Interviews

Build Efficiencies With Microsoft Project

Microsoft Project

Project, the flexible web-based project management tool from Microsoft, has been upgraded. Chris Pond, David Lean and Elaine Sharp from Microsoft Gold partner CPS, explain why that’s great news for their clients, plus how they integrate Microsoft’s software to make their own organisation more efficient and profitable.

Tell us about CPS

[CP] We help organisations change and improve, and this is [typically] supported by implementing Microsoft technologies. We assess each client’s unique set of requirements, select the most appropriate Microsoft solutions that will boost their business, and support adoption through training and advice.

As a business, we started life as project management specialists, but we have diversified into the full suite of Microsoft products. Today we are roughly 50/50 split between Project for the web capabilities and support, and other implementations such as Microsoft Teams, Power Platform, Microsoft 365 and Dynamics 365.

How do you work with the Microsoft stack?

[CP] In two ways. First, we help companies find the right Microsoft tools. For example, a client might be looking to implement Project online to help them better manage their project processes, resources, costs and scheduling. We then provide services to go and deliver those capabilities.

We also use Microsoft technology in-house, which keeps us on track of updates and also helps to run CPS efficiently. We use Project to schedule our resources and better understand our end-to-end sales pipeline. By integrating the data with Dynamics 365 for Sales, Microsoft Power BI and Azure SQL, we can plan how to service all the work we do, now and in future.

[DL] It’s vital for a business like ours to plan. We need to know when a piece of work goes from ‘potential’ to ‘live’ and to tie all our business operations together to get an overarching view of the whole.

The leads and opportunities come through Dynamics 365 Sales. Once they hit a certain probability, it triggers alerts and we create a project schedule off the back of that. We assign resources; an engagement lead and a technical lead. They deliver the project, keeping the resources they are using in detailed project plans.

They use the time sheet system in Project when they are completing the work. That goes through the approval stage and then at month-end we go through a billing cycle to validate the work in our plans. That information goes to finance. All the data is matched up and we can use it to create reports and new project plans. It has become a really streamlined process for CPS.

Project Online sits beneath the professional services side of our organisation; we use it to run all our reports and all forecasting, utilisation reports and billing. It is pivotal to running our company.

What kind of things impress you about Project?

[CP] It has really opened up project management to a wider audience. Whereas in the past, marketing teams might have said they don’t run projects, or they do but don’t need a project management tool, now we are starting to see greater adoption.

[ES] An event is a really good example. We run an exhibition, for which we need to know who will be running the stand, who will deliver what; the logos have to be with the organiser by a certain date, the purchase order has to be delivered on time. Plus, the event manual has to be created.

That one event can be broken down into a project. We’re not building HS2 here; it’s still a project with deadlines, assignments and responsibilities, to make it a success. Project comes in to its own when you need some level of collaboration across a set of tasks.

HR departments need it as well. For example, when they are on-boarding people iIt’s a project: they must undertake certain tasks at a certain time. So, it can be used in a lot of new areas in a business for people who don’t think they are working on a project and consider it just ‘things they have to do’.

So Project is more accessible for people uncomfortable with the term ‘project management’?

[DL] It’s great for ‘accidental project managers’, and it is also scalable for bigger, more complex work.

[CP] If we can bring these groups of people into a centralised view, it helps everyone, because then we can start to use tools like Roadmap, which comes as a capability within Project. It allows you to roll up multiple projects so you can see key milestones and get a singular view of everything. It’s about making people’s working life easier and better.

Many of our customers are interested in reporting. At a click of a button, they want to be able to say, ‘this is what my set of projects look like, here’s when they start and end, plus should I add some resource or cost into them?’.

Project is really good, because you can stand up that information quickly and derive value from Day One.

[DL] It works at every level of our business, from the MD who can get a view of the business whenever he likes. He doesn’t have to come to me and ask for a report every month. The professional services director can see what his team are doing and who is currently on the bench. Someone like me can see if there is a five-day overspend, where is the risk and if we can close off a project. All this is instant.

What is the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the way you approach projects?

[CP] We run a lot of workshops, which is something we would normally do in person. With Teams, we’ve rejigged how we run our projects. In a workshop scenario, for example, we can run hourly sessions with 15-minute breaks.

[ES] We ran a Power App “App In A Day” session the other day which 24 people attended. The feedback was all fours and fives out of five. It has worked really well.

[DL] Apart from the physical reality of getting used to the new situation, nothing has really changed for me. We can run all our processes from anywhere. It is all online, so having a robust system is more important than ever.

What tips do you have for companies looking to implement Project?

[CP] If you have more visibility, not only will you reduce risk, but you’re goin  to improve efficiency, which means making more money and reducing costs.

[DL] We run a lot of projects and we see so much value how people adopt software like Project. It’s more than giving someone a tool and a report that they might be able to run. The user base is crucial: how are you going to get people to use it? Adoption is key.

We know the key milestones of delivering a new solution in a large company and we know it works best when it is adopted properly. Then the investment really pays dividends.

Dan Matthews
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