What are Microsoft’s Project Management Options?

Project management

Written by Dan Callahan

I'm the VP of Global Services at CGNET. I manage our Cybersecurity and Cloud Services businesses. I also provide consulting and handle a lot of project management. I wear a lot of hats. Professionally, I'm a builder of businesses. Outside of work, I'm a hobby farmer, chef, skier, dog walker, jokester, woodworker, structuralist, husband and father.

March 19, 2020

A customer asked us the other day if we could provide some information about Project for the Web, something new from Microsoft. This is a great opportunity to talk about project management options at Microsoft and elsewhere. This is one of those blog posts where the answer to a question is… “it’s complicated”. First, let’s see where we are by reviewing where we were when it comes to project management options.

When Project Meant One Thing

Back in my hot-shot days, I looked around at the millions of dollars we were investing in new product development and asked: “Why aren’t we using some kind of tool to manage all this work”? With that question I experienced a Moose Turd Pie (warning: NSFW link) series of conversations and I ultimately introduced Microsoft Project to our product development teams. Back then, your project management options were

  • Microsoft Project
  • A similarly beefy application whose name escapes me
  • A pen and a small slip of paper

You could (and still can) do some powerful stuff with Microsoft Project. However, it was going to take a fair bit of training and practice before you reached a good level of proficiency.

Today’s Project Management Options

Fast forward to today. There are lots of project management options available. Here are a few.

  • Asana
  • Smartsheets
  • Basecamp
  • Trello
  • Monday
  • Planner

These project management options might be better labeled as task management applications. They provide more than a simple To-Do list and they’re designed to facilitate a fast ramp-up in learning. They don’t offer all the functionality of a classic project management application, but does it really keep you awake at night not knowing how your Work Breakdown Structure is playing out? These applications are typically cross-platform, cloud-based and employ a board and sticky-note user interface. (It’s no accident that these apps came about at the same time as the rise of Agile software development methods).

If your project focus is on who, what and when (the task owner, the task and the task due date) any of these task management options will work well for you. If your needs extend much beyond, however, you’re going to need a more traditional project management option.

The Microsoft Project Management Options

So, what are the project management options from Microsoft? They are

  • Project Standard 2019
  • Project Professional 2019
  • Project Online Desktop Client
  • Project for the Web
  • Project Online

Let’s just agree to react to these product names with an eye-roll and move on. If you want the details, you can read about each project management option here.

Project for the Web

Project for the Web is cloud-based (natch) and is built on Microsoft’s Common Data Service model and Power Platform (fka Flow and related; Microsoft does eventually get its naming right). The UI is Kanban (board and sticky-note) based, making it easy to get started organizing a project. Assigning task owners and task dependencies is much more of a drag-and-drop exercise. And Project for the Web will figure out how long a task is going to take based on the start and end dates you supply and whatever task dependencies exist. Plus, this project management option will assemble a timeline (did someone say “Gantt Chart”?) for you, which is great.

If you need to manage one or more projects in isolation and want to get up and running quickly, this is a great project management option for you. Microsoft has also said that this is where they are going to focus their project management efforts going forward. It’s always worth paying attention to that kind of statement.

Also, be advised that Project for the Web isn’t available yet in France or South Korea.

Project Online

If you need to manage multiple projects that have interdependencies, Project Online is the project management option for you. This is also the choice if you want to do portfolio management (think: Return on Investment). There’s also a Project Essentials app that your task owners can use to check in and tell you that they’ve completed their tasks.

Project Online is built on top of SharePoint (tucked nicely into the background) and can work with the Power Platform (e.g., Power BI) if you have a subscription for that.

There is also Project Online for the Desktop. This project management option gives you an offline route to updating projects. However, don’t think that Project Online is just the online version of the Project desktop app. As this article points out, Project Online has a different feature set compared with Project for the Desktop.

There are two flavors of Project Online, with different feature sets and pricing. More on that in a moment.

Project Standard and Professional 2019

These project management options are (as you’d expect) full-featured project management tools. They also store their data in SharePoint, if you configure it that way. Project Professional can interoperate with Project Online. Project Standard 2019 is your choice is you don’t trust cloud-based apps or prefer to pay for software once vs. monthly. Project Professional 2019 is the best choice if you want to  work on and offline and want to connect into other projects.

Pricing for these Project Management Options

Project Standard 2019 costs $620 for a single-use license. Project Professional 2019 costs $1,030.

The online project management options come via three subscription plans. They are (prepare another eye-roll)

  • Project Online Plan 1
  • Project Online Plan 3
  • Project Online Plan 5

Project Online Plan 1 is Project for the Web. Cost is $10 per user per month (this and other costs noted are based on an annual subscription). Project Online Plan 3 is $30 per user per month. Think of this plan as “Project Online Standard”. Project Online Plan 5 is $55 per user per month. You can call this plan “Project Online Advanced”.

Iterating in Plain Sight

As we’ve seen with some other Microsoft cloud services (such as OneDrive and Groups/Teams) I’m expecting to see further iteration of project management options. I think there we’ll see further integration with Dynamics and Power Platform (via the Common Data Service) as well as more integration with Teams.

It’s a busy time right now in the project management world. Strap in and enjoy the ride.

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