repeatedly during user testing we found that people really wanted Project Server to help them with this task. To achieve this we have introduced a new feature called the “Planning Window”. The Planning Window splits your tasks up into a set of distinct groups, those currently “In Progress”, those that are happening in the “Near Future” and those in the “Distant Future”. The Planning Window moves with you through time, dynamically updating as your work progresses. In the example (shown below) you will see that my “Widget Documentation” task is happening on 1/25. Currently it’s in the near future, but when 1/25 rolls around you can bet that it will be “In Progress”. Likewise the task “Javascript Intellisense Documentation” was due weeks ago on 12/14 and since it is still not completed it has stayed “In Progress” until finished.

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    Totals Column: We heard frequently from customers that they wanted a way to determine at a glance how many hours they SHOULD be devoting to a particular work item within a specified time period and to have the option of entering work at the period level.

    What was most interesting though was that the time period varied from customer to customer. Some worried about work “today”, others “this week”, even others “bi-weekly”, making it impossible to use the standard Timesheet periods.

    In this case bi-weekly is actually what I am worried about, especially since my lead and I meet for our one-on-ones and he generally likes to review what I have been working on. With ease I was able to have Project Server give me totals for tasks on a bi-weekly basis. First I ensured that I had the sheet Timephased View enabled in layouts. Then I went to “Select Period” in the Ribbon. This brings up a dialog which can sync up with my company’s timesheet periods, or lets me define my own periods. I will set the periods to be two weeks long. After I commit the period length I will return to see my tasks and totals for the next 2 weeks. I see I only have 16h of planned work, better not tell my boss :)

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    Another nice feature of being able to select my own periods is that the Previous and Next buttons remember the setting when moving the view range.

    Managing Overdue Tasks: With the release of Project Server 2010 we also wanted a way to bring to your attention all the work has been assigned to you that is already “late”. We had to really use our imagination to come up with this feature since Microsoft has never had any overdue work :) but we got creative and came up with an easy to use solution. For this you just need to go to the ribbon and dropdown the filter menu and select the predefined “Overdue Tasks” filter. The page will update and show you just your overdue work – things don’t get easier than that!

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    Technical Note: A custom filter can be very powerful when combined with an assignment level task custom field as the Team Member can set a value to hide or prioritize tasks and use the filter (or sorting) to further customize their view.

    We really hope that you and your organization enjoy the easier to use user interface and get value our of Project Server 2010 by empowering Team Members to work the way that they WANT to work, within a system that helps them complete tasks.

  • Microsoft Project 2010

    Tips and Tricks: Change the table quickly

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    Tables consist of columns that show specific information about task and resources. Here’s a quick way to turn the tables on your project. Right click the Select All button in the upper left-hand corner of any Project view that uses a table, such as the Gantt Chart view, Task Usage view, or Resource Sheet view. A list of table appears for you to pick. In the example, below, the Cost table has been applied to the Gantt Chart.

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  • Microsoft Project 2010

    Project 2010: Copy and Paste

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    In this post I’ll cover improvements to an everyday command in Project: copying and pasting data.

    Though paste likes to keep a low profile, in fact it’s the fourth most commonly used feature in Project. And while Project and Project Server offer many advanced reporting features, a very common form of “reporting” is pasting data into an email, Word document, Excel spreadsheet, or PowerPoint presentation. And countless surveys and guidelines show that communication is a critical component of good project management.

    In Project 2010, we’ve gone “back to basics” in an effort to bring you the output you want with minimum effort on your part. We’ve improved the copy/paste experience when going from Project into the Office apps, and also going from the Office apps into Project.

    To illustrate some of the improvements, let’s imagine you get this email from your manager:

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    As in this example, our customers tell us that many of their projects start outside of Microsoft Project.

    To start fleshing this out in Project, you could do the following:

    • Highlight the bulleted text in the email
    • Copy (press CTRL+C or chose Copy from the right-click context menu)
    • Switch to Project 2010
    • Paste (press CTRL+V or chose Paste from the Task tab in the ribbon or from the right-click context menu)

    In Project, you’ll then get:

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    So without any further manual steps, you now have:

    • The list of tasks as in the email
    • Task hierarchy preserved based on the bulleted list
    • Font and formatting (like bold and the red color) preserved. When you paste in Project, you’ll also see a smart tag which lets you match destination formatting, in case you prefer not to carry over this formatting.

    And now you’re ready to start fleshing out your project, perhaps breaking down the work and collecting estimates. After some more work, your project might look like this:

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    Say you want to reply to your manager, or send a summary to team members. To do this, you can simply highlight the relevant columns. In this case I’ll drag to select a range of cells, leaving off the “TBD” tasks and also the “Resource Names” column since that is already shown in the group headings:

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    From Project, you can now choose Copy (via the Ribbon, context menu, or CTRL+C), and then switch to ­­another application and then paste. If you paste into a new email, you’ll get the table shown here:

    Pasted into email - cropped2

    So with just a few clicks, you have an email with your table including the grouping, indenting, and formatting you specified. The column headings are automatically carried over. And since this is a standard table, you can use all of the power of Office’s table tools to further modify formatting.

    Note that the above focused on working with tabular data, but keep in mind:

    • Project’s Timeline view also has its own special paste experience
    • You can copy a picture by using the Copy Picture command in the ribbon:

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    We hope these changes save you time and make it easier to share information with your team—in the tools they prefer.

  • Microsoft Project 2010

    Project 2010: Introducing the Backstage view

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    Hi, it’s Jon K again. In this post, I’ll introduce Project 2010’s new Backstage view. The Backstage view is the new experience seen when you click on the File tab in Project 2010. While the other ribbon tabs focus on things you do in your project (add tasks, edit resources, change formatting), the Backstage view is focused on things you do to your project as a whole—for example, save, print, and share.

    The Backstage view is new across all Office apps for 2010, whereas the ribbon was a part of other Office applications for Office 2007 but is also new for Project 2010. In this post, Clay provides some background on the thinking behind the introduction of the Backstage view. His comments there apply to Project  as well, so I recommend you take a break from this post and go read his post first if you’re new to the Backstage view. Don’t worry, I’ll wait…

    OK, welcome back. When you click the File tab in the ribbon to enter the Backstage view, you’ll see a new list of tabs down the side: Info, Recent, New, Print, Save & Send, Help. Additionally, there are single-click “fast commands” for frequent options like Save, Save As, Publish, Open, and Close. Below these tabs you’ll also find a button to configure Project options.

    When you first click the File tab in Project, you’ll see Project’s Info tab:

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    The Info tab is where you can get high-level status about your project and make related changes. A few things to notice:

    • The Backstage view is full screen. Since you’re not working with the content of your document, the Backstage takes over the screen and allows for more screen space to describe the relevant features
    • “Temporary” sections provide status about special conditions such as a Read-Only file as shown above.
    • The info tab also provides:
      • A convenient place to reference the location of your document, and copy it to the clipboard
      • A place to manage your connections to Project Server (if any)
      • A link to the Organizer, where you can move project elements
      • A thumbnail view of your project, which you can click to exit the Backstage view
      • A place to view and edit key properties of your project. For example, you can click on the Status Date to directly edit inline

    When you’re connected to Project Server, you’ll see a number of new Info tab options “light up” as shown here:

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    As you can see, a number of Project Server-dependent features are now shown, such as:

    • A convenient link to your Project Web App home page
    • Date/time of your last publish to PWA, and a button to publish again
    • Buttons to check for updates, manage permissions, and work with the enterprise global

    The right-side pane now also lets you control the tracking method, edit custom fields values, and link to related information like documents, issues, and risks.

    I won’t go into as much detail on the other tabs here, but here’s a quick overview:

    • The Recent tab provides quick access to your recently opened projects, and lets you pin the projects you want to always keep on the list
    • The New tab brings together a number of ways to start a project, including:
      • Blank new project
      • Recent templates, local templates, and Project Server templates
      • New from existing project, from Excel workbook, or from a SharePoint task list
      • Templates from Office.com, which you can now navigate and open directly in Project without having to open a Web browser
    • The Print tab combines print preview with changing common print settings, providing a convenient all-in-one interface for printing. I’ll come back to this in a moment.
    • The Save & Send tab (this was called “Share” in the Beta) is where you go to publish to Project Server, sync a list to SharePoint, change your file format, save as PDF or XPS, send as an email attachment, and more
    • Project’s Help tab is similar to that of the other Office apps and is described here.
    • Finally, Options takes you to Project’s options interface, which we’ve redesigned for 2010 and perhaps we can cover that in more detail separately.

    The Print tab is a good example of the benefits of the full-screen experience in the Backstage. Where before you might have had to toggle between setup dialogs and preview, the new print experience lets you change the common settings and immediately see the impact in the preview. So you can easily change your printer, number of copies, page layout, date range, and the like and then hit Print once you’re ready. Here’s what this looks like:

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    There’s more to discover, but I hope this overview gives you a sense of what’s new with the move to the Backstage view and why we hope you’ll find it useful.

    Finally, if you’re interested in programmatically customizing the Backstage view, see here.

  • Microsoft Project 2010

    PWA now stands for Project Web App

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    For the Project 2010 release, we have changed the feature formerly known as “Project Web Access” to “Project Web App”. We have made this change to maintain consistency with other Office 2010 Web Apps and to reflect the increasingly rich feature set included with PWA beyond simply accessing data.

    Luckily for everyone, you can continue to just say PWA.

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  • Microsoft Project 2010

    Tips and Tricks: Changing Constraints Back to Normal

    • 1 Comments

    Now you’ve done it. You created a number of tasks in Project 2007 using start dates that you entered manually. Or maybe someone handed you a schedule with many “Must Start On” constraints applied to tasks. Unless you have a good reason to use non-default constraints or manually entered dates on tasks, it is best to let project figure out the proper constraint and dates after you set up the relationship between tasks. Project will typically apply the “As Soon As Possible” (ASAP) constraint, for example, to tasks, because this constraint best reflects how most tasks are typically scheduled in the real world.

    So how do you clean up a project with messy constraints and switch them back to Project’s preferred ASAP constraint? You could hunt for them one task at a time. But that’s too much work. Or you could add a Constraint Type column to a view, and search for them that way, but a bunch of work still remains. A better solution: search for the problem dates or constraints, and then have Project replace them automatically.

    1. On the Edit menu, click Replace.
    2. In the Replace dialog box, set up a search criterion that says something like “Find all tasks that don’t have an As Soon As Possible constraint and change it back this constraint.” Now this is going to look a little backwards in the dialog box, but here it is:

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    1. In the dialog box, I specify in the Look in field list, that I want to search only within values in the Constraint Type field.
    2. In the Test list, I specify a condition of “does not equal”, which applies to the value in the Find what box. What this means is that if a constraint value is found that is not “As Soon As Possible,” then the constraint needs to be changed to “As Soon As Possible.”

    I told you that it seems a little backwards, but that’s how it goes sometimes in software.

    Now, you don’t have to stop there. You can enter specific dates to look for in the Find what list, with a Test of “equals”, and replace those dates with an ASAP constraint.

  • Microsoft Project 2010

    Project 2010: Business Intelligence Overview

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    This post will provide an overview of the Business Intelligence (BI) investments that were made in Microsoft Project Server 2010.

    A Brief History

    In Microsoft Office Project Server 2007, the focus for reporting was on infrastructure, where we provided the infrastructure to make accessible reporting data available.  The new reporting database allowed you to more easily query data from Project without the need for advanced SQL skills.  The OLAP Database was also enhanced to 13 new cubes to provide richer data.

    Feedback indicated a need to provide further data segmentation of OLAP data.  Since we only had the one OLAP database, it contained all data.  Administrators wanted the ability to build more targeted and smaller OLAP databases based on a particular user audience.  They also needed a way to easily customize what data was contained within the OLAP database.  For example, having cost data in an OLAP database that was used by contractors made many administrators nervous.

    For accessing the data, we also released two SQL Server Reporting Service (SSRS) Report Packs.  Feedback indicated that this was a step in the right direction, but any solution that started with “Open Visual Studio” didn’t address the core data accessibility issue.  Another issue was the people who typically need to create reports don’t usually have the requisite SQL skills or access to programming tools to write the reports for SSRS.

    Project Server 2010:  Make Data Richer and Easily Accessible

    Consequently, three major investments were made in Project Server 2010 in OLAP, the Reporting Database and in Excel integration to address these needs.

    Multiple OLAP Database Support

    Multiple OLAP Database support enables the administrator to configure, customize and provision OLAP databases based on the particular needs of the target audience.  There are two primary ways that the OLAP database can be customized.

    Filtering the Data

    In Project Server 2010, an OLAP database’s data can be filtered based on a combination of date range, Project Department and Resource Department.  This provides a way to easily filter the OLAP data to the information relevant to a given user group.   In this case, the Information Technology OLAP database will only contain project and resource data that is assigned to their department.  No more having to filter out the Marketing projects to get an IT report!

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    Controlling The Data Elements Published

    The second way of customizing an OLAP database is to specify which data elements are included in a given database.   The ability to add or remove custom fields as dimensions and measures is an easy operation.  For intrinsic data such as baselines and cost data, you can exclude the data from the OLAP database by merely deselecting the box for that data type.  If you are using the new Inactive Tasks feature, you can also easily exclude this task type from the OLAP data.  Lastly, if you like handcrafted MDX, you can add your own calculated measures to the database via the user interface.

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    New Data in the Reporting Database

    A number of new data elements were added to the Reporting database in this release.  Now it is possible to create report using Timesheet administrative time data and timesheet custom fields data.  This enables the user to get a much richer view of where time has logged, as well as other uses like a list of planned vacation time or planned training time.  We also added data related to the new portfolio and workflow functionality.  Lastly, if you’ve used project properties in the past in Project Professional, these are now populated into the Reporting database.

    Excel Based Reporting

    In order to make data easily accessible, we need to use a tool that most people already have and know how to use.  Since the most commonly used tool for BI data visualization is Excel, it was a natural fit for the need.  Excel also made it easier for end users to extend the solution with creating new reports or assembling reports into a dashboard.

    In enabling the use of Excel as our BI solution, we made the following investments:

    New Business Intelligence Center

    This new website is created beneath PWA to house Excel, SSRS and PerformancePoint content.  This enables a one stop shop for all BI needs. 

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    Pre-Connected Excel reports

    Connecting users to their data proved to be a challenge for many.  Therefore, we provide some pre-configured and pre-connected reports which can be used as dashboard components or as report starters to build your own version.  The example below is the Timesheet Actuals report, which was built based on the needs of a customer who was using our time tracking solution in Project Server 2007.

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    Pre-Connected Reporting Database Templates

    We also provide pre-connected blank templates for report creation over the Reporting database.  These templates focus on key entities within Project Server.  This makes it much easier to create quick reports on these specific items.  The templates are:

    • Dependent Projects
    • Issues
    • Project And Assignments
    • Projects And Tasks
    • Resources
    • Risks
    • Timesheet

    Automatic Pre-Connected Template Creation for OLAP Databases

    When an administrator builds a new OLAP database, Project Server 2010 will automatically create a pre-connected blank template for each of the 14 cubes.  This makes it easy for a user to create reports quickly.  These templates include:

    • OlapAssignmentNonTimephased
    • OlapAssignmentTimephased
    • OlapDeliverables
    • OlapEpmTimesheet
    • OlapIssues
    • OlapPortfolioAnalyzer
    • OlapProjectNonTimephased
    • OlapProjectSharePoint
    • OlapProjectTimesheet
    • OlapResourceNonTimephased
    • OlapResourceTimephased
    • OlapRisks
    • OlapTaskNonTimephased
    • OlapTimesheet

    In addition to the templates, an Office Data Connection library is created and pre-populated.  These connections are used by the templates and sample reports, and these remove the need for the user to know the server name, database name and SQL.  In all cases, users can copy and modify these files to extend the reporting to meet their own needs. 

    Lastly, multi-lingual support is now provided.  For each language pack installed on the server, a folder with the requisite templates for each language will be generated.

    Pulling It All Together

    In the end, you can use Excel reports to share information, either by email, SharePoint or aggregating a number of reports into a dashboard.

    In the dashboard example below, I’ve created a Project Dashboard which shows me a time phased look at actual work versus planned work for the project, as entered from My Tasks.  Below it, I can see upcoming milestones report, which has time based conditional formatting of the Finish Date to highlight overdue milestones and upcoming milestones.  With this, I can see if hours were logged against the project as planned and see what milestones are impacted if the numbers are low.

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