Navigating Microsoft’s Project Management Solutions

Explaining how to use Microsoft’s different project management offerings can be a bit of a challenge, as I discovered the other day. My day-to-day is deeply intertwined with technology and I like being able to easily articulate complex solution configurations, However; during a recent conversation with a customer, I found myself stumbling through some things when it came to Microsoft’s project management tools. It was a humbling moment that made me realize we need a better way to break down and present these solutions.

During our conversation, we went through the following solution configuration options:

  • Project Online (formerly Project Web App): uses SharePoint Online infrastructure. Despite being a powerful tool, Microsoft recommends transitioning to…
  • Project for the Web (now Premium Planner): Built on Dataverse infrastructure, it integrates seamlessly with SharePoint, Teams, and M365 groups. This integration facilitates collaboration, document management, and secure access, making it a versatile option. I note that while it doesn’t yet have all the capabilities of Project Online, it is continuously improving. But then there’s also…
  • Planner and To Do (now just Planner): task management tools tied to M365 groups and Teams. They are simple yet effective for basic project tracking. When you need something more robust, you have…
  • Dynamics 365 Project Operations: It combines project management, resource management, time and expense tracking, and project accounting into one solution. Built on the Dynamics 365 platform, it deeply integrates with other Dynamics 365 apps, Power BI for advanced analytics, and AI-driven insights. It’s designed for large enterprises and complex projects, offering features like project sales, project delivery, resource optimization, and project financials to give complete project visibility and control.

Sounds like an easy decision to make, right?

At some point during this explanation, I noticed my client’s eyes glazing over, and I couldn’t blame them. The nuances and overlapping features of these tools can be overwhelming. Reflecting on this, I realized that I was missing an opportunity to simplify things, and connect these tools to real-world scenarios.

I’ve spent countless hours working with these tools, witnessing their evolution and gaining an understanding of their strengths and limitations. Clear communication is key to helping people make informed decisions when it comes to project management tools. By drawing analogies and creating relatable comparisons, we can somewhat demystify these offerings and highlight the value they bring to different types of users and organizations.

So let’s do that now.

The Boxing Weight Classes Analogy

Planner = Lightweight: Perfect for small tasks and basic project tracking.

  • Includes: Simple task creation, assignment, and tracking. Syncs with Outlook tasks.
  • Benefits: Easy to use, integrates with Teams and M365 groups, ideal for individual or small team task management.

Project for the Web/Planner Premium = Welterweight: Great for handling more demanding projects.

  • Includes: Grid and board views, timeline (Gantt) views, integration with SharePoint and Teams.
  • Benefits: Modern interface, continuously improving features, facilitates team collaboration and document management.

Project for the Web/Planner and Power Apps = Heavyweight: Manages complex projects efficiently.

  • Includes: All features of Planner Premium, plus advanced workflow automation with Power Automate, custom apps with Power Apps.
  • Benefits: High customization, powerful automation, suitable for mid-sized to large projects requiring more control and flexibility.

Dynamics 365 Project Operations = Super Heavyweight: Best for the most extensive project management needs.

  • Includes: Comprehensive project management, resource management, time and expense tracking, project accounting, integration with other Dynamics 365 apps, Power BI, and AI-driven insights.
  • Benefits: Complete project visibility and control, deep analytics, optimized for large enterprises and complex projects.

Project Online = Retired Champion: Still powerful but being phased out.

  • Includes: Advanced project scheduling, resource management, portfolio management, comprehensive reporting.
  • Benefits: Robust and reliable, great for organizations with existing SharePoint infrastructure, but recommended to transition to more modern solutions.

That’s better, right?

Breaking down complex information isn’t just about knowing the tech inside and out; it’s about making it relatable to everyday situations. Good communication is so important. It’s easy to get tangled up in the details of all this technology we have at our fingertips. A big takeaway for me is that we need to go beyond just focusing on the tools. We should think about how we’re engaging with people and making their lives easier through technology. The real win is when we can use tech to create great experiences that are easy for everyone.

Richard McLeod

Director, Technology

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