Q&A: A Closer Look at Microsoft Project 2002

Chris Capossela, General Manager of Microsoft Project. Click for a high-resolution image.

REDMOND, Wash., Dec. 12, 2001 — The beta version of Microsoft Project 2002 makes its public debut today, raising the bar on collaboration and extending Microsoft project management technology into the enterprise arena. But how does it improve on Microsoft Project 2000 — the world’s best-selling project management software? To answer that and other questions, PressPass spoke with Chris Capossela, general manager of the Microsoft Project business unit.

PressPass: In what ways does Microsoft Project 2002 differ from Microsoft Project 2000?

Capossela: We’ve added an array of enterprise functionality to Microsoft Project 2002 that will appeal to all our users — everyone from the traditional project manager, to team members working on specific tasks across projects, to executive stakeholders who need a birds-eye view of the status and costs of all the projects in their organization. Also with Microsoft Project 2002, we’re introducing a family of products, including a new version of the world’s leading desktop project manager (Microsoft Project 2002 Standard), as well as a powerful new server product called Microsoft Project Server 2002.

By introducing a server product built on Microsoft SQL Server 2000, we’re enabling customers to manage a single, central pool of resources across all the projects in their enterprise, so they can easily understand what new projects they can take on and how they can finish their current projects faster by, for example, adding more people to them. Microsoft Project Server also integrates with SharePoint Team Services to enable compelling collaboration scenarios (by using a browser and Microsoft Project Web Access) that weren’t possible before.

PressPass: How does Microsoft know that business people want enterprise functionality in their project management solutions?

Capossela: In developing Microsoft Project 2002, we focused a tremendous amount of energy on understanding how customers are evolving project management from something that individual groups do to something that’s an integral part of the line-of-business applications spanning their entire enterprise. As today’s business executives face tight economic times, they want a better grasp of what’s driving costs throughout their organization. Which projects are the most costly? Which projects are running late? Microsoft Project 2002 gives customers insight into how their resources are being used, and provides the modeling tools needed for ‘what-if’ analysis, so they can understand the best way to deploy resources across various projects. We’re excited to be delivering these capabilities to customers for the first time.

PressPass: Does Microsoft Project break new ground for developers?

Capossela: We’re thrilled at the amount of interest we’re seeing in Microsoft Project 2002 from partners and developers. While we’ve continued to invest in the extensibility of Microsoft Project, we’re especially excited about the possibilities for new solutions built on Microsoft Project Server. With a SOAP interface and documented schema, Microsoft Project Server can serve as a platform for business applications where project and resource management are key components.

On the client side, the most exciting new area for developers is the Project Guide that’s part of Microsoft Project 2002 Standard. The Project Guide is a new element of the Microsoft Project user interface that eases users through building a project. It explains, step by step, how to enter and link tasks, how to create and assign resources, how to track the status of a project, and so forth. And, because the Project Guide is customizable via XML and HTML, developers can easily build their own content for specific methodologies.

PressPass: What feedback have you received from partners on Microsoft Project 2002?

Capossela: Partners have been highly enthusiastic about Microsoft Project 2002, and the partner opportunity to help customers plan and implement their project management solutions has never been better. Having a strong partner community is critical for Microsoft Project 2002, because an effective solution needs to combine great technology with thoughtful planning and training. Now that Microsoft Project is ready for the enterprise, partners are excited about helping customers understand what’s possible.

At present, we have more than 235 Microsoft Project partners on board, and many of them are building solutions on top of the Microsoft Project 2002 platform. This provides us with a strong product and customer feedback loop. We’ve also brought key partners through our Microsoft Project porting lab in Redmond, both to help them finish their Microsoft Project 2002-based solutions and to put our product through as much real-world application testing as possible before it ships.

PressPass: Why does Microsoft invest resources in building better project management software? How does Microsoft Project 2002 synch up with the company’s overall business strategy?

Capossela: Microsoft has always been focused on empowering people through great software, and Microsoft Project has a rich history of delivering on that vision. Historically, we’ve provided knowledge workers with best-of-breed desktop project management tools. Now, as Microsoft’s core platform products, such as Windows Servers and Microsoft SQL Server, have evolved into world-class enterprise platforms, we’re capitalizing on those platforms to build the next generation of project management solutions that customers are demanding for the enterprise. It’s an exciting transition in the product’s lifecycle, and customer and analyst reaction has been extremely encouraging.

PressPass: What has Microsoft done to address the concerns of customers who viewed earlier editions of Microsoft Project as being too difficult for the average business user to master?

Capossela: With Microsoft Project 2002, we’ve made ease of use a priority for the three key types of workers who are typically involved with project management. At the enterprise level, the new portfolio modeling tools of Microsoft Project Server make it easier for executives or key stakeholders to look across all their projects and check status, track costs and model how they can rebalance resources to more effectively deliver on their top priorities. These modeling tools, which are accessed via the browser through Microsoft Project Web Access, are simple to use but incredibly powerful, enabling enterprise customers to more successfully manage their organization.

We’ve also added features that make it much easier for project managers to understand how to be effective with Microsoft Project. The Project Guide is the ideal way to learn how to use the product quickly because it lets you realize the benefits of Microsoft Project without needing to master the science of project management. The Project Guide also exposes some of the functions that even experienced users of Microsoft Project may not have been aware of. And finally, we’ve also made it easier for project managers to understand how Microsoft Project is scheduling their tasks and what trade-offs they might make by adding more resources or changing dates on their tasks through the use of smart tags introduced with Microsoft Office XP.

To promote ease of use for project team members who do the actual work on a project and then report back on their progress, we’ve completely redesigned Microsoft Project Web Access. We’ve incorporated SharePoint Team Services so everyone can easily collaborate on documents, drawings and expense reports and relate them to projects or tasks from the same site they use to update their progress on their projects.

By building Microsoft Project 2002 on top of solid building blocks such as Windows Server, Microsoft SQL Server and SharePoint Team Services, we’ve been able to focus on delivering powerful enterprise capabilities and still make the product easier for all our users.

PressPass: What’s the advantage to customers of Microsoft Project 2002 being split into multiple products?

Capossela: With Microsoft Project 2002, we’ve created a family of products that work well together and provide customers with the flexibility to pick the right set of functionality for their specific needs. Because Microsoft Project 2002 will be a key part of complex enterprise solutions, we needed to provide more than a one-size-fits-all approach. Traditional desktop project managers can move up to Microsoft Project 2002 Standard without having to invest in enterprise functionality such as portfolio modeling, enterprise resource pools and skills-based resource replacement. Customers who do want that higher-end functionality can move to Microsoft Project 2002 Professional and Microsoft Project Server 2002. When users want to bring more team members into a project so they can report their progress and collaborate on projects, they can just point their browser to the Microsoft Project Server to use Microsoft Project Web Access. The big advantage to having a family of products is that now customers can choose the technology they need for the solution they want.

PressPass: What role does Microsoft Project Server play in the overall project management solution?

Capossela: Microsoft Project Server is probably the most critical piece of the Microsoft Project 2002 family because it’s at the heart of every enterprise feature in the product, and it extends project information and tools to the entire organization. Thanks to Microsoft Project Server, customers can store all their projects in one place to make analysis and reporting across those projects easy. Microsoft Project Server also makes it possible for customers to store all of their resources in a centralized resource pool, so it’s a snap to work with those resources across all of an organization’s projects.

Microsoft Project Server enables team members to play a more integral role in a project by providing them with a browser-based user interface, Microsoft Project Web Access, which makes new collaboration scenarios possible. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of Microsoft Project Server to providing a scalable, enterprise-ready project management solution.

PressPass: How well do you think Microsoft Project 2002 competes with other project management solutions available today?

Capossela: We think we have an offering unlike any other on the market. Microsoft Project 2002 is an excellent planning tool with unparalleled ease of use, integrated collaboration and high-end enterprise project management functionality. No other vendor offers similar breadth. The product’s enterprise capabilities, combined with a value-based pricing model, will make enterprise project management more affordable and attractive for customers worldwide.

PressPass: How does this release advance Microsoft’s vision for the project management field?

Capossela: We believe that Microsoft Project 2002 will enable companies to make project management a critical business application across their enterprise. Project management can be a core discipline that every large company uses to bring its products and services to market more efficiently. In the past few years, large companies have recognized that standard business applications such as accounting systems, HR systems and customer management systems can deliver excellent advantages by providing centralized databases and standards that everyone can use. Project management has a big role to play by integrating into these systems and bringing unparalleled visibility and collaboration to a company’s projects. Microsoft Project 2002 is the first step in realizing this vision, and we’re eager to get the product in customers’ hands and see what they can do with it.

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