Advanced projects for Microsoft Dynamics AX introduces New Project Scheduling Model
As part of Systems Advisors Group’s focus on delivering Microsoft Dynamics AX ERP solutions to project-driven organizations, we’ve offered multiple solution approaches depending on the client’s preferred project management paradigm. We’ve seen a pretty wide disparity in terms of the maturity and sophistication levels of our clients’ project management practices, so it’s critical that we fit these organizations into the correct project management model so that they strike the right balance between functionality and complexity.
The way that we’ve explained the two available paradigms in Microsoft Dynamics AX to our clients is as follows:
- Paradigm #1 – Financial WBS Approach: In this paradigm, organizations are looking primarily for a project accounting system, and therefore there is a limited emphasis on project execution. These organizations would typically only use a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) to build a project hierarchy that can be used for accounting related purposes, such as the different levels that a project budget would be held and managed, and the different activities that employees will book their time against. These are mostly project accounting related touch points. In this paradigm, these organizations would typically schedule their resources more at the role level and in high level weekly buckets, rather than scheduling down at the task or activity level by day. The benefit of this approach is that you can manage your projects fairly loosely and you will require very little discipline from your Dynamics AX users to make everything hang together. However, the downside to this paradigm is that you don’t gain many tools for project execution, meaning that you’d also need a tool like Microsoft Project to help manage the execution of the project.
- Paradigm #2 – Operational WBS Approach: On the other hand, some organizations are looking to use a WBS at the core of everything they do, from the estimating process through project and resource scheduling and project analysis. These organizations also typically need to manage their projects at the detailed task level in order to facilitate doing things like tracking Estimate at Completion (EAC), Cost to Complete (CTC) and Earned Value. In this model, the focus is not just on project accounting, but also on project execution. By taking this approach in Dynamics AX, you gain some great project management and analytics tools, but this approach does require some discipline from a project management perspective.
For clients that are looking for a solution consistent with Paradigm #2 above, SAG recommends the Advanced Projects solution that was developed by Adeaca. Advanced Projects provides best-in-class project and portfolio management functionality built right within Microsoft Dynamics AX. So for organizations that want a robust project execution tool (similar to Microsoft Project Server) in addition to their project accounting tool, this is clearly the best solution within Microsoft Dynamics AX. The project and portfolio analytics tools are fantastic, and the project management functionality is similar to what you get in Microsoft Project Server, but built right within Dynamics AX instead
One of the major components of the Advanced Projects solution is the project and resource scheduling engine. Traditionally, the Advanced Projects module has offered a sophisticated scheduling engine that has very powerful scheduling capabilities, similar to those found in Microsoft Project Server. Project schedules can be automatically generated based on all the standard project scheduling concepts like pre-requisites, predecessors, successors, etc… And schedules can be quickly re-generated if certain tasks slip, so that you can keep your schedules up to date as the project moves along. Again, this approach is very similar in concept to Microsoft Project in that you’re building a WBS with tasks that have certain durations and dependencies that are used as inputs to the scheduling process.
This model has been great for organizations that manage large, complex projects, and who are capable of adopting a sophisticated and mostly automated rules-driven scheduling tool. But it can sometimes be a bit too sophisticated for organizations that manage smaller projects of shorter duration, or organizations whose employees aren’t used to using an automated tool like this where they have to be “feeding the beast” in order to keep the scheduling engine working properly. This trade-off needs to be carefully considered, and often influences whether or not organizations would go down this path.
We’re excited that the Advanced Projects module will very soon be adding a new project and resource scheduling paradigm that puts this solution in reach for organizations that need a somewhat more simple approach to project management and scheduling. With the next release of Advanced Projects, coinciding with Dynamics AX 2012 R2, the Advanced Projects module will be introducing a new Visual Resourcing model. This new Visual Resourcing model will provide a simpler scheduling paradigm that gives users more control over the scheduling process, as opposed to relying mostly on an automated rules-driven engine for scheduling.
There are several views of the Visual Resourcing screen, but as you can see in the screenshot below, this new model uses a visual drag-and-drop approach to scheduling employees to project assignments. The top tier of the screen shows the project assignments that need to be scheduled, and the bottom section shows potential resources and their availability profile. The project assignments in the top tier can be filtered by project, role, or department so that you can quickly find and schedule open project tasks. You can also control the increments of time that you’re looking at (daily, weekly, monthly, etc…) in the schedule. The goal in this approach is to make it very easy for users to quickly schedule project tasks and assign employees to them using a hands-on drag-and-drop metaphor instead of using an automated scheduling engine.
his new approach should make Advanced Projects a viable solution for organizations that not only manage large, complex projects, but that also manage smaller quick-turn projects. Again, the benefits of this solution are that you gain some powerful project and portfolio analytics tools, as well as some great project execution tools such as critical path analysis, visual sensor points, milestone reviews, issue tracking, Earned Value management, and much more.
About the Author
Michelle Kirby is the Marketing Coordinator and Account Manager for sa.global. Michelle’s dual role includes coordination and execution of marketing campaigns and managing sa.global’s existing client base. Michelle has over 16 years of ERP experience, including consulting, account management and as an end-user in a database administration role.