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M2: Analysis of Comparable Project Planning/Management Offerings

M2 Product/Service Profile: Microsoft Project 2000 / Microsoft Project Central

Date: 16 Aug 2000

Copyright (c) 2000 Frank Castellucci
All Rights Reserved

Associated project: Specification Writing for Web-based Project Planning Software

Project URL: http://sohodojo.com/techsig/project-planning-project.html

sXc Project detail: http://sourcexchange.com/ProjectDetail?projectID=24 (SourceXchange is out of business.)

Project coordination: Sohodojo

Sponsors: Position open

Sponsors (M1-3): Opendesk.com and Collab.Net

Core Team: Jim Salmons and Frank Castellucci

1 Overview

The intent of this document is to provide feedback from analysis of products that are comparable to the general goals of the project. The focus is on key technological areas with an overriding concern in regards to role collaboration capability.

2 Product/Service Profile [ All assessments, this topic ]

2.1 Name of offering

Microsoft Project 2000 / Microsoft Project Central

2.2 Publisher/Author/Service-provider


2.3 URL for more information


2.4 Type - one or more of local client, client/server, web service, etc.

Three (3) tier thin client with central server for organization intranet.

2.5 Pricing/Availability

See web site for single/volume licenses.

2.6 Assessment based on hands-on experience or info-only?

The author has working experience with the Microsoft Project, the Project Central information, however, was extracted from a number of documents provided on the Microsoft web-site.

2.7 Reviewer comments

The impetus for Project 24, as I understand it, was "for creating a web-based, open source, collaborative, project planning system like Microsoft Project". It would seem reasonable that most people understand what MS Project is and does. The remainder of this document will focus on the Project Central features that enable a web based collaborative/shared MS Project effort in an organization.

3 System Constraints [ All assessments, this topic ]

3.1 Physical Limitations

No comment.

3.2 Software Limitations (operating systems, plug-ins, drivers)

Microsoft Project 2000:

  • Computer/Processor - PC with a Pentium 75 MHz or higher processor
  • Hard Disk 30-204 MB of available hard-disk space (30 MB for typical installation on system running Windows NT Workstation 4.0 with Microsoft Office 2000 installed; 204 MB for full installation on similar system without Office 2000 installed.)
  • Drive For Windows 95 or Windows 98: - 16 MB of RAM for the operating system, plus an additional 8 MB of RAM for Microsoft Project For Windows 2000 or Windows NT Workstation version 4.0 or later with Service Pack 3 or later: - 32 MB of RAM for the operating system, plus an additional 8 MB of RAM for Microsoft Project
  • Operating System Microsoft Windows® 95, Windows 98, or Windows 2000 operating system, or Microsoft Windows NT® Workstation operating system version 4.0 or later with Service Pack 3 or later

Project Central Client:

  • An additional 10-20 MB of available hard-disk space.

Microsoft Project Central Server:
A PC with same configuration as Project 2000, with these exceptions:

  • PC with Pentium 200 MHz or higher processor
  • Windows 2000 Server or Windows NT Server version 4.0 with Service Pack 3 or later, and Windows NT 4.0 Option Pack
  • At least 128 MB of RAM
  • 100-150 MB of available hard-disk space

Additional items or services required to use certain features:

  • 9600 baud modem; 14,400 or higher-baud modem recommended
  • Multimedia computer required to access sound and other multimedia effects
  • Some Internet functionality may require Internet access and payment of a separate fee to a service provider
  • Windows-compatible network and MAPI-compliant mail systems required for mail functions
  • Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 3 or later,
  • Internet Information Server 4.0
  • SQL Server(tm) 7.0, Oracle 8.x, or shipped Microsoft Database Engine required for Web-enabled workgroup functions
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.01 or later or the shipped browser module for Microsoft Project Central required for Microsoft Project Central access.

3.3 Implementation Limitations (number of projects, tasks per projects, users, roles)


3.4 Does the software assume a specific project management methodology, if so which one(s)?

While it does not assume a methodology throughout the system, there is a accept/deny/continue model (which can be disabled) and it does support programmatic extensions in all areas and events to enforce the business processing rules of an organization.

3.5 Reviewer Comments

The system requirements are very reasonable, but of course it is closed source and therefore not a "seed" potential.

4 Collaboration [ All assessments, this topic ]

4.1 What is the interaction model? (Real-time dynamic views, publish/subscribe, email, user queries, etc.)

Real time dynamic views, e-mail, user queries, user defined icons for customized fields, user defined publish/subscribe web definition. Project Object Model access via Visual Basic, and COM development and addition to the framework.

4.2 When used in project planning mode, is team communication supported?

Yes, communication is supported throughout the entire suite. With extensions for e-mail, annotation, and htmp/asp pages. Collaboration at the task level can be accomplished through defining additional attributes of the task, and rules associated with the events that can be generated when the content changes. The rules would/could include the ability to send as a message through e-mail, auto-accept/deny, and so on.

4.3 When used in project monitoring mode (more modest a target than project management), how is team member interaction handled? ('project-manager -centric' or peer interaction; is there an ad hoc issue management facility, etc.)

There is a support bridge through MS Outlook messaging and collaboration client which facilitates interaction for team members.

4.4 What are the 'key indicators' used to keep project team members and stakeholders informed of the state of the project?

Top to bottom reporting, views, drill downs, triggers, visual indicators, costs overun analysis. Project Managers can send "status requests", with guided field definitions to team members.

Higher level stakeholders are provided with an action oriented view of project information, clear summaries of all projecs across the enterprise, with stop light indicators that provide real time status at a glance. Time and budget views allow development managers to see how projects are performing.

For individuals, defined to the system as users, custom defined portfolios can be accessed which allow dynamic filtering and grouping of project/task/resource information.

4.5 Does the product or service's concurrency features facilitate or hinder team member collaboration?

Fully facilitates the team member peer and management collaboration.

4.6 Security features

Before users can access project data, they must have an account on the Project Central server.

Accounts may be setup by the project administrator or created automatically when the project manager sens the user a TeamAssign message. The project administrator oversees account management, adding and removing users from projects, assigning users to groups and roles, and determining what data will be available to each users.

To ensure security, Project Central support both Windows NT Authentication and its own authentication scheme, which uses username/password pairs maintained by Project Central. Using both is the default behavior.

4.7 Reviewer Comments

Microsoft has provided a very flexible and powerful framework for cusomtization to extend the collaboration functionality to any direction the enterprise desires. This is the theme throughout the Project 2000 and Project Central system.

5 Role Support [ All assessments, this topic ]

A Role characterizes the system participants of in terms of responsibility. A role can be people or other systems. For example, a developer is a role that has different responsibility than a SQA tester. In this section, we will provide what provisions the system under review provides for describing the person/role, and what processing rules that it may imply.

5.1 What is the 'person/role' model?

There are four (4) general roles defined in the tools:

  • Project Manager - responsible for planning and scheduling and for maintaining the project plan.

  • Team Members - workers identified as resources within the project plan, with the primary goal to deliver on commitments.

  • Resource and Team Managers - those responsible for assigning resource to a project or to a summary task within a project and/or assessing organizational staffing needs. In addition, the tools provide features that enable assignment and delegation of work among functional teams in support of a larger, multidisciplinary project.

  • Senior Manager/Stakeholder - anyone with an interest in the status of one or more projects accross the enterprise.

5.2 How are 'person/role' elements related to 'organization/group' elements?

Through resource groupings, resource pools, enterprise codes, and custom fields.

5.3 Can one person fill many roles? Can one role be filled by many persons? (resource/skill pools, etc.)

Yes and yes.

5.4 Reviewer Comments

While there are no suprises here, the addition of the Project Central fully facilitates the inclusion of all stakeholders of the project(s) across the enterprise and user community. This is essential functionality. But this also emphasis the need for more intelligent role modelng and support for internet/extranet access on a global scale. While the Project 2000 roles are clearly fundemental to project planning and status, and the many "types" of these that truley exist, roles such as analysis,and design and requirements are but a taste of what else should be considered.

6 Concurrency [ All assessments, this topic ]

Concurrency is defined by the implementations locking and transaction model. As such, the granularity of the locking will determine the liveliness of the system. The finer the granularity of locking, the more lively the interactions may be. Another aspect of concurrency is in regards to work-flow and the transaction model, does the system support "conversational or long-term transactions" for example.

Concurrency is defined by the implementations locking and transaction model. As such, the granularity of the locking will determine the liveliness of the system. The finer the granularity of locking, the more lively the interactions may be. Another aspect of concurrency is in regards to work-flow and the transaction model, does the system support "conversational or long-term transactions" for example.

6.1 Single or multi-user


6.2 What is the implementation technology supporting concurrency?

Centralized database on networked servers. Thin client user interface enabling server side logic modules.

6.3 Revision Management

Functionality not defined.

6.4 Reviewer Comments

As expected for a multiuser system.

7 Accessibility [ All assessments, this topic ]

In this section, we wan't to capture how accessable the system is from both a human interaction capability as well as support for the interchange of information from other systems.

7.1 Web-based


7.2 Interchanges support (MS Project, XML, RDF, etc.)

Project 2000 and Project Central support extendability at the server level (as project data is stored in SQL92 compliant form) and is therefore accessable to any specialized input/output systems (ODBC, COM, etc.).

7.3 Import/Export (MS Project, text, etc.)

Details not available at this time although certainly import/export to other vendor project tools has long been a staple of Microsoft Project.

7.4 Mobile Users

Web access, RAS (Remote Access Services), and offline work synchronized with central server on reconnect.

7.5 Reviewer Comments

As expected. In addition, there is the content accessability aspect in regards to business processing that is not itemized in the outline, but Project 2000 supports rule definitions for every activity associated with project data manipulation. This adds a significant benefit to overall project management capability.

8 Project Proposal Management [ All assessments, this topic ]

Is there a business processing rule that supports the tenet that before a project there is a proposal? If so, what are the processing rules that govern it's description and acceptance?

8.1 Vision/Goals specification

Functionality not supported in tool.

8.2 Business Processing Rules

Functionality not supported in tool.

8.3 Implementation Specific Rules

Functionality not supported in tool.

8.4 Reviewer Comments

9 Requirements Management [ All assessments, this topic ]

The tasks of creating a software system are usually (but not always) bound to initial requirements elucidated by analysis of the problem space. To what extent, if any, does the system under review support the requirement phase of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)?

9.1 Documentation Controls

Functionality not supported in tool.

9.2 Relationship to Task Management

Functionality not supported in tool.

9.3 Implementation Specific Rules

Functionality not supported in tool.

9.4 Business Processing Rules

Functionality not supported in tool.

9.5 Reviewer Comments

10 Task Management [ All assessments, this topic ]

10.1 What is the 'activity/task' model?

Project 2000 further defines the task model, including:

  • Summary Tasks and decompositional elements
  • Milestone designations
  • Multiple resource assignment
  • Critical / Non-Critical path in project
  • Critical / Non-Critical paths through project portfolio.
  • Task dependency constraints
  • Time phased availability constraints
  • Resource constraints
  • Task Delegation

10.2 How are roles related to activity/tasks?

Resource Managers assign resources (team members). Team members maintain information on tasks assigned to them.

10.3 Is the product/service 'project-manager-centric' or can team members extend and/refine the plan within the realm of their own activity?

Project 2000 and Project central enable "bottom up" scheduling.

With this model, project managers create the initial project plan using summary tasks, and team members or lead creates the tasks or subtasks beneath the summary task, and may delegate these tasks to the appropriate team members. The proposed tasks are then sent to the project manager, who can review individual tasks, as well as delegations and assignments, before accepting them in the master project plan.

Task delegation is controlled by the project administrator, and can specify which projects and resources this is allowed for.

10.4 Views: Predefined, user-configurable or both

Between Project 2000 and Project Central, users can view all aspects of the project in real-time using pre-defined views, or fully customized views can be created.

Default views include:

  • Gantt Charts
  • Pert Charts (called network views)
  • Time Sheets
  • Personal Gantt charts
  • Resource Calendars
  • Resource Pools
  • Task Calendars
  • Consumable Resources
  • Non-working time

10.5 Status reporting mechanisms (percent complete reports, 'flag-raising' or issue management features)

Default views indicate overruns (time, cost, availability, etc.) using a number of graphical indicators to alert viewers of project status. In addition, custom indicators can be attached to custom field content.

10.6 How are consumable/required task-specific resources handled?

Consumable goods (materials) can be specified as resources and assigned to tasks.

10.7 Reviewer Comments

The maturity of Project, coupled with new features keeps this project planning aspect ahead of the pack. Microsoft has shown, with this release, that collaborative, informative, and useful project planning tools can be enabled across the globe without sacrificing functionality.

11 Task Constraints [ All assessments, this topic ]

11.1 Task Dependency Internal (intra-project)

Fully implemented.

11.2 Task Dependency External (inter-project)

Fully implemented.

11.3 Resource constraints (expressed as percentage)

As would be expected, with a very cool new feature call "Contoured Resource Availability" . With this feature, users can create plans that incorporate time-phased resource availability information. For example, they can show that a resource's availability increases from 50 percent to 100 percent from one period of time to another.

11.4 User defined constraints

Not a feature of the product, but can be implemented over the data/logic layer. For example, further semantic validation according to business processing rules.

11.5 Reviewer Comments

In addition to the standard constraints, and the flexibility of the newer features, coupled with the constraint satisfaction engine that has been a staple of this product line for years, Project is the ideal model of what can/should be defined in a project planning/task management system specification.

12 Reporting [ All assessments, this topic ]

12.1 Pre-defined, user-defined or both

Between Project 2000 and Project Central, users can view reports on all aspects of the project in real-time using pre-defined reports with full customization capability. In addition, as the data is centrally stored, organizationaly defined reports can be created.

12.2 Publisher-push by project manager or team member dynamic views?

Both fully supported.

12.3 Stakeholder-specific views?

Fully supported through Project Central.

12.4 Multi-project analysis

Fully supported through Project Central.

12.5 What-if analysis

Full resource leveling and recalculation model with two-phase commit and baseline protection to protect master project from accidental corruption.

12.6 Security features

Controlled through user administration.

12.7 Reviewer Comments

In addition to this, Project 2000 and Project Central can be fully customized, from views to the entire interface of the implementation, using templates and HTML/ASP programming.

13 Multi-project Management [ All assessments, this topic ]

13.1 Role Template library?

Resource pools are supported across the enterprise, and enable through Project Central.

13.2 Repetitive Task library?

Task templates are support across the enterprise, and enable through Project Central.

13.3 Reviewer Comments

Must have feature for every project management tool.

14 Post Mortem [ All assessments, this topic ]

It is often desirable to look back upon a completed project and enumerate what problems arose, the quality of how they were handled, and a gauge to the positive or negative effect on the baseline plan. This is primarily used as an quality accounting about the software development process.

14.1 Analysis and Reporting

While the tools certainly have a plethora of devices to report on "success/failure" aspects of a project, there is no explicit feature for supporting post mortem.

14.2 Is there an interface to a 'reputation-building' rating system for team members? If so, is there a 'disputed assessment' system to resolve conflicting opinions.

Functionality not defined.

14.3 Reviewer Comments

A shame, given their reputation for a project management system that this is still no-where on the product radar.

15 Subjective Impressions [ All assessments, this topic ]

15.1 User Interface: Strengths/Weaknesses

The variety of interfaces (web based, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Office based) will fit most peoples needs or tastes, and that the web interface is fully configurable, there is nothing but strength in this product.

15.2 Project Modeling: Strengths/Weaknesses

While what is available is the best you can get, the lack of Requirements Engineering and Post Mortem analysis functions require enablement work after the installation.

15.3 Technology Platform: Strengths/Weaknesses

Both it's strength and weakness lie in the "Windows Only" mentality for the majority of functionality. But the accessability to the central server, being open, enables other technologies to participate in the organizations software development life cycle requirements.

15.4 Overall 'Wow' factor: 1 (low) to 5 (high)

SDLC = 3, Project Planning = 5, Project Management = 4, Product Development = 0, Product Maintenance = 0

15.5 Reviewer Comments



Version 1.0 - Final

### end of sxc24-m2-msproject-comparables.txt (Version 1.0) ###

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