With the release of Office 2013, Microsoft rolled out a significant update to Project Server. In this post, we are going to take a look at some of the new features and more importantly what has changed. I am going to assume you are all readers of my blog and across the capabilities of Project Server 2010, so the post will dig into the deltas….
Look and feel
The first thing you notice when opening up a PWA site is the look and feel, with Project Server 2013 sitting on top of SharePoint 2013, it automatically inherits a number of the changes included in SharePoint, including the new ‘friendlier’ messages, ribbons that are hidden by default and animate smoothly, the ability to hide the chrome in the page and the simpler left hand navigation.
Whilst speaking of the navigation, by default creating a new PWA instance on the face of it looks to give you much less functionality than you would expect with Project Server 2010. That’s not the case, the left hand menu has been simplified out of the box, but the capabilities you would expect to see like Timesheets, Issues and Risks, Portfolio Analysis and the Server Settings are still around, but they are not visible by default.
One of the things I really like are the new carousels used to give the user access to typical commands, these really show off the new Metro user interface and are much more pleasing on the eye than the old nasty Reminders web part.
This is a big big change. With Project Server 2013, Microsoft have made a number of significant changes behind the scenes to allow Project Server 2013 to be available in Office 365 as Project Online; the familiar four Project Server databases (Draft, Published, Archive and Reporting) have gone, replaced by a single database with four different schemas. The thinking behind this is to reduce the overhead of maintenance, both for customers running Project Server on premise, but also for Microsoft when running Project Server in Office 365.
As you would imagine, running Project Server in the cloud presents a number of problems that need to be addressed, direct access to databases & apis need to be restricted or secured in order to protect the platform. The Project team has invested heavily in this area, providing alternate mechanisms for reporting through oData feeds and a new client side object model (CSOM) that provides access to common PSI functions. Of course, if you are using Project Server on premise, you have the best of both worlds, access to these new capabilities and the traditional reporting database and PSI.
I will be investigating Project Online in the coming weeks and posting up some of the differences between the Office 365 offering and what Project Server 2013 on premise can provide.
Perhaps one of the hardest changes to find on the surface are those changes to the scheduling engine which has been improved significantly. In Project Server 2010 in order for the schedule web part to reschedule the tasks the user would need to click on the calculate button. With Project Server 2013, this is no longer the case, with the schedule being updated automatically.
The Project team have been striving to bring the schedule engine into line with the desktop schedule engine and have taken a significant leap in this release, allowing cost and material resource to be assigned to tasks, setting task deadlines, immediate updated formula fields (no need to publish to update) and the most visible change, the addition of a web based timeline control as introduced in the Project 2010 client.
Oh and there is one more thing… you can now baseline from the web app. Yep, you read that correctly. Baselining has made it into PWA, significantly reducing the need to use Project Professional.
Whilst this is a massive step, it has still not found its way into an API like the CSOM or PSI, so can’t be called programmatically or from within a workflow, which brings me onto the next area to look into..
Workflow and Demand Management
Microsoft have improved the workflow story in Project Server 2013 and SharePoint 2013 with the introduction of a brand new Azure based Workflow Server that is based on Windows Workflow Foundation 4.0, quicker and more scalable, but requires you to build your workflows from scratch to use this engine. Don’t stress though, if you have invested significant time and effort in building 2010 workflows, that engine remains in the 2013 products and will continue to run your workflows as you would expect.
Another non trivial change for Project Server 2013 is the ability to create simple demand management workflows using SharePoint Designer 2013 out of the box instead of having to crack open Visual Studio.
As for the Demand Management components, unfortunately MS didn’t choose to ditch the name and call it Project Lifecycle Management, but they did introduce a new workflow action allowing you to create project ideas in a SharePoint list and promote them to a full on project, a process called ‘Ideation’.
Project Server 2013 introduces a number of changes around reporting mainly targeted at providing reporting parity across Project Online and Project Server 2013 On Premise. The main change is the introduction of oData feeds that allow access to Project Server reporting data via a URL. REST feeds were sort of available in Project Server 2010, but only to get at the SharePoint content such as lists in the PWA site, with 2013 these feeds now allow you to get at actual Project Server reporting data, including project, task and assignment lists. Pretty cool stuff.
Of course, Microsoft have also added capabilities into Excel to make it easier to consume these oData feeds, making Excel the defacto reporting tool. When married with things like PowerPivot and PowerView reporting is a pretty exciting story.
Project Server 2010 introduced the ability to integrate task updates through Exchange Server, with Project Server 2013, the Project team have taken it up a notch, allowing synchronisation of your ‘Out of Office’ with your resource calendar. So if you are on leave for two weeks and have added an out of office calendar entry to your exchange calendar, Project Server will take this into account for your resource availability. Awesome!!
Simplified timesheets and task management
One area users and consultant always struggle with are timesheets, in Project Server 2013 the timesheet UI has been simplified and is easier to use. I understand that it is also possible to tie into the approval process and extend it, but haven’t played with it yet.
Lightweight Project Management
One of the most exciting features in the 2013 release is the new lightweight project management feature allowing users to use a SharePoint Project Site to manage projects without the need to use Project Server unless they want to. Any work assigned to a person across any project sites will automatically aggregated into a central feed that can be surfaced through your MySite.
I will be digging into the lightweight project management capabilities of 2013 in a lot more detail in future posts.
Configuring the security of Project Server can be difficult for some people, so with Project Server 2013, Microsoft introduced a simpler SharePoint based security model where access to capabilities in Project Server is managed from SharePoint security groups. Of course, if you wish to use the traditional Project Server security model of categories and groups, this can be configured at the click of a button in Office 365, or using PowerShell on premise.
Deprecations & other changes
Of course there are always some things that don’t make it from version to version. One of the biggest changes is the removal of backwards compatibility mode. In Project Server 2013, if you want to use the new features of Project Server 2013, you need to use Project Professional 2013. Personally I see this as a shame, as customers loved the option and it reduced the pain of rolling out Project Server, but apparently it wasn’t used enough to continue support.
If you are using Project Online, there are a number of features that are not available to you for security purposes. For security purposes, access to the PSI via impersonation is no longer available*, likewise direct access to the Reporting DB in SQL is not available for obvious reasons. Instead Microsoft have provided a the CSOM and oData feeds need to be used. Likewise, access to the OLAP cubes in Project Online is no more, but they are there for Project Server 2013 on premise.
There are a few other changes, the timesheet queue has gone and some of the things you would expect to see in server settings have either moved out to Central Admin for on premise, or are no longer available. Also, it appears the ability to link Risk, Issues and Documents in the workspaces has been changed, but more on that in a later post too.
Project Server 2013 is an exciting release, providing a number of enhancements across the platform. With the introduction of Project Online a significant barrier for entry has been removed and will no doubt increase the uptake of the platform. Stay tuned to epmsource.com as we dig into Project Server 2013 in much more detail
* Update 31-1-2013 – Thanks to Marius from the Project Product team for pointing out that not only is the PSI is still available, it is actively used in Project Online for both the PWA and Project Client connectivity. What is not available is PSI impersonation which rules out using PSI for service to service integration between your solutions and the PSI. The CSOM being built on top of SharePoint’s OAuth infrastructure, provides a mechanism to address these impersonation issues.