Thus far, the SharePoint conference has been full of conversations surrounding the Project Server and how it fits into the vision of this release cycle. From the pre-con session, to mentions in the keynote and a full set of sessions, Microsoft has proven that it is committed and will be coming out strong with their new release. 

I had the opportunity to chat with both Chris Crane, Director of Product Marketing for Project and Visio and Jeff Teper, Corporate VP from the Office Division, responsible for the new release of SharePoint, concerning some of the new features available. In these discussions, we not only discussed the new features, but also future visions for the product. 

Built for the 90% of Project Users

One conversation from the event that continues to stick with me is that of the importance in making Project Server available to users that don't currently have the resources -- or access -- to the tool set.

Project, while being a very successful business for Microsoft, is only touching on a small part of its potential. With this release, they hope to overcome that gap and bring down some of the entry point barriers. This happens in many places, the investment required to fully utilize the tools in Project Server doesn't always align with the organization.

In fact, many organizations see Project Server as a great tool they may eventually take advantage of, but, in the meantime, utilize another solution -- such as basic SharePoint sites -- to manage their projects. The plan is to eventually grow into the more complex features available, but the plan is typically underdeveloped and results in slow forward motion concerning the new tool.

What makes this release of Project Server so great is that it is aimed at the organizations described above. The tool now makes this concept of “growing up” into advanced solutions part of the everyday process. If you start a project using a simple SharePoint site and then later decide additional controls are needed you can easily incorporate all of the content when you go through the process of creating a new Project site. In fact, when you click to create a new Project site it will ask if you are starting from scratch or if you need to link it with an existing site. And the beauty of this is that since the features are all based on SharePoint, a task list remains a task list. Users won’t really see that they have moved to a new solution because it will be consistent with what they were already using. A solution that allows you to add additional complexity without upsetting the apple cart for the users, YES PLEASE!

Imagine, users are empowered to build SharePoint sites for collaboration. As the sites are created, IT discovers that there is a solution in the environment that is being used to run a project. The person who did this, likely did this by accident, or quite possibly when the project started it might not have been a key initiative or one that was required to be included in the organizations Portfolio of Projects. But, like all things in the organization, the circumstances change and now the project needs to be escalated to a new set of management tools. In this new scenario, the existing site can be easily incorporated into a Project Server site. This transition will allow for easy transitions with low impact to the users. A safety net of sorts that allows for easy transition to the tools that make the most sense for the needs of the moment.

But this is just one example, you should also consider the Project Workflow action that allows you to take a list item and -- through a workflow -- create a new Project. It has never been easier to keep a running list of potential projects that can easily move to a full suite of management tools when the time is right and with little need for users to identify the need for a different solution. Instead, the workflow runs and they can be directed to the new Project and simply continue working on the items based on the life-cycle of the project.

Available within Office365

Another barrier that has been removed with this release is the ability to use Project Server resources without having to invest heavily into the infrastructure that is required to support it. Because Project Server will be available in Office 365, you will be able to access the services based on the same licensing that comes with Office 365. The exact details haven’t been released in terms of pricing, but I was assured the model would follow the same one that exists today, which is based on monthly subscription fees.

Call to Action

So what does all this mean to you, the SharePoint business user? It’s simple, the next step is to really explore the tool and take some time to see how the features available can really impact the way you work.

We all work on projects and we all collaborate using SharePoint, so now that there are new tools available, is there an opportunity to take what you are doing and do it differently? Is there an opportunity for some internal quick wins by adding a layer of tools to SharePoint that help users complete their daily tasks?

This release is not about looking at how you do it today and incorporating these latest updates -- it's more about looking at how you work and then getting access to the set of tools that naturally meet you where you are and allow you to get the best return on investment by using those tools. And because of the huge investments that Microsoft has made to this tool set, especially those focused around ease of use, fluid user interactions and powerful visual components, I believe that you will find many pleasant changes that your users will soon be begging you to use within your environment. The tools that are being released are all about you and how you work, so jump in and start exploring to see how these tools can start to empower your users in ways that weren't possible before.

Editor's Note: Follow all our conference coverage in our special #spc12 section.