Using Power Apps with Project for the Web

Microsoft’s Project for the web sometimes referred to as “Modern Project” or “P4W” is designed to provide an easy-to-use, agile and simple setup and start for project Managers.

This is an important part of the Microsoft strategy for growing the automation and optimization in the new Microsoft 365 universe.

The key value here is that Project for the Web (Plan 1 License) is very much just like Project Desktop. It is a single-use product that allows PMs to build and store projects. All of these projects are stored in the central location in your Office 365 tenant and can be viewed by Power BI.

Any local custom field created in a Project for the web schedule is localized to that project schedule only. If you would like to create uniform custom columns or fields for better enterprise reporting, this is when you would leverage the Power Platform, namely Power Apps to help you create standardization across your projects.

Understanding of the Entire Power Platform

There is a great article by Microsoft about the Dataverse: What is Microsoft Dataverse? – Power Apps | Microsoft Docs that helps explain how these pieces are working together to provide automation, flowing of data between systems, reporting, and creating virtual agents (like ChatBots) to help connect data to the end-users.

This connection with the Power Platform allows you to create worklfows, data alignment, and standards and also to establish strong interconnections with other related M365 tools.

Overview of the Power Platform and why it is so helpful

Power Apps and the Power Platform have seen explosive growth. First with Power BI moving to a mainstay of organizations who want to read information across Microsoft and Non-Microsoft applications. But also the low code or no-code approach to automating or connecting data has really resonated with organizations.

A good example of this is building simple solutions to capture, track and synchronize work-related activities. Some examples are timesheet reviews, tasks burn down reports and views as well as things like time-off requests.

In the below example we validate Project Online Timesheets, entries and have a QA process that moves that data to our accounting system. In support, time off requests also leverage Power Apps to submit, review, track and report as well as Tally remaining sick or vacation hours for our staff.

Both of these are done through Power Apps and bringing the connected data from our Project Tools to our Accounting and HR systems.

Project for the web is still fairly new and in its adolescence with current features. If we compare Project Desktop or Project Online (which have decades of lifespan), these capabilities are being rebuilt or carried over. But to bridge that gap Microsoft is leveraging Power Apps to help establish forms, workflow, connecting related tables, or custom fields.

This blending of the M365 and Power Platform is part of the “Better Together” story, where you are able to work in the most appropriate toolsets (Planner, MS To Do, any of the Project tools) and still continue to deliver cross-enterprise integration, reporting, and automation, while allowing an organization to create enterprise-level standards, without needing to jump into a single toolset.

The Power App or Power Platform Terminology for Project for the Web

One area many people have questions about is understanding the Project terminology such as Accelerator, Project App, or Project Connector. All of these are synonymous with the same approach with the following distinction.

  • Project Accelerator or Project Connector = the sample, pre-built, and free Power App made available by Microsoft to help customers step up above just loosely using Project for the web
  • Project App = in some cases references the free Power App, but it also refers to the extensible option for building and customizing a centralized enterprise interface and fields using the Power Platform

Where these two approaches can differ is how they are built. While both are very similar in what you can deploy they provide a different build experience.

Both are intended to be low code or no code experiences, but let me tell you that is a very narrow ledge.  You can easily slip into deeper programming and development depending on what you are trying to build.

So for Model-Driven vs. Canvas Power Apps, here is a brief breakout.

  • Dynamics and Project Operations is a Power App, but it is built using a Model-Driven Power App. This provides a more stylized interface and is based on the Common Data Service (now referred to as the Data verse. This type of app follows the flow of data and is excellent for generating a data model for workflow. This type of Power App also requires a higher level of technical skillset and is more suitable for complex applications (like in Project, Program, or Portfolio management) and the data allows you to control what the end-user can do or see.
  • A canvas app will give you the ability to create the full user interface for your application, very similar to building your own forms or if you have done this in the past, built forms in InfoPath. This experience is just like the title suggests, starting with a blank canvas. From our experience, you have much more control with a Canvas App, but you also have to build pretty much everything. This is great for mobile devices or if you want to add more graphical options to your interface, but gives you a simple, nonresponsive design and is also the preferred choice for the low code or no-code development of apps for you or your organization.

When you are building an application using Power Apps, it is important to identify which approach would work best for your solution.  In the case of Project for the web, most lean toward building with the Model Driven app.

A way to tell if you have a data-driven model is to review how your information or data needs to flow.

In the case of Projects, Programs, or Portfolios, there tends to be a lifecycle as depicted by the example below.

This flow of information can help you define and organize, present, and generate reporting against information that has cycles or follows flows (branching or non-branching).

Now let’s review the current Power App and “Project Accelerator” solution in alignment with your needs.

Common Misunderstandings with Project for the web & Power Apps

While Project for the web is easy to leverage and use, jumping in and making enterprise-level changes easily like Project Desktop or Project Online is not localized inside of the application. It’s done through Power Apps. This misconception is common, even if the changes or configuration elements needing to be done are easy, you just need to recognize that you will be making those in Power BI (for reporting) or the Power App.

By doing this, it becomes easier to deploy and maintain across an enterprise and the data model is open and exposed making reporting changes very straightforward.

You will, however, need a Power App License if you want to use the Project Accelerator or configure this beyond 5 lookup fields / Tables and a Power BI license if you want to view or edit the reports.

In this next diagram, I’ve highlighted the functionality by the Microsoft Project tool solution, so you can spot when and where you would use which tool for the job (if you are looking at doing specific functionality).

Advanced Customizing or Creating Enterprise Level Structure for Project for the web

Many organizations are looking for the simplicity of Project for the web but also need to book resources, do demand and capacity planning, managing Programs and Portfolios.

To do this Microsoft has provided the Power Platform to help you extend your P4W experience. You would leverage both Power BI and Power Apps, possibly even Power Automate to help create workflows, custom columns and establish a Project Lifecycle process around managing, starting, and delivering projects.

Microsoft has also deployed a quick custom App for you to get started with. This solution is a Power App and Microsoft, while offering a basic Power App for people to begin to have enterprise-level fields and consolidation of intake requests and project data, also know that most organizations will quickly outgrow or will need more of what is offered in their current PPM solutions in Project Ops or Project Online.

If you wanted to go beyond the basics, then you would start building and customizing this with Power Apps. A couple of key Points:

  1. You will need a Power App License if you want to use the Accelerator or configure this beyond 5 lookup fields / Tables
  2. If you get the Project Accelerator and decide you want to customize it you will need to do so in Power Apps.

The Project Accelerator gives you a centralization for project requests and intake and this is where you can add additional custom columns or ways to templatize your projects and what necessary information is helpful in doing reporting, planning, and forecasting.

A common addition is adding budget, forecasts, and cost information, which for now, does not exist in the Project for the web tool, but is here for you to continue extending the data fields for using P4W as an enterprise application.

This Accelerator allows you to start with an Intake Process and organize projects by programs.

It also provides you with Power BI Report packs and visuals to embed and see the summary or aggregation of key project-related data, just like in this project request dashboard.

The Project Accelerator extends the ability to organize costs, budget, resources, and bookings for projects along with allowing you to bring in and sync with other data sources across Microsoft tools or non-Microsoft tool systems.

Seeing financials or other enterprise information in graphical form (as seen below), you would leverage Power BI and embed these in your Power App to surface the right information, summarized and visualized for your users.

For those that haven’t made this full plunge or it may be seen as a bridge too far, remember Microsoft still has Project Online (PWA), which is fully formed and has a deep resource, costs, and portfolio selection and prioritization capabilities.  However, its scheduling tool is much deeper and heavier, which may be more than you are looking for.

Provide Resource Reporting Across All Projects

Another great part of the Power Platform is that when you start using Power Apps to organize and standardize your project or program data, you can also leverage the out of the box reporting to view resource work across projects or programs and the end users can see their assignments at a glance across all of their project assignments as well.

Whether you are using just Project for the web without any of the Power apps or you are working in Project Operations or the Project App, your reporting surfaces for the end-users their timelines for work as well as the work task they have as shown in the picture below.

Here is a visual of what comes with the Project Accelerator and using the Native Power BI Report pack for resource assignments. There are other reports and views, both across resources and also specifically for the logged-in user.

Resource Capacity Visibility: Seeing Your Assignments Regardless of Platform

As stated earlier and also what is great about leveraging the Power Platform through Power BI is that the native out-of-the-box reports are rich and have many standard reports. Regardless of whether it is  Project for the web or leveraging Dynamics Project Operations is that end-users have the ability to have visibility to their work across the projects.

How do I get the Power BI Report Packs?

Many people have asked how to get the report packs as they are testing out trial instances and want to understand how to fast track their use of Project for the web and the Project Accelerator.

Here are some key links to where to get and download them from Microsoft.

When and where do I shift to doing Power App Development?

Anytime you want to customize the Application beyond the original setup and configurations, tables, fields, form, look, feel, etc., you will be doing work in Power Apps.

A common question that surfaced around Power Apps isWill Power Apps be part of the Microsoft Applications I’ll need for working with Project for the web? What if we move to Dynamics or Project Operations?

The answer here is that customizations are done through Power Apps. Unless you are going full Dynamics (Project Operations) and it has all of the features you are looking for, then you will need to plan on the building or customization of your data fields and form interfaces or reports.

In Summary

The Power Platform provides an entirely new platform to organizations looking to both extend or interconnect data, systems, and applications across Microsoft 365 and outside of Microsoft environments/applications.

This is the emerging direction of Microsoft for its applications. While today there is little documentation and Microsoft is continuing to improve and grow its features and capabilities, there still is the need to customize Project technologies or collaboration and reporting systems.

Power Apps (whether a Canvass or Model-Driven App), allows customers to build and deploy apps in the app model, creating an easy to maintain and deploy set of options, while still providing enterprise-level functionality.

For Project for the web, the Power Platform is providing the easiest bridge to moving out of legacy applications and growing capabilities that stay rooted in the secure consolidated Microsoft Dataverse.

I hope this has been helpful for you. As I mentioned earlier, here are some additional great links, document references if you want to continue to grow your capabilities using Power Apps.

We at Advisicon stand ready to assist you if you need more, but we encourage you to dip your toe into the new world and grow your abilities to centralize reporting, data, and project lifecycle toolsets.

Power Apps Links/Overviews

  1. Understanding the Data Innovation of Power Apps: Dataverse | Microsoft Power Apps
  2. Building Powerful Solutions with Power Apps: Business Apps | Microsoft Power Apps
  3. Introducing Power Apps Portals: Introducing PowerApps Portals: powerful low-code websites for external users | Microsoft Power Apps
  4. Getting Started with Power Apps portals: Get Started with Power Apps portals – Learn | Microsoft Docs
  5. Creating Power Apps – Canvass App to Manage Projects: Create a canvas app to manage projects – Power Apps | Microsoft Docs
  6. Getting More Value from the Power Platform Data Model: Common Data Model | Microsoft Power Platform

Microsoft Blogs

  1. What is the Dataverse and the Power Platform: What is Microsoft Dataverse? – Power Apps | Microsoft Docs
  2. Innovation with the Dataverse & Power Apps: Microsoft Dataverse | Microsoft Power Platform
  3. Recognizing Project Management Patterns for Power Apps: Power Apps pattern: Project management – Power Apps | Microsoft Docs

Keep looking for further articles on this topic as we discuss approaches in building, coding, and set up for the Model-driven applications through Power Apps for P4W. And if you need help figuring out which version of Project is right for you, you can get in touch with us here. We’d love to guide you to the right solution!