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Microsoft Project Server versus Microsoft Portfolio Server

By Collin Quiring


Yes, these are very complimentary products with an extremely high amount of integration.  So, why did I use the term “versus” in the title?  Well, this entry is about the differences between the two – and why you would go with one or the other or both.  Let me be clear – both of these products are valuable and can be beneficial in numerous ways to a division of a company or the entire organization.  However, I am often asked what the difference is and when to use each of them and that is what I am going to try to briefly answer.


Definitions (from Microsoft’s site)

Project Server:

“With Microsoft Office Project Server 2007 and its clients, your organization can more effectively manage and coordinate work ranging from one-time projects to complex programs across the entire project life cycle.”


Portfolio Server:

“Microsoft Office Project Portfolio Server 2007 helps your organization realize its potential by identifying, selecting, managing, and delivering portfolios that align with your strategic priorities. Office Project Portfolio Server 2007 is a key component of the Microsoft Office Enterprise Project Management (EPM) Solution and helps ensure that you gain visibility, insight, and control across your project, program, and application portfolios.


Office Project Portfolio Server 2007 integrates with Microsoft Office Project Server 2007 to provide organizations with an end-to-end project portfolio management solution. The bidirectional gateway enables administrators to link multiple Office Project Servers to Office Project Portfolio Server 2007, providing executives with a consolidated view of all projects within the organization.”


Ok, so, what is the main difference?  Level of management and decision making ability is the principal distinction.  Portfolio is to decide WHAT projects to do and Project Server is to do the project.  These two products help with oft-used saying, ‘Choosing the right projects (Portfolio) and doing projects right (Project Server).’


It isn’t uncommon for an organization to want to implement both products at the same time and then use them try to use them both to their maximum potential.  However, I generally recommend against that because the disciplines and the processes that make Portfolio Server valuable to Executive Management is based on the data and work being done in Project Server.  This isn’t a technical issue – installing this products is relatively easy and integrating them isn’t difficult either.  This is a business issue – do you want Executives making decisions based on resource allocation when you have no idea what projects those resources are working on?


I recommend that an organization first becomes proficient at using Project Server – enabling the features that they will use such as Resource Allocation, Calendars, Data Analysis, Templates, Task Definitions, Required Fields or any of the myriad other items that a company might want to use.  Then, when they have that working to a satisfactory level they implement Portfolio Server.  Note that I did NOT say that when they have Project Server working perfectly that they start using Portfolio Server. 


Portfolio Server requires a lot of pre-thought in relation to the data that Executives want to track, understand or require prior to selecting a project.  Some data items will be required from all projects and then there are the unique projects that are exceptions – and that has to be accounted for as well.  Numerous questions must be answered from the business perspective before Portfolio Server is a valuable tool.  For example, what are the criteria that you use to determine if a project will be done or not?  Is it purely profit?  Is it time to market?  Is it resource availability?  What about governmentally mandated projects?  What about pet projects?  These and numerous other questions need to be answered before diving into Portfolio Server if you want it to be an effective tool. 


Since the level of information that each product requires and provides is the main difference, I think it worthwhile making a list of the key distinctions.  While this is not necessarily a complete list, here are the main pieces of information that each product provides. 


Project Server Information

·         Tasks

·         Projects

·         Timesheet

·         Issues

·         Risks

·         Documents

·         Activity Lists

·         Proposals

·         Status Reports

·         Resource Center

(Detailed resource information such as working calendar, rates, etc.)

·         Cube Data

(Customized reports combining various data elements)

·         Project Center

(Detailed project information such as dates, costs, etc)

·         Project Workspaces

(A SharePoint site that can contain added web parts or default items like team discussions or documents)

·         Global Information

(A centralized location for Resource Names, Schedule Templates, Customized Fields, etc)

·         User Security Settings

(Determine who has access to what – can be done very granularly if so desired )

·         Reporting Services

·         Schedule dashboards

·         Multiple Views (reports)


These all combine to allow the user, Resource Manager, Project Manager and Executive access information from a single task or single user for one schedule or all the scheduled projects on the server.  Schedules can be viewed as a standard list or in a unique view in the Project Center (and drill down on any specific schedule) or all the data available in one or more of the cubes.  The information contained in Project Server is based on what is happening with specific schedules and can be rolled up into summary reports of all the schedules on the server.  This allows for decision making on both the micro and macro level as it pertains to proposed and existing schedules and how those will affect resources, other schedules and any other (including customized) information that is tracked. 


Portfolio Server Information

·         Workflows

·         Meta-Data

·         Business Cases

·         Scorecards

·         Business Alignment

·         Documents

·         Issues

·         Risks

·         Pre-Work Estimates

·         Budgets

·         Project Server Information

·         Reporting


These all combine to allow for decisions to be made about what projects should be worked on.  Based on the criteria and the information input into the system, Portfolio Server can help recommend which projects fall within your decision matrix of which projects to work on, continue, discontinue or re-prioritize.  It allows for Executives to quickly see the entire portfolio of projects against multiple criteria.


With the combination of the two products, information flows back and forth and can provide very valuable data to make much better decisions.  However, the amount of work before using Portfolio Server must be taken into account.  And, the methodology with which you work with Project Server must be in progress before consistency can be achieved and the current status reports are of any value.


Combined, these tools make for a highly collaborative, standardized and very informative data center that Executives, Project Managers and other key personnel can use to better an organization’s portfolio and project management.



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