Microsoft has beefed up Project's collaborative muscles without sacrificing the program's ease of use
Microsoft Corp. Project began as a low-end but easy-to-use project management program targeted at individual users. With each new version, however, the program set its sights higher, providing features designed for workgroup and enterprise users. Microsoft Project 2002 is no exception.
Project 2000 was the first version of the product to introduce collaboration tools with the Microsoft Project Central Server. The enterprise edition of Project 2002 takes collaboration to a new level, aiming at the high end of the project management spectrum. Microsoft Project Central Server, now called Microsoft Project Server, works with an SQL Server back-end database to store all project information.
Microsoft paid particular attention to ease of use with this release of Project.
New features such as the Project Guide, Wizards, Smart Tags and tighter Office integration reflect a renewed concern for the user. The Project Guide features a to-do list in a box next to the project detail information. Hypertext links lead users through the key steps of creating a new project plan. Although the Project Guide targets the inexperienced user, Microsoft has also made it possible to perform more complex tasks, such as customizing the guide text to deploy organization-specific policies and procedures.
With the release of Office XP, Microsoft introduced the concept of "Smart Tags." A Smart Tag is a button in the user interface that allows users to accomplish simple tasks or connect to the Web from within an application. For Project 2002, Smart Tags allow the user to receive feedback and advice on alternative actions when deleting task or resource names and changing resource assignments, start and finish dates, durations and the like. Project 2002 makes it possible to customize and create Smart Tags for specific tasks.
Microsoft Project 2002 comes in two versions: Project Standard, which targets users who do not need to share their project information, and Project Professional, which has everything the standard version does and adds the features necessary for facilitating group collaboration.
Microsoft Project Professional includes the Resource Substitution Wizard to help optimize project plans by recommending the best resources for tasks based on skills, current workload and availability. The wizard will make skills-based resource recommendations by analyzing resources across an organization or within a department.
Both editions come with "Microsoft Project 2002 Frequently Asked Questions," which includes more than 250 pages on how to use specific features of the software. There's also a glossary of terms and a comprehensive index to the topics covered.
Project Server 2002 offers some significant features for large projects and large organizations. A Build Team From Enterprise feature helps you put together a project team based on enterprisewide available resources. For example, you can pick specific skill levels required for a task and the wizard will return all the available personnel who meet those criteria.
On the high end, there's now a host of features to support "what if" analyses, including modeling and reporting. The Portfolio Modeler lets you model different project scenarios to determine the feasibility of a new project, prioritize projects and resources, or find potential problems. The portfolio analyzer enables users to analyze data within a single project or across multiple projects using a PivotTable or PivotChart.
Microsoft Project Server 2002 expands the Web-based access made available in Project 2000, making it possible for many users to accomplish their tasks using only the Web interface. Role-based access forms the basis of the Web interface, which provides only the information needed by a specific user.
Other features added to Project Server 2002 include real-time analysis and reporting, document library management, issue tracking, e-mail notification, and access to the modeling and scenario analysis tools.
If you use an older version of Microsoft Project to manage small to medium projects without collaborating outside your organization, you probably don't need to upgrade at this time. For larger projects, the new licensing structure with Web access could save you a significant amount of money, and the new features for enterprise-level project management certainly make the new version worth a look.
Ferrill, based in Lancaster, Calif., has been using and writing about Novell products for almost 15 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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