Author: Dian Schaffhauser

Dian Schaffhauser is MPUG's editor. She's been covering project management, business transformation and topics technical as a journalist and editor since IBM released its first PC. She invites you to send your best story ideas for MPUG to her at She promises to let you know what she really thinks.

Focus: Getting Your Project People on the Same Page

Communication on a lengthy, complex project isn’t a simple matter. Multi-year initiatives can require thousands of lines of detail in a project plan. Summarizing those details in an understandable way can vex even the most versatile project manager. Yet, a huge global defense contractor faced just that challenge. As an incentive requirement of a customer contract for building large engines, the defense company needed to come up with a way to make a roadmap that would fit on a single page and still be readable. The vision was to communicate to the project stakeholders the program status, to enable them to execute decisions based on accurate, timely information. But the customer had found that without a one-page chart, people had trouble visualizing key assumptions. They couldn’t get their heads around how changes to various milestone events would affect the final delivery schedule, particularly when the project had multiple milestones being worked on by different teams. Also, there were disconnects between project management tools. The integrated master schedule and program milestone charts being generated for team and customer meetings displayed data that didn’t always synch up. Charts had variations in formatting, information, and data display. Plus, they were being created manually, which meant that each time the schedule was updated, the charts had to be recreated manually too. The defense company presented the customer with six different one-page samples, generated using Microsoft’s Visio, Excel, and PowerPoint. But, recalls Marilyn Buckelew, a planning analyst for the contractor, all of the samples were rejected. “The size of the print was too small. They couldn’t get five years’ worth of information into Excel or PowerPoint. The customer kept saying, ‘We can’t tell what’s going on. We can’t read it.'” Buckelew happened to overhear somebody from one of the teams expressing concern about yet another deadline approaching on the project without a definitive solution to the requirement of the one-page report, and she spoke up. Buckelew had been using a product called Milestones Professional from KIDASA Software for other work, and she thought it would meet the requirements forthis project as well. The primary purpose of Milestones is to generate a “bird’s eye view” of a project visually. As Buckelew explains, “You can choose the fields in Microsoft Project to pull out and display in a report giving the customer a high level visual of the project on one page.” She worked with people at both her company and the customer to develop the reports that each team would eventually produce. “It was an iterative process as the people determined the appropriate level forthe data: ‘Are these the milestones you want to see?'” she says. How A User Taps Milestones Professional Marilyn Buckelew uses KIDASA Software’s Milestones Professional in multiple ways: To create freeform master phase schedules by manually tagging the symbols. To mark events such as reviews, in the master schedule using a flag field and then run a quick report, using Milestones Professional templates. To create a top-level roadmap from multiple programs, using a refresh feature. She says this is especially useful for executive project planning. To do “what-if” scenarios that show the impact of proposed changes to the master schedule through a baseline change request. To do monthly reporting after status updates. To share schedules with customers who don’t use Microsoft Project by creating a PDF or PPT files. Now each of four teams uses Milestones monthly to generate a top-level chart created from data taken directly out of Microsoft Project plans. These are delivered to stakeholders, used in customer and team meetings, and posted to a bulletin board in the project team’s hallway, where they can be viewed and validated as people pass by. “The visual nature of the reports really helps,” she notes. “It helps people see that big picture of how things fit together. Each team is focused on what they’re doing. It’s hard to see what the different handoffs are between the teams. These reports are a great communication starter to get people to talk with each other about collaborating on dates and handoffs, especially when there are baseline change requests.” Eventually, the Milestones reporting project became a Six Sigma project, which showed that the shift from the manual chart creation to an automated approach that could be done in minutes removed $100,000 in project costs each year. The company for whom Buckelew works was able to claim the incentive reward stipulated in the contract, and,she adds,”increased customer satisfaction.” “This tool and resource provides collaborative opportunities which make a huge difference not only in my work, but in the work done by the whole team,” Buckelew says. “It helps us get on the same page. It helps us see that one view. I’ve become a huge fan of Milestones Professional.”

Microsoft Project Certification 2010 – How To Guide

If you’re using Microsoft Project Standard 2010 or Professional 2010, Microsoft has developed a totally new exam to test your capabilities. If you pass this exam, you’ll hold the credential, Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): Microsoft Project 2010,with a specialty in managing projects. If you’re wondering how well you know Microsoft Project, passing this test will validate your skills. Plus, studies performed by experts in this area have concluded that those who achieve technical certification are more effective on the job. And if you’re seeking employment, you’ll stand apart from other candidates who don’t have proven mastery of a given application and the organization that hires you can expect to reduce its training expense. In this article MPUG provides the basics of achieving your certification in Project 2010. To learn more, we offer a list of frequently-asked questions here.. The Testing Process Although at the time of this writing, the exam was still in its beta version, there are a few things we know about that are worth sharing with you. (To learn more, read the “Microsoft Project 2010 Certification Frequently-Asked Questions” article.) Prometric is doing this testing. The beta exam lasts about two hours and will have roughly 75 questions give or take a few. According to current plans, the final version will probably include about 50 questions and take 90-120 minutes. The questions will be multiple choice. And similar to a TSA-level airport screening, you won’t be able to take anything into the examination room with you. (However, you won’t be asked to remove your shoes or belt!) Regarding practice materials, for the beta, you can tap the new books that are out covering the basics of working with Project 2010. In the future Microsoft partners will provide courseware, content, and webcasts to help you prepare. For now, your best strategy for exam preparation is to refer to the following list of tasks and make sure you know how to do these functions in Project Professional 2010 and Project Standard 2010. What You Need to Know for the Project 2010 Exam The new Microsoft certification exam for Project 2010 tests your knowledge of desktop features in Project Standard 2010 and Project Professional 2010 and confirms your abilities to manage a project schedule and communicate the project to individuals, teams, and the enterprise or organization where you work. Overall, you should have experience in scheduling, communicating, collaborating on, and delivering projects using Project 2010. But let’s get specific. Following is a list of the activities you should know how to do before you tackle this exam. Initializing Project 2010 Know how to create a new project: This includes: Creating a template from a completed project Creating a project from an existing template Creating a project from an existing project Creating a project from a SharePoint task list Creating a project from a Microsoft Office Excel workbook Know how to create and maintain calendars: This includes: Setting working or non-working hours and days (exceptions and work weeks) for calendars Setting up a base calendar Setting up a resource calendar Setting hours per day Applying calendars at the project level Applying calendars at the task level Applying calendars at the resource levels Know how to create custom fields. This includes: Creating basic formulas Creating graphical indicator criteria Creating a lookup table Creating task custom fields Creating resource fields Know how to customize option settings. This includes: Customizing default task types Customizing manual vs. auto-scheduling Customizing project options Customizing calendar options (for example, working hours per day and hours per week) Customizing the ribbon Customizing a quick access toolbar (for example, settings to share with others) Creating a Task-Based Schedule Know how to set up project information. This includes: Defining the project start date Applying calendars and current date Entering project properties Displaying the project summary task on a new project Know how to create and modify a project task structure. This includes: Creating and modifying summary tasks and subtasks Rearranging tasks Creating milestones Creating manually scheduled tasks Outlining Know how to build a logical schedule model. This includes: Date constraints Deadlines Setting or changing the task mode (manual or auto) Setting dependencies (links) Know how to create a user-controlled schedule. This includes: Entering duration Entering estimated durations Entering user-controlled summary tasks Know how to manage multiple projects. This includes: Shared resource pool Links between projects Inserting sub-projects Managing Resources and Assignments Know how to enter and edit resource information. This includes: Max units Resource types Cost rate table Cost per use Availability Resource group Generic Know how to apply task types and scheduling calculations. This includes: Effort-driven tasks Formula (work = duration x units) Choosing a task type Know how to assign resources. This includes: Assigning multiple resources Assigning resources to task using units that represent part time work (vs. fulltime work) Know how to edit assignments. This includes: Task usage Resource usage Task forms Editing assignments by setting the appropriate task type Know how to manage resource allocation. This includes: Viewing availability across multiple projects Changing assignments Leveling Replacing resources (for example, resolving overallocation and replacing generics with specifics) Know how to manage resource allocations by using Team Planner. This includes: Displaying current resource allocations and assignments Managing unassigned tasks Resolving resource conflicts Leveling resource overallocations Substituting resources (moving task assignments from one resource to another) Know how to model project costs. This includes: Resource-based costs (work and materials) Cost per use Fixed costs Accrual method Tracking and Analyzing a Project Know how to set and maintain baselines. This includes: Baselining an entire project Baselining selected tasks Setting multiple baselines Updating a baseline (for example, rolling up to summary tasks) Resetting the baseline) Know how to update actual progress. This includes: Percentage completion Actual or remaining duration Actual work Remaining work Status date Current date Rescheduling uncompleted work Actual start and actual finish Actual work and usage views Cancelling an unneeded task (for example, inactivating a task, setting an active flag or zeroing out Remaining work) Know how to compare progress against a baseline. This includes: Date variance Work variance Cost variance Showing variance of the current plan against baseline (tracking Gantt) Task slippage Selecting a view to display variance Know how to resolve potential schedule problems by using the Task Inspector. This includes: Warnings and suggestions Task drivers Identifying resource overallocations Know how to display Critical Path information. This includes: Single or master projects Viewing total slack Displaying progress against deadlines Communicating Project Information Know how to apply views. This includes: Applying views Grouping Filtering Highlighting Applying auto-filter Sorting Tables Know how to customize views. This includes: Customizing views Grouping Filtering and highlighting Sorting Tables Sharing a view with the Organizer Know how to format views. This includes: Gridlines Gar styles Gantt chart styles Text styles Timeline Cell formatting Know how to share data with external sources. This includes: Creating visual reports Doing enhanced copy and paste Copying a picture Syncing to SharePoint (for example, upload schedule, sync with SharePoint list, and e-mail timeline) Attaching or linking to supporting information Exporting data to Excel Know how to print schedules and reports. This includes: Reporting a progress status Saving to PDF or XPS Printing Gantt information Reporting scheduling Reporting the timeline Printing based on date range What Are You Waiting For? Certification on technical products is an industry practice. Preparing for an exam forces you to fill in the gaps in your knowledge and passing the test helps you prove what you know (which can be a major ego booster besides — and who doesn’t need those?!). Although Project 2010 is still a new product, if you want to keep your skills sharp and your professional expertise fresh and up to date, tackling this exam from Microsoft is a great way to start. Good luck!

EPK Cost Tackles Cost Management for Microsoft Project Server

Microsoft has received kudos for integrating portfolio management features into Project Server 2010, its enterprise project management tool. What’s lesser known is that along with that integration, the company chose to drop the cost management functionality that was an important part of its previous portfolio management product, Portfolio Server. To address that feature gap, EPK Group recently launched EPK Cost, a new product that uses technology from its full suite to provide cost management that integrates with the project management capabilities of both Project Server 2007 and 2010. According to company co-founder Rich Murphy, EPK Cost requires very little time for setup: “It takes about 20 minutes. They have to do some configuration. But we help them by giving them a starter kit, which breaks things down. Everything you do to set it up is done within the user interface. So it’s not terribly difficult. It’s not like it’s going to take you three months.” Once the program is set up, everything the user needs to see is viewable within Project Web Application in Project Server 2010 or in Project Server 2007. The new features show up in Project Server 2010 in the user interface ribbon. In Project Server 2007, a new menu appears. In this interview, Murphy explains the basics of cost management and shares what he believes are the keys to success in project management. (We’ll give you a hint: Success requires taking into account time-phasing of project costs and then being able to integrate the data behind costs and schedules to continually reforecast for better business decision-making.) Can you explain the concept of cost management in plain English? Rich Murphy: When it comes to cost management you have to recognize two givens. One, you have to consider the time phasing of costs. Second, you have to realize that cost at some level, meaning simply a breakdown perhaps by labor or resource types — I need internal and contractor labor and hardware and software. Projects get approved way before you have any detailed project schedules. Those are the two critical elements: Data has to be time-phased; and you may have some breakdown of costs of a project long before you have a detailed task schedule. Microsoft sales people have told us that cost management is only important to about 40 to 60 percent of their customers. That number, frankly, surprised us. How could cost management not be important to 100 percent So what another partner explained to us was that it is important to 100 percent of customers. It’s just that the ability to integrate the cost of a project with Microsoft Project is only important to 60 percent of them. There’s no real way to do that. The rest just live with the fact that they’re doing budgets in Excel and project schedules in Project. What we’re trying to do is integrate the two. We’re saying you can have a spreadsheet to do high level costing. And you can integrate that with Project. Because let’s face it, projects do slip. If they slip, it would be nice to know what the impact is on the spend rate. Aren’t cost functions handled by Portfolio Server currently, which is being integrated into Project Server 2010? Murphy: What many people haven’t realized is that although Portfolio Server 2007 functionality has been moved over in a fairly elegant way into Project Server 2010, what’s been moved over is sort of an enhanced version of the project initiation and workflow process. But the cost management functions in Project Server 2007 aren’t there anymore. What exactly are the cost management functions in Portfolio Server 2007? Murphy: It has the capability of preparing a preliminary budget for a project, broken down by labor, material, and overhead. It also has the capability of moving and displaying other types of cost — like the actual costs on a project that might be entered manually or brought from some accounting system. It isn’t perfect. One of the deficiencies is that it can only total up the costs you’ve spent to date. It can’t break down your budget by [period]. It was far from perfect. But even that’s gone. Those capabilities in Portfolio Server related to cost management — they haven’t been moved over to Project Server. At the same time, our company, EPK decided we were going to do something to fill that gap. We’ve developed EPK Cost, software that’s going to address cost management functionality — whether somebody has Project 2007 or 2010. Customers on either 2007 or 2010 can use it — with zero migration. We also make it work with Project Standard and Project Professional. It’s just not something we’re promoting very heavily. Desktop users have the same capabilities as users of Project Server 2007 and 2010. The only people we’re leaving out are those using Project Server 2003. We want to encourage those people to move to 2007 in some fashion, since 2003 isn’t maintained by Microsoft any more. We’re introducing this at $4,995. That’s it. No number of users or client access licenses. It’s a great opportunity for Microsoft consulting partners, since customers will want to configure it for their cost types and cost categories. We offer a free copy of EPK Cost to Microsoft partners. That comes with a server API, a software development kit, so partners can bring data over from other applications, such as SAP, that their customers are using. Why replace Excel with this What are the advantages? Murphy: To gain that integration with Project, which can really make a difference to the business. As a simple example, say I start my project. I have a budget of $100,000 spread over a certain period. The labor cost is going to be $45,000 over this number of months. A certain amount of that is for employees, a certain amount for contractors. Then I have material costs and overhead and contingency. Or maybe some costs for something down the line. So I have this spreadsheet with that recorded. I appoint a project manager. That PM goes in and does the detailed planning. I have no way to figure out if this detailed plan is still consistent with the budget I prepared. Even if the PM takes advantage of the project resource costing features, he’s not accounting for software, materials, contingency, for the time phasing. As the project slips, I have no way to see how this slippage is affecting my cash flow. I’ve got two different systems. I have Excel with the initial budget. And I have Project, which, if I’ve even used the resource features, only works out resource costs. Even if it comes up with resource costs, I still have to sit there and look at a piece of paper — something in Project and something in Excel. Or suppose I did this budget on a fiscal month basis — a four-week, four-week, five-week basis Project doesn’t handle that. Excel does. Project has no concept of fiscal calendars. It has a concept of calendar months, but it can’t assume that the year ends on Feb 24, like it did this year for anyone using a government fiscal accounting system. Also, another very big issue: Suppose the project does slip, and I want to reforecast my budget? Now somebody manually has to take data in Project and go back and update an Excel spreadsheet. There’s no integration. Here’s another point, which probably is the most significant thing. According to one of the industry analysts at Giga [Info Group, now part of Forrester Research Group], of the three people involved in a project, the resource doing work, the resource’s boss, and the project manager, which one first discovers an overload condition? Ninety-five percent of the time it’s the resource. Unfortunately, the resource finds that problem on average two to three weeks after the overload exists. I’m on a project, and I discover that I’m scheduled to be working 190 hours this week. When were those overloads put in place? Four to five months earlier — but nobody knew. It was back in December some time that some PM scheduled me for work that I was supposed to be doing in February, that now has slipped into the middle of April. My boss didn’t know. The PM didn’t know. I didn’t know. That’s the main reason why projects in industries like pharma and IT get into trouble. They get in trouble because resource overloads are put in place. It’s not just cost, but staff hours. With our product, once you publish that schedule, you’re going to see that stuff. Each of the managers — the project managers and line manager who’d like to have Rich as a certain percent of his time — is going to see there’s a problem in the future. They’ll see it in a red condition. They’ll say, oh, there’s a problem. The choices are to address problem or stick your head in the sand and pretend it’s going to go away, which it never will. Project is excellent for bottoms-up planning — whether it’s the schedules, resources, or the costing. But there’s no way to have it be integrated with the high-level top down planning that was done when the project was approved — the forecasting that companies do on a monthly or quarterly basis. You need an integrated solution that brings together the high-level planning and the bottoms-up constant replanning that’s done inside Project. We think that’s the key to successfully managing the costs and resources in an organization. The fact that your project slips — that’s important to you as a PM. But to the bosses of the resources and to executives who approved the project, assuming the costs were going to be this much over this period of time, they have to know what every slippage in the project means to them. Without that information, nobody made their budget and their schedule, but they still spent all the money. Failures are caused by the fact that people don’t have the information and don’t know about things until it’s too late to do anything about them. That’s really the problem we’re trying to solve. Also, MPUG members can listen to an on-demand recording of Rich Murphy’s webinar, “Resource Planning: A ‘Tops-Down’ and ‘Bottoms Up’ Approach.“

The Project 2010 Interview: Microsoft’s Chris Capossela Talks to the Microsoft Project Community

Chris Capossela is a busy guy. This senior VP in the Microsoft Business Division is responsible for marketing the company’s productivity products. Those include Microsoft Office, SharePoint, Exchange, Office Communications Server, Visio, Duet, and, of course, Project — almost all of which will be offered in new, shiny versions in the first half of 2010. Capossela and his team have to sort out pricing, packaging, markets, branding, and advertising, as well as integrate the new releases into the sales channels and partner ecosystem. This is nothing new for Capossela, who has been with Microsoft for 18-plus years. His experiences include running the Microsoft Project business, serving as Bill Gates’ speech assistant, and acting as chief of staff to the president of Microsoft EMEA. Recently, Capossela took time out from his schedule to speak at length with MPUG via email. In the following interview, he explains why he considers Project 2010 — the next release of the project management system — the most important in a decade, lays out how it fits with other Microsoft offerings on the horizon, provides peeks into internal projects at Microsoft where Project 2010 is already keeping work on track, and shares what he sees on the landscape for project managers in the coming new year. MPUG: You’ve said that you consider Project 2010 the most important release of Project in a decade. How so? Project 2010 has significant new capabilities across the full Project family of products: Project Standard 2010, Project Professional 2010, and Project Server 2010. With a new and intuitive user interface, unified project and portfolio management, and deeper interoperability with other Microsoft technologies like SharePoint, Exchange, and Visual Studio Team Foundation Server, [Project 2010] truly is a watershed release. There are a ton of new enhancements, but there are three big areas that really stick out for me. The first is a new simple and intuitive user experience. Project 2010 features the new Ribbon user interface and other ease-of-use enhancements that improve the productivity of both occasional and professional project managers. The Ribbon UI was first introduced in the Office 2007 applications, and it makes it easier for users to discover commands in the context of their work. I can’t think of a better application for the Ribbon than Project. It provides contextual menu groupings that are customizable — in many cases exposing features that existed already that people couldn’t find or didn’t know about. In other cases it simplifies commands, tasks, and formatting making it easier to get started and get things done faster. There are other important ease-of-use enhancements as well. For example, with web-based project editing users can create and edit simple projects directly from Project Server’s web interface without requiring Project Professional for many common scenarios. In addition, User Controlled Scheduling allows users to enter task and project information free-form without having to know a lot of information about a project to get started. This allows for top-down, more dynamic planning with Project’s scheduling engine available to support more advanced scheduling requirements. And two of the most popular new features are the Timeline View and Team Planner. The Timeline View provides a graphical view of tasks, milestones, and phases. It makes it easy to see, share, and communicate the plan at a higher level than the Gantt view. You can pan and zoom using the Timeline, and, you can drill into details of the plan. What’s better is that you can paste the timeline into a presentation or email as a drawing object so you can continue to format and modify the timeline for your customized presentations. The Team Planner allows you visualize and drag and drop task assignments with an interactive graphical view of resources; you can identify unassigned or unscheduled tasks, and then automatically level over allocated resources on a task by task basis by simply dragging and dropping tasks. The second area is unified project and portfolio management. In this release, we’ve brought together the portfolio management capabilities of Project Portfolio Server 2007 with the Enterprise Project Management capabilities of Project Server 2007 to provide a unified server with end-to-end PPM capabilities. This means a consistent web interface, a common data store, centralized administration, and no more need for the Project Server Gateway. In addition to unifying PPM capabilities in Project Server 2010, we’ve also added a number of key enhancements in areas like demand management, customizable workflow, portfolio analytics, resource capacity planning, and time status and reporting. For example, organizations can now capture all project and work requests in a centralized system using web-based project initiation forms with flexible workflow and business rules to guide the project initiation and selection process. Projects are prioritized and selected based on cost vs. benefit and strategic impact, as well as available resource capacity. The third area is interoperability with other Microsoft technologies, in particular SharePoint. Project Professional 2010 can now connect directly with SharePoint Foundation (formerly Windows SharePoint Services), without requiring Project Server 2010. Sync to SharePoint Tasks Lists is a new Project Pro feature that enables round-trip synchronization between SharePoint and Project Pro so team members can update task status directly from SharePoint, providing a lightweight project collaboration environment for smaller teams and a pathway to the more advanced capabilities of Project Server. Then to support more advanced enterprise requirements, Project Server 2010 is built on SharePoint Server 2010, bringing together the leading project and portfolio management software with SharePoint’s business collaboration platform. Customers have told us they’re using SharePoint already for things like collaboration, content management, workflow, and search. They don’t want some additional project management system with its own separate collaboration and information management technology. Project Server 2010 is an extension of their existing SharePoint environment, with the same familiar user interface, shared infrastructure, and a common technology platform. This also means that Project Server 2010 can take advantage of SharePoint’s powerful [business intelligence] and reporting capabilities, including things like the Report Center, advanced charting, and [key performance indicators] (KPIs), PerformancePoint Services, and Excel Services. The benefit is that customers can create powerful dashboards, as well as make it easy for end users to create and modify reports simply using Excel. Given the amazing breadth of work we’ve done in 2010, how can you not say it’s the most important release ever? 🙂 How does Project 2010 fit into the other areas of technology development Microsoft has been rolling out for the last several months (and continues rolling out)? Project 2010 will be released in the first half of 2010 as part of the broader Office 2010 family of products, including Office 2010, SharePoint 2010, Visio 2010, and Office Mobile 2010. Office 2010 and related products provide the best productivity experience across the PC, phone, and browser. By enabling people to connect, collaborate, and be productive in multiple environments, these products will help our customers save money and increase productivity. In addition to SharePoint, which I discussed previously, Project 2010 takes advantage of other Office 2010 enhancements such as Visual Reports with Visio 2010 and Excel 2010. And, Project Server 2010 provides integration with Microsoft Exchange 2010 to enable team members to manage and report on tasks directly from Microsoft Outlook. We have focused on interoperability with other Microsoft technologies as well — for example, integration with Visual Studio Team Foundation Server to support Application Lifecycle Management and integration with the latest versions of Dynamics AX for ERP and Dynamics SL for project accounting. One of our goals for this release was to make Project 2010 a scalable and connected platform and enable end users to work in the tools they’re already familiar with such as Microsoft Office and SharePoint. Are we going to have to wait until after our organizations have installed the newest rev of Office or Windows on the server or desktop to make use of Project 2010? Nope — Project Standard 2010 and Project Professional 2010 don’t require Office 2010 or Windows 7, so there shouldn’t be any major limitations to getting started with the Beta right away. Project Server 2010 requires SharePoint Server 2010. As I described earlier, there are many benefits to implementing Project Server 2010 and SharePoint Server 2010 together as a way to bring together business collaboration capabilities with project and portfolio management. As part of our Beta program, we provide a significant amount of resources at our Microsoft TechNet web properties to help guide our partners and IT organizations on how best to architect and deploy solutions with the Office 2010 family of products including Project Professional and Project Server 2010. Tell us about some really interesting project within Microsoft that’s being managed with Project and Project Server… What versions are being used How’s the project going? There are a number of groups within Microsoft already successfully using Project 2010 such as Microsoft IT and our own Office software development teams, but there are two projects within Microsoft that come to mind that really showcase the business value of Project 2010. The first is Microsoft HR. Our [human resources] team uses Project Server 2010 to manage the global portfolio of HR initiatives, which impact more than 90,000 Microsoft employees worldwide. They use the new portfolio analysis capabilities within Microsoft Project Server to prioritize and select the optimal set of business initiatives that align with Microsoft’s strategic HR objectives such as recruiting and retaining top talent and fostering a culture of innovation. In addition, they use Project Server 2010 to assign resources to projects and to monitor and track progress against stated project objectives. No new HR project gets approved without first being selected as part of the governance process supported by Project Server 2010. And, of course, they use Project Professional 2010 for planning and scheduling the projects and ensuring they meet their deadlines on time and on budget. Another exciting internal customer — perhaps not surprising — is our Office 2010 product launch team here in the [United States]. Our U.S. marketing organization is using Project 2010 to plan, manage, and report progress on their entire product launch, complete with customized KPIs and dashboards to track progress against key milestones such as content development, training, and event management. How has project management changed in the time you’ve been a participant in the Project organization? The project management discipline has been around for more than a century, with some important historical milestones such as the invention of the Gantt chart in 1910, Critical Path Method and PERT in the 1950s, and methodologies such as PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge, PRINCE, and Six Sigma in the 1980s. These approaches remain strong today along with the emergence of more recent methodologies such as Scrum and Agile for product development. Microsoft has been providing software tools to support the project management needs of individuals, teams, and organizations for 30 years. During this time there have been a number of significant changes. For example, a shift from primarily smaller more disconnected projects where scheduling is king to a world of larger, more complex and interrelated projects and programs that span across organizational boundaries. Today things like collaboration, resource management, and enterprise reporting are critical success factors. Perhaps the biggest change in the past seven or eight years is the emergence of modern portfolio analysis and management techniques to aid in selecting the right projects and aligning investments and resources with business priorities. As the world of project management has evolved, Microsoft Project has evolved too — from primarily a desktop scheduling tool to PC and web-based offerings that span collaborative project management, resource management, portfolio analytics, and enterprise reporting. Today we have over 20 million users of Microsoft Project and over 10,000 customer organizations that have purchased our EPM solution with Project Server and Portfolio Server. What’s one aspect of project management that the tool will never be able to automate for project managers? A good tool can be useful to manage projects of all sizes from simple tasks to complex projects and programs. However, a good tool is rarely enough. Successful project management is usually the result of a combination of the right technology coupled with effective governance, management practices and processes, change management, and training. Because of this, a lot of the secret sauce to project management will never be fully automated. An often overlooked factor in successful project management is effective leadership. Whether it’s gaining executive sponsorship, providing an inspiring vision, or mobilizing people with the right feedback and incentives, leadership is often the difference between success and failure. Because of this, we believe it’s important for individuals and organizations to invest in training, project management, and professional development skills to help them get the most value from Microsoft Project. User groups and communities like MPUG are a good example of the wealth of resources and knowledge that are available. The head of PMI — Greg Balesteros — has said he believes that project management is at a tipping point — that soon organizations will begin to adopt project management discipline and tools in a more sustained way. What do you see on the landscape for project managers in 2010 The market is quite dynamic today. In the current economic climate companies are managing shrinking budgets and need to be smart about where they spend their money and allocate resources. Executives are increasingly turning to project and portfolio management software to reduce costs and drive efficiencies. The benefits span any department or organization that is looking to control costs and resources, gain operational efficiencies, and make smarter investment decisions. Examples include streamlining research and product development, improving branch banking operations, managing cross-company initiatives, and better controlling IT costs and resources. In fact, according to a recent Forrester report, a PPM tool investment is likely to provide an ROI of more than 250 percent. Project and portfolio management has always been important, but today it’s mission critical. Successful implementations of PPM tools can help organizations align the right strategy with effective execution, and increasingly those organizations that can do both of these simultaneously will have a sustainable competitive advantage. The release of the new Project 2010 and Project Server 2010 is coming at a very good time to help our customers reduce costs, drive operational efficiencies, and prepare for future growth.

MPUG Thanks Community Leaders in Award Ceremony

During last week’s Microsoft Project Conference 2009, MPUG acknowledged the contributions of a number of community members. Ludovic Hauduc, General Manager of the Project Business Unit at Microsoft, and Melanie Cosklo, MPUG President, were on hand to issue a number of awards. You can check out the video on YouTube. From left: Mary Hershner, Akesh Lalla (accepting for Jacques Viljoen), Jennifer Herman, Carl Dalby (accepting for Bill Raymond), Ludo Hauduc, Ian Radcliff (accepting for Dharm Patel), Gary Chefetz, Larry Christofaro, Ellen Lehnert, and Dale Howard. MCLA Leader Award For MPUG members who have helped other members achieve their goals with Microsoft Project in chapter event participation, web events, discussion forums, and elsewhere. Larry Christofaro, Twin Cities Chapter, Digineer Community Feedback: “Larry, a Microsoft Project super-hero, took up our cause and has generously shared his time, patience, and vast wealth of Project and Project Server knowledge to improve our capabilities in project management…” Dharmesh Patel, London Chapter Community Feedback: “Without Dharm’s Project knowledge, the events would never happen. Plus, he’s really friendly!” MCLA Author Award For community leaders and experts who have contributed to the body of knowledge represented in MPUG publications. Ellen Lehnert, LehnertCS, LLC Community Feedback: “I learn something from almost every one of her columns…” MCLA Presentation Award For exceptional instructors, people who have given presentations either in person or through LiveMeeting to help members of the MPUG community advance their knowledge of products and practices. Dale Howard, MSProjectExperts Community Feedback: “Easy to follow, friendly style… You can count on him to come through with great tips…” Bill Raymond, Pcubed Community Feedback: “Bill has impressive knowledge about Microsoft Project and presents solutions to problems…” MCLA Chapter Leader Award For those who have shown exceptional leadership in helping run an MPUG chapter or contributing overall to the development and growth of MPUG as an internationally recognized organization. Mary Hershner, Phoenix Community Feedback: “Mary has held all possible positions within the Phoenix Chapter… Her willingness to help chapter members achieve their professional goals surpasses all expectations. She has been instrumental in the success that the Phoenix Chapter has enjoyed over the past years and continues to be a leader and active participant…” MCLA Outreach Award For those individuals who show exceptional leadership in growing their MPUG chapters. Larry Christofaro, Twin Cities Chapter, Digineer Community Feedback: “Over the last year, this chapter has grown by a greater percentage than any other MPUG chapter in the world, and Larry has a been a big reason why…” Jacques Viljoen, South Africa Chapter Community Feedback: “South Africa chapter has had one of the most impressive launches of a local MPUG community and Jacques has a been a big reason why…” MCLA Partner Award For one of our go-to partners that has provided continuous community support. MSProjectExperts, New York Community Feedback: “These folks really know Microsoft Project and how to train people… Jennifer has been instrumental in developing a vibrant NY chapter of MPUG…” “The MPUG Community is all about you,” said Cosklo in her opening remarks. “Your articles, tips, tricks, training events, templates, questions, answers. MPUG is the largest user community in the world dedicated to Microsoft Project. Each of you adds to the wealth of knowledge that becomes our collective wisdom. Thank you!”

5 Principles of Program Management for the London Olympics

Ky Nichol heads up the major sporting events practice for global consultancy Pcubed. That has included work for both the 2004 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Athens and the 2006 FIFA World Cup hosted in Germany. Most recently, he’s been involved with the 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. The latter are scheduled to take place in London from July 27 to August 12, 2012. Nichol, who has been in project management for two decades, honed his expertise through working on major initiatives for NASA, the European Space Agency, and Accenture, as well as organizations in the high tech manufacturing and transport sectors. Nichol and his Pcubed team work with Games organizations to oversee program and risk management, perform assurance, and advise on senior stakeholder reporting. Tools used include applications from both Microsoft and Primavera Systems (now part of Oracle). The Microsoft products in use include SharePoint, Project Professional 2007, and Enterprise Project Management (EPM) Solution. 5 Principles of Big Events Nichol adheres to five key principles in his work on Olympic Games, culled from his experience in delivering large, multi-agency initiatives: 1. Integrate the organizing bodies early on. 2. Keep the end state in mind from the start. 3. Avoid early independence of projects. 4. Engender an appetite for organizational change. 5. Baseline early. 1. Integrate the Organizing Bodies Early On “In the heyday of a bid, you put a bid book together, and you’ve got to sell it to many committees” says Nichol. “It’s all positive and [describes] lots of spend.” The bid book lays out who is going to deliver what in order to make the Olympics happen. The players — primarily, the Organizing Committee and the Delivery Authority — need to agree about who’s actually responsible for what piece of the plan. Setting that out clearly and early is essential, says Nichol. Any ambiguity later in the project can generate disagreements. “Early agreement and clarity will save a lot of time and effort down the line. In our work with the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany they had integration at the top of their agenda and it worked to great effect,” he points out. 2. Keep the End State in Mind from the Start “London has developed a great pitch for what these big structures are going to do after the games,” explains Nichol. He can recount war stories about previous Olympics where facilities ended up in disarray post-event. For London, legacy came first in the planning, says Nichol. For example, the main stadium requires 80,000 seats; but few continually operating stadiums need that much capacity. So London will build a stadium with 25,000 permanent seats. The other 55,000 will be temporary. Once the Games end, those temporary seats will be sold, and the remaining stadium will be ready for more traditional sporting event use. Legacy planning also faces challenges. Currently, with the economic downturn, it’s hard to get private developers interested in developing venues, such as the Olympics Villages, which will be sold as housing apartments after the Games end. “There are venues such as Villages that typically rely on private sector funding and in the current climate there’s less capital for them to obtain the financing they need,” says Nichol.   3. Avoid Early Independence of Projects When the program teams are just starting their work, says Nichol, there’s a tendency to send each one off to tackle development of a particular venue. That approach can lead to scope gaps. Interface areas usually suffer — for example the scope boundary between the venues and the connecting projects such as roads and common domain. He encourages the various entities involved in the whole project to keep the program teams together as if they were part of one single team until a detailed and apportioned master plan is available. Without that integration, filling the scope gaps that surface downstream will have to come out of somebody’s contingency budget, “and you’ll end up applying for additional funding, which is not a popular move,” he says. To help avoid issues like this, the teams held a number of scope reviews to identify the gaps. “Sometimes, there’s double-accounting,” says Nichol, “which is good because you can make savings.” The Challenge of Reporting Nichol considers management reporting a good indicator of whether things are in control or not. “Can [participants] put clearly on one page what the program is going to deliver together with accurate status data?” Nichol asks. “If they can’t do that, then something’s broken somewhere — no matter what the excuse is.” Nichol and his team have helped Games organizations put in place effective reporting solutions from dashboard reporting that helped Athens work with the IOC to assisting London 2012s Olympic Delivery Authority in reporting status to Funding parties. To help organizations put together fact based reporting for senior stakeholder, Pcubed has developed a proprietary system, the Pcubed Delivery Hub. As Nichol explains, the Hub draws from multiple scheduling engines and other systems to produce standard dashboards that allow users to drill down on the details from a high level. 4. Inspire an Appetite for Organizational Change “The people you start up these things with aren’t necessarily the people you need downstream,” Nichol says. “There’s got to be some clever human resources strategy in this.” The Games are, ultimately, a temporary job that requires specific kinds of expertise. Those in charge of hiring want to attract the right kind of talent from around the world to do the work required, which may only last a couple of years. That may require premium pay — more than you’d like to pay, says Nichol — “because you’re only going to get them for two years, and they’re taking some risk.” Also, although there’s a body of people who tend to move from Olympics to Olympics, says Nichol, there are also a lot of government workers from the host city government involved. These people will go back to other jobs once the Games are over. Keeping these two kinds of people engaged and working well together requires effective stakeholder management and team building, Nichol says. On the Athens Olympic Games this encompassed “some well planned team building and great management together with some really good parties” to bring people together. 5. Baseline Early “You’ve got to have some measuring point that people are working toward,” says Nichol. Without it, the team will go into disarray and “you’ll lose time hand over fist.” When deadlines start to slide, says Nichol, there’s no spending more money nor changing the deadline. “Unfortunately in this case all you can do is scale the scope back.” For example, he says, early, during the process of setting up a Bid Book, many venues will be “iconic. Every venue will have a signature architect.” But as work moves ahead, reality sets in. There isn’t budget to fulfill the ambitious plans, and organizers are forced to take temporary measures “with things overlaid on to make them look good for the Games.” Those iconic facilities often end up being more traditional, less expensive structures. Yet, that’s also the reality of putting on a major event like the Olympics. Setting milestones is a constant challenge in planning the Games. First, the vision for the Olympics has to developed way before the actual work required can be laid out and priced in detail. In the case of the London Games, the initial bid submission was mid-July 2003. London was selected as the final location two years later, in July 2005. As one instance of the volatility of the entire process, two sports — baseball and softball — that were part of London’s bid were dropped by the IOC two days after London was chosen as the host city. At the same time, the IOC pondered whether to add other sports as replacements. How do you properly plan for venues that you may not need or may not even know about? Second, there are multiple levels of reporting involved. First, there are the C-level milestones, which need to be reported to the International Olympic Committee. Those involve the major pieces of the entire project. Then there are internal high-level milestones that get reported up into the UK government. Those get broken into sub-programs, projects, and workstreams, which lay out what the individual workers will be doing on any given day. Nichol has put in over three years toward the London Olympics effort to date — “in and out for pieces,” he points out. Will he have a front row seat to the spectacle? Perhaps, but that isn’t something the master planner has actually planned for yet. But, as he explains, “I’ll be early in line for tickets and hope I get some.”

Working the Numbers: How to Inject Financial Savvy into Project Management

Paul Sausville is no bean counter. Although he has a master’s degree in finance, spent years at NCR and AT&T as a consultant for the banking and financial services industries, and went to work as a financial analyst at Microsoft, Sausville soon discovered the connection between numbers and marketing and shifted roles to focus less on managing the books and more on revenue growth activities. After stints in the browser business at Microsoft, he moved into the Developer Tools group, and eventually became finance director for Microsoft Office. After 13 years with the Redmond company, Sausville left to go into private consulting. He currently serves on the board of Pcubed. In this interview, Sausville explains three approaches to revenue growth initiatives, shares the metric he most favors in determining the feasibility of a project, and lays out why he believes project management teams should absolutely include an accountant. At Microsoft you were heavily involved in revenue-growth projects. How do you advise approaching these? Paul Sausville: Look at the entire market and see where you’re positioned vs. where your competitors are positioned. Lay out all the markets like a map. What are your approximate marketshares? Are you familiar with the game of Risk — where you build up armies and attack different countries and try to conquer the world? You have a certain percent of a market. Others have other markets. And you look at different markets — which ones are fast growing, which ones are growing faster that you have a lower share in, which ones are easy to penetrate in your current position? From there, you have several options: edge-out, step-out, and break-out. In the edge-out approach, you edge out into markets closest to you. That’s a relatively conservative strategy. Step-out takes you beyond that market. There could be good reasons– such as a fast growing market size — that make you want to step outside your boundaries. And with break-out, you skip a bunch of steps. If you were to look at SAP, for instance, it started in one area, accounting, then branched out into adjacent squares, then eventually took over most of competing markets around the enterprise. Microsoft was involved in Office applications, word processing and spreadsheets. If you look at those markets, there are adjacent markets. For example, a large market evolved for business intelligence. Until recently, there were several half-billion-dollar companies — SAP’s Business Objects, Cognos — in that market developing business intelligence [businesses]. Having access to SQL and Excel, it was logical for Microsoft to get into the data intelligence market. That was a simple edge-out strategy. Then there are markets evolving that we got into with a step-out strategy. We tried to develop the e-book market — that was not one that was successful. We definitely went in and spent quite a lot of money. But to get into that market, we needed not only reading technology, but also digital rights management technology. We had developed enabling technologies to really look at that. The market never materialized in the timeframe we set. So we eventually left the business. We were partnered with Amazon, which later, with the Kindle, has gotten traction. The Xbox was a breakout strategy to get us into the living room. Was there a threshold with Microsoft for it to say yay or nay? Definitely, there are threshold numbers. A $10 million business is not very interesting to Microsoft. If you run a $10 billion business and you want to continue getting 10 percent growth, you’ve got to find another billion every year. That’s not easy to do. So trying to get a lot of opportunities at $10 million or $15 million isn’t interesting. You need to make sure the market is large enough if you want to think about it that way. Sounds like the project manager or program manager needs to be fairly savvy about the financial aspects of their projects. The very best ones are savvy. In the growth days, people were willing to invest. As long as there was money floating around, projects could be a little behind and over budget. If there’s value at the end, people seem to understand that projects sometimes get delayed or over budget. What you don’t want is to have your projects late and over budget and then not very good. When a company is flush with cash, they’re looking at all the things to fund. When companies are in an economic downturn, they have to know where to cut and why. If your project is late and over budget, it’s very likely you’re going to end up on the list that they’ll want to delay or even cut. In a cost-cutting environment, that’s a recipe for having a project shut down or having the project killed in order to save money. This project is late, in trouble, and isn’t going to make the goals. Given the financial constraints, are you going to shut down a project that’s on time, on budget and looks like it’s going to come in? Tell a story about a project you had to cut. I was working on a data warehousing solution that would give visibility into the revenue streams and marketing programs of the business. This program would let you drill down and see marketing budgets and returns for the products. We had in the neighborhood of 1,300 to 1,400 marketing programs going on at once. And each marketing program was like a little project. Rather than going to several different systems and piecing together the ROI for a project, you’d be able to drill down into how a project was doing as far as the marketing program and what revenue it was actually generating over what period of time. We had problems with a combination of delivery in terms of time and quality of work with the vendor we were working with. We then went into the economic downturn, where we had to cut out over $150 million of spend. So which project are you going to cut? Are you going to spend money on a system that’s not directly generating revenue to help you analyze the business or will you spend money on telemarketing and keep a few extra sales people? The data warehousing project was behind schedule, over budget. Even though it was needed, it was a relatively easy decision. Any advice for tying the schedule to the money in a project or program? You have to know the environment you’re working in. At Microsoft you wanted the schedule and dollars to tie as closely as possible. Why If you’re under budget, the company wanted to keep that savings. The finance guy is saying, “I didn’t spend this $10 million, so I’m going to bank it.” Suddenly, your project with a $100 million budget has $90 million because you didn’t spend it in the quarter when you had it. Most companies do not have a good project accounting system. A good project accounting system would say, “I have a $100 million budget regardless of where the fiscal boundaries are. But companies operate on quarterly profits. So you have a thing where the finance guy’s goal is on saving money and how the P&L looks. The project manager’s goal is on delivering it. There’s conflict there. If you’re ever in doubt, budget more conservatively in the rear end. If you’re ahead in the budget, someone else might be under budget, and you can cover it. Most likely, you want to be on budget. Most variances might get swept away. There are a lot of tactics and formulas for determining financial feasibility of projects. Any advice for sorting those out and knowing which ones to apply in a given situation? Typically, net present value (NPV) is usually one of the best. It’s set up to maximize shareholder value. ROI can give you the wrong answer sometimes. Typically, you could have two projects — one that’s a million dollar project with 10 percent return, the other a $200,000 project with a 15% return. If you can only afford one, based on ROI, you might choose the 15 percent one. That won’t give you the most bang in terms of total dollars. Option value — the likelihood of an option actually finishing — people don’t often look at this in terms of projects. Very often you do a project, for example, exploring for oil. You obviously need enough money to tap the grounds, and the project may require drilling five wells; but you may be able to stop after two wells. Amazon got into the book market but they had infrastructure to get into other markets. Sometimes building infrastructure will allow you that option value. You want to make sure that when you do this budgeting, you have to look at it realistically, because it’s all estimates and you want to make sure you’re maximizing picking the right projects that are going to give you the most bang for the buck and have the most value long term. All those thing are not necessarily bad gauges. You just want to make sure you’re looking at it in a holistic way to maximize the value of the shareholders. Each organization very often has its own metrics. You want to make sure politically that you acknowledge those metrics, whatever they are. Do you advise having a strong numbers person on the project team to bring that finance and accounting perspective to the table? I think it’s good to have financial background or have some financial support on the project team. Ultimately, a project is judged based not only on whether it’s delivered on time but also whether it’s delivered on budget. And you want to make sure you’re on top of things. Very often what happens is that the project manager doesn’t know all the costs or how the budgeting system works. Things are done year to year. A project is budgeted for $5 million and rather than taking two years takes two and a half years. In people costs alone, there’s an extra couple of million dollars of spend — even though on an adjusted run rate, it might not have gone up that much, because it was on a steady run rate for the number of people working on it. If you think about a project being behind schedule, that can have time-to-market implications for a revenue-generating project. If you’re planning a new software project and that comes out two months late, no big deal. Well, it’s a huge deal if you’re trying to hit the back-to-school or Christmas market. That’s why having an idea about how the financial system works, knowing whether or not you have budget, making sure you have cut-off dates for the fiscal year… Very often projects cross fiscal boundaries. If you have expenses that were supposed to hit in one year and they hit in another year, you end up one year under budget, then the next year over budget. You didn’t perform an accrual. Then it makes your project look bad or makes your manager have to explain what happened. When these things happen, it makes you look like you’re not on top of project details. Can you suggest an antidote to being in that position? There’s this old story about the construction of the Empire State Building. The guy in charge walks in and says, “What’s the color of the tiles on the 58th floor men’s room?” The other guy looks it up and tells him. So the first guy approved the whole project. So the story is about knowing your details. If somebody says, “You’re working on this huge data management warehouse project. How much has been spent on software, how much on development, how much on testing?” and you can talk about those numbers in an articulate way, that makes the project manager seem that much more competent and on top of the project. Typically, there will be a lot of people who don’t understand the project or the value of the project — simple accountants. They’ll give you the most trouble. They’ll cut you off: “You’ve had budget. There’s no more money.” Then you won’t be able to finish the project or get additional POs. And if vendors don’t get paid or employees don’t get paid, people stop working. You never want to get into a situation where you’re 90 percent of the way there and all of a sudden you’re out of the budget. The other thing I want to add is, if you don’t keep track of the budget, you could wake up with a pretty big mess on your hands. At Microsoft we were working on a project in one of those new emerging markets, where we had to keep investing in incremental things. We thought it was going to cost $10 million to $15 million. By the time we got it done, it cost a lot more because we had to ask for things we didn’t know about. So we tried very hard to have strong financial people involved. If you think about a project, you want a team of people with complementary skills. Having a strong finance person can help you out. Very often they can help you figure out alternative avenues for getting funding or take business into a different direction. If you had to cut something, what would it be That’s not just a matter of constraints in scheduling. How can we move money from one quarter to another? How can we make trade-offs? You don’t want to make finance decisions — you want to make overall business decisions. I’ll give you an example of a short-sighted decision that I was involved in, that was — on reflection — poor. We had a project where we were told we had a certain budget. We had several projects going on at once. One of the areas where we thought we could save money was on testing. Rather than using full-time employees, we went out and hired temporary employees. They were cheaper than full-time. But they weren’t at the same quality level. So while on an hourly basis we were saving some good amount of dollars, we really should have canceled the project or waited until the project was ready because we didn’t have quality testers to do it. And because the product quality was poor, we ended up paying a lot more — by shipping a product out there that had issues. If you don’t have somebody who balances those decisions, if you just have someone who says, “We can save so much more an hour by shipping that overseas or doing it outside the company,” you may not get what you expect. You can very often make those wrong decisions. That’s interesting. People traditionally think of accounting folks as being focused on the nickels and dimes. So accountants can bring a broader perspective to the decisions? Companies don’t suddenly go bankrupt. Over time they lose their navigation points and their controls. Having a financial person on the team can keep you from ending up in a bad place. This article was first published by Pcubed, which holds the copyright. Published with permission from Contact Paul Sausville at

Microsoft Project Practice Exams — The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

My spouse, the accountant, is getting ready to tackle the CPA exams. That means one thing: It’s Becker time! Becker is the company that has the best reputation for hauling CPAs-to-be across the finish line of their credential. They provide instructor-led training, online lessons, self-study materials, flashcards, and all kinds of other resources that enable the test-taker to be prepared for those multi-hour exams that take place at the Prometric testing center. Yes, it costs money — big money if I’m to believe the charges I’m seeing on our credit card statement. But that’s the cost of entry to be taken seriously in the profession.   Likewise, if you’re preparing for any of Microsoft’s certification exams covering Microsoft Project or Project Server, there are companies that will help you prepare for those too. You can take in-person or online classes, read through self-study guides, and take practice exams. It’s this latter subject I wanted to cover today.   A practice exam allows you to find out just how prepared you are to tackle the real exam. The thinking goes like this: If you can pass a practice exam by playing by the rules, you’re probably ready to tackle the real exam. So why not take the actual exam to find out? For a few reasons. You can take practice exams multiple times. The practice exams probably have many more questions in them than the actual exam, which helps assure you that you really do understand the concepts behind the question and not just which answer is right. Also, there’s a certain level of pressure involved in sitting down in an actual testing center, and gnawing on a practice test or two is a great way to work out your test anxiety.   But not every practice exam is built equal. In fact, most of it is muck — either written on the fly by somebody whose first language isn’t your language or brashly ripped off from some testing center in a developing country and vaguely disguised by changing out a word here and there. You can quickly identify the muck by perusing information about them on their company websites. If the text selling the product is full of spelling and grammar errors, take that as a clue about the quality of the materials being sold too. (And if you can’t tell the difference, email your 7th grade English teacher with the link and ask her to give you an opinion…)   Fortunately, Microsoft has made it easy by authorizing two companies — MeasureUp and Kaplan IT’s Self Test Software — to provide practice questions for its exams. That means if you purchase these products, you can expect them to meet certain standards for quality, accuracy, and legitimacy. Also, they have agreed to rules set by Microsoft to make sure that they develop training and testing materials not just for the most popular exams but also for the lesser-taken tests, such as the ones for Project and Project Server, specifically, 70-632, 70-633, and 70-634.   But that’s where Self Test Software beats out MeasureUp. Self Test actually provides practice exams for Project and the other company doesn’t — at least not at this time. Granted, some of these products have got to be loss leaders for the companies that produce them — being too specialized to have much of a market. But on the pages about the exams on Microsoft’s website, MeasureUp is listed as having products to help you prepare. Not true — at least, not yet.   So that leaves Self Test. And it’s good! I haven’t seen the full products; but the company does make demo versions available with a limited number of questions. You can download a sampler here for 70-632 for the low price of a quick registration process. The version I tried included five questions that really do look and function like an actual Microsoft exam. The actual practice product costs US$109. That includes 150 practice exam questions (about three times what you’ll find on the real exam) and 225 flash cards. Tutorials explain why the right answer is better than the other answers. And the scoring function shows you which areas you need to focus on in your exam preparation and where to go to learn more about the study topics.   For the record I aced three out of five questions. That’s not good enough to tackle the test — yet.   So what self-study tools do you rely on?