Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Project Online: 2 free apps to make your admin or PMO life easier!

As Project Online admin or PMO, we know we all have some manual operations to perform on a regular basis in order to keep project data up to date or improve the overall process. Starting from Project Server 2003, I get used of spending (and asking my customer to spend) a certain time doing such time-consuming operations. Since I have no development or coding skills, I always had to rely on a technical team. It also meant to run all the way down kind of a mini-project for building admin tools: defining specifications, doing mock-up, testing, deploying, documenting (selling it to the customer...). So to earn time of administration, you spent time on developing administration tools.

Thanks God, Microsoft kept on investing, Project Online came up, the solution was more and more "sexy", the community of developers went bigger and bigger, starting playing with apps, scripts, code samples... It allowed administrators picking up apps in the Office store to make their daily jobs easier and most of all, bring added value to the native Project Online product. 

For example, when a customer says: Can I auto-publish all projects on a regular basis? Can I bulk edit project ECF in an Excel-like sheet? The answer was: "No you can't (or it'll cost you)". The answer is now: "Yes you can (and for free)".

Less job for the PMO/admin, customer happy, better sales rate for the consultant and less development, consultant happy.

This is to introduce 2 free apps I'll shorty present in this blog post. I obviously start by giving credits to my estimated colleagues who propose those apps on the Office Store:

I won't go in details on the procedure to install apps on your Project tenant, since this is child's play. Be sure to be connected to your Project tenant with your admin account. Click on the links above (or search in the Office Store the app name) and add it to your tenant. You'll get prompted with the usual dialog boxes, need to trust the app, accept the general terms, etc...

1- Bulk calculate and publish app
We all have struggled with custom fields with formulas not being calculated, such as formulas using now() functions which need to be updated each day. More generally, you can be in the tricky situation having false, empty or errored values for custom fields with formulas in the project center. Which is annoying knowing that the project center is often for manager a central point for portfolio/project data gathered among the organization. Also if the data is incorrect in the project center, it means that it is incorrect in the publish/reporting tables, consequently it'll also be incorrect in any type of reports (PowerBI, Excel, SSRS).
Solution is? Publishing projects of course! Here is where you don't have to do some PowerShell anymore to bulk publish projects. The app from PPM WORKS, once installed, allows the administrator to schedule on a regular basis (hourly, daily, weekly) your projects. You can set up email notifications entering emails separated by commas (it can be non-O365 email!!).
Another strength of the app is that it creates an "auto publish" project ECF so it will auto publish only flagged projects. 
Isn't it nice?

I was even wondering if it could be used to publish task updates after the PM approves it in the approval center. Digging this question and I'll come back asap with an answer.

2- Bulk edit app
Next question is: ok, I have scheduled my auto publish job with this nice app, but I now need to flag all my projects with the auto publish ECF!!! 800 projects need to be opened, checked-out, flagged, saved, published, checked-in. Let's say 20 seconds per projects, it makes almost 4.5hrs to update all projects. OMG!
More generally, if you're PMO or admin, it might happen for example to add a custom field to integrate a new need on an existing Project instance. So you also need to enter the new value for projects. For financial control, you might have cost ECF and update them on a monthly basis for reporting purpose.
Martin's app from NearBaseline allows you the bulk update your projects ECF in an Excel-like sheet. You first have to select the custom fields you want to display. Then just update the value. Some nice features :
  • Green check mark to show that the update has been published,
  • Possibility to defer updates,
  • Force check-in,
  • Possibility to extend cell's values like in Excel.

Interesting to check the queue while editing a project: you'll find the update, publish, reporting and check-in jobs processed. You might also see the "Synchronize Managed Project With Task List" in case it is activated on the project's EPT.

That was just 2 examples of the free apps you can find on the Office Store. Keep in mind that the community is more and more active and you'll find more and more apps or 3rd-party solutions which will be great added value for your customer, and great selling arguments for you.

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