010-The Sweet Irony of Failed MS Project Server Implementations

010-The Sweet Irony of Failed MS Project Server Implementations

Microsoft Project Professional client is a staple in the industry, and is probably where most of learned what a GANTT chart is. But what about the online version for teams, Project Server? It seems to be the default PPM solution organizations think about when considering PPM, but Is it really all that? Anecdotally, a lot of organizations fail with the product. But is it the product’s fault? And why is that failure so ironic? And what other options are there out in the market?


User mail this week is from Mark K, who asks how to manage and get alignment on “big” personalities.


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Show Notes

Today we are going to talk a little bit about Project and Portfolio Management Tools. We’ll have more episodes on PPM tools in the future, but today we’re going to discuss mostly at a high level and about one scenario where organizations too often go horribly wrong – Failed Microsoft Project Server Implementations.

Nearly every project organization we have ever worked with has tried to implement Project Server at one time or another. Not one of them has ever succeeded.

So, if you are listening to this podcast, you’re probably in one of three camps:

  • You have felt the pain of failed MSP server implementations
  • You will in the future feel the pain of failed MSP server implementations
  • Or, you have a fantastic experience with MSP, in which case, seriously, please, please contact us at podcast@pmhappyhour.com – We would honestly be very interested in your story.

Why does Microsoft Project Server suck so bad? [8:52]

We’re not saying Microsoft Project Server necessarily “sucks”. For Microsoft to continue investing so much time and effort into the product for so long, we’re sure someone somewhere is using it successfully.

What we are saying is that we’ve never met anyone who has been successful with it, nor have we even met anyone who’s  known someone who has. But we have met scores and scores of companies that have dumped tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars into Project Server, only to scrap it all. And, we don’t think that’s all the fault of the product.

So, today, we want to talk a bit about this, in hopes that organizations can avoid this pain, or similar pain, in the future.

Why does Project Server suck? [11:12]

Project server pretty much does what it says it does if you read what’s on the tin. The problem is that the decision to use MSPJ is often not given enough thought. People think, “Hey, we use the Project Professional client and it does that job OK, so Project Server must just be that much more awesome!”

Plus, Microsoft doesn’t try to dissuade the scores of eager PM-ish teams from implementing its “Enterprise Project Management (EPM) solution.”

The fundamental problem with Project Server is that it typically can’t do the basic things that a PPM tool needs to do for a PM team.

The trick is, we know that projects don’t exist in isolation. You need to know which platform best fits for your project so you won’t be in a position where you’ll be getting a lot of add-ons just to get the result you need.

Is that really Microsoft’s fault? [15:04]

No. The sweet irony is that the failures we’ve seen are because the Project Management Team failed to manage the project to implement the Project Management Software. It all comes down to requirements’ management and adoption.

The people who are using the application sadly didn’t do their homework before selecting the software. If they had gone through a sound tool selection project with documented requirements matched against the available options, we contend that very few people would implement Project Server.

Should we not use Project Server? [20:06]

Project server pretty much does what it says it does on the tin. Before you buy it and go through the pain of implementing it, follow sound project principles and gather your requirements, evaluate (and try out) the options, then select the right solution. Our bet is that it won’t end up being Project Server.

This honestly isn’t a podcast about bashing MSPJ server. It’s about making sure we look closely at a PPM tool, and not just assume that MSPJ – or any other service – is just going to do the trick.

PPM Tool Marketplace [21:10]

When it comes to the PPM tool landscape, it used to be that you were on one end or the other of the extreme. Either you:

  1. You had no dedicated PPM tool and made due with your MSPJ Pro client software, spreadsheets, and a shared drive.
  2. You had a very large and complex PPM tool that is incredibly complex and expensive

There are now some great options for SaaS-based PPM tools in the marketplace that fill that gap. They are affordable, easy to use and extremely powerful. If you haven’t looked at a tool in a long time, it’s time to revisit it, whether you are still in the “no ppm/broken ppm” position, or if you are using a very complex and expensive solution, and looking for something more manageable.

What’s super cool about these tools is that because you have the schedule, resource pool, budget, and risks, your triple constraints don’t get disconnected. You cannot extend the project by a month and forget to tell staffing and forget to update your financial forecast.

When something is off on your project, you can have rules that automatically open risks and raise them to the appropriate level in the organization.

Is tool migration worth the pain? [25:16]

Yes, absolutely. A well-implemented PPM is not going to give you all the answers. What it will do is help you understand what questions you need to be asking.

  • Instead of asking, “what are my people doing? I know they are busy, but stuff isn’t getting done!” You will find yourself asking, “Can I have 2 more headcounts? My utilization here says my team is at 120% capacity and will be for the next 18 months”
  • Instead of asking, “why the f- are we always firefighting?!”, you’ll be able to ask questions like, “I see our next milestone has three major risks. What are we doing to get those under control so they don’t impact us?”

PPM Selection [27:37]

Before you even get to the PPM tool journey, do your homework and document your requirements.

On future episodes, we will cover how you do this – where do you even start? What should you expect these tools to do? And what is unreasonable to expect. If you can’t wait, send us a message at podcast@PMHappyHour.com

Takeaways: Key Probing Questions (if you are looking at a PPM or have MSPJ installed already)

  • Is our PPM tool helping us manage our projects? Or are we a slave to it?
  • Or, is our PPM tool so much bother or the data so unreliable that nobody actually uses it? (poor adoption)
  • Did we really map our requirements to the solution capabilities?

You may be in trouble if…

  • If you cannot effectively manage your projects
  • If you don’t have a way to automatically show the impact to one of the triple constraints when another is changed; if the project goes 2 weeks longer, does that show on resource usage? Budget? Risk?
  • If you cannot manage the Portfolio as well as you can manage each individual project. Your tools should give you as good a meta-view as it does at the micro level

Principle for Success

  • If you haven’t looked in a while LOOK into the SaaS PPM world.

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    Kim Essendrup

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