This question comes up increasingly in our discussions with clients: “Does Microsoft Project Online integrate with [fill in the blank with whatever Agile tool your organization happens to be using….TFS, Jira, Rally, VersionOne, Excel, etc.]?” The answer is invariably “Yes, and….”
Given that it came up again this week, I figured it was probably worth a blog post to review the options available. First, let’s look at the technical options for integration in this post. Once we get that out of the way, let’s look at specific scenarios that we see come up most often. (Yes, I realize I should be doing it the other way around, but to be honest many organizations haven’t identified the specific scenarios they’re trying to support yet, and are really just looking to keep their future options open when standardizing on an overall PPM platform.)
For prior postings on how to integrate Agile processes with an overall portfolio management mindset, please take a look at some of our old blog posts here. Note these are a bit more process oriented. The blog below is designed to be a bit more tactical in nature.
Rest assured, Project Online has all of the “hooks” required for integration with your tool of choice in the CSOM interface. (For more on CSOM, click here). Yes, you do probably require a developer to create these links to your tool – but most partners (such as, ahem, ahem, ourselves) have plenty of those on staff. In fact, as we like to say, with our UMT360 add in – which integrates with Project Online, we are responsible for the most complex integrations performed to date on the Microsoft Project Online platform.
One caveat we would typically throw out is that the easiest way to prototype an integration and validate the processes underlying it is through rapid development of VBA macros within the Microsoft Project desktop tool. Once the process has been vetted, and the underlying fields defined, that may then be coded up into the CSOM interface. (See here if you want to tie an event handler into the mix, i.e. to trigger an integration action based on an activity in Project Online).
Project Online not only allows folks to push data into it, but obviously it also supports extracting the data. To get data that may need to be pushed into another tool – or simply integrated into a common report (see below), the OData interface is generally sufficient. This functions like a reporting database that may be accessed from the cloud – or via reporting tools that your organization may happen to have lying around.
The OData store may also be replicated on premises in the form of a standard SQL database. This allows for slightly more ease of use in terms of keeping your Project Online data in sync with your Agile tool of choice.
Agile Tool of Choice
As for your Agile tool of choice? Well, that’s a different question. If you’re using TFS, there’re definitely hooks to push data into the system. If you’re using another tool, we can probably assume there is an interface by which data may be imported – either manually or through a coded interface. I can’t really speak to that – other than to say that it has never been an issue in our experience to push data into another Agile tool – or even any other kind of ancillary industry specific scheduling tool (WellView, RigView, etc.).
At the same time, the question then becomes….what data? That’s something we’ll take a look at in the next post.
Finally, in our experience, any Agile tool worth its salt will have the required data available in an easy to use format, whether it be cloud based, an on-premises database, or some other data extract method. This data may then be consumed and pushed back into Project Online via the CSOM interface or Microsoft Project desktop through good ol’ VBA macros.
Integrated Reporting Platforms
Most of the time, when we hear of a need for integration, after we do some discovery, we realize the need is really for shared reporting. “I need to have one report that shows the overall project schedule as well as sprint progress,” the client says. This greatly simplifies things – because at this point, we really don’t need to integrate. We can simply extract data from the Agile tool, extract data from Project Online, and then integrate them into a single data model.
This is where Microsoft’s Power BI shines as a cloud based reporting tool. It can easily pull multiple data sources from both the cloud and on-premises repositories to generate a seamless reporting interface.
And that’s it for the overview of the integration options. In the next post, I’ll talk about why you might want to integrate and we’ll examine specific scenarios that might require integration.