Project Online or Project Operations: which one is right for my organization?

Many organizations are wrestling with which project management tool to use to take them to the next level of project management maturity. Microsoft’s two most popular enterprise offerings are usually at the top of the list of contenders: Project Online, also known as Project Web App or simply PWA, and the most recent offering of Project Operations, a component of Dynamics 365.

Let’s take a look at these two offerings and examine how they might fit into your organization’s overall strategy.

First, let’s check out Microsoft Project Online

Microsoft Project for Windows was launched commercially in 1990 (which in computer timelines makes it a dinosaur to some and a rock of stability to others). Over the years, Microsoft has continued to invest in the tool. As a leader in innovative changes and updates, Project is often the go-to choice of serious Project and Portfolio managers worldwide, certainly those whose organizations use the Microsoft ecosystem.

This base software engine drives Project Online and works hand in hand with it to give you a fully capable project and portfolio management system. However, the major drawback of Project Online is that it’s burdened by the legacy system it is built on. The main complaint is that it doesn’t have a modern look and feel. It lacks the native ability to operate well with other business function software.

Overall, Project Online is a powerful and complete project management platform, giving you control over resource scheduling and task management.

Now let’s look at MS Dynamics 365 Project Operations

Project Operations, widely released in October 2020, is the latest project management tool in the Microsoft arsenal and is part of the Microsoft Dynamics 365 toolset. This means that the project data and resource capacity data are natively available to all modules comprising the Dynamics 365 product line.

For example, to use the financial data from the Dynamics Finance module within your projects (to report on the project cost performance, for example), you will not need to double-enter the data or write special code to transfer and load the data from your finance system. Instead, you will have access to this data natively.

Project Operations is the future of project management tools from Microsoft. It’s integrated with the other Dynamics and Outlook 365 tools and feature updates. Deeper integrations are being released from the Microsoft development team regularly per their cloud deployment timeline. The user interface is modern and consistent with the suite of 365 products. Plus, it can be used effectively on mobile devices.

Project Operations will help you:

  • Win more bids with better contract management and more accurate project quotes, forecasting, estimation, and scope.
  • Flexibly manage projects with easy-to-use embedded Microsoft Project capabilities, including Kanban boards and Gantt charts.
  • Ensure that you have the right people on the right projects through resourcing insights, scheduling, governance, and skills matching.
  • Submit, approve, process, and reconcile time and expense entries on the go for faster reimbursement and client billing.
  • Manage your project accounting more accurately and recognize revenue compliant with International Financial Reporting Standards
  • Rapidly adapt to market demands using actionable insights from a consolidated view of your project sales and financial data.

Project Operations


Project Operations is a powerful tool, and Microsoft continues to develop and upgrade it (unlike Project Online). However, it may not be the perfect solution for your organization. The drawback with Project Operations is that it is not currently at full functionality of Project Management capabilities that Microsoft Project possesses. Plus, the price you pay in licensing the software can be prohibitive.

Project Operations is built on the Project Online scheduling engine. If you have projects that involve more than 50 tasks and hundreds of resources, or your projects span multiple months or years, then Project Operations may not be up to the task. Other issues, such as Project Operations having a simplified work breakdown structure and limited project financials and cost management capabilities, could also cause frustrations.


Help me decide

Of course, each case is different. Don’t fear—your Advisicon team is ready to help you compare, implement, and train you on the right PM technology for your organization. Here are some thoughts to start the decision process:

  • Is your organization already in the Microsoft Dynamics eco-system?
  • Are you using the enterprise resource planning capabilities of Dynamics?
  • Do you already rely on the Microsoft Dynamics Customer Relationship Management modules and Finance modules of Dynamics?
  • Are your projects short and straightforward in duration?

If your answer is yes to these questions, then the logical solution for your project and portfolio management would be to use Project Operations.

The addition of Project Operations will tie all your systems together. This allows the data to be easily tracked and passed from one function to the next and back again if needed. The synergies gained by having all the major tools of your organization rolled under one roof are incredibly beneficial. We’ve found that service-oriented organizations are particularly well suited to this beginning-to-end alignment.

However, if your company is heavily entrenched in non-Microsoft Dynamics products and the integration to those at the project level is unnecessary or doesn’t add much value, perhaps Microsoft Project is the perfect path for your organization.

Many factors are at play when looking to transform your organization’s culture into one with strong project management and resource planning capabilities. Some deeper questions to ask are:

• What do my organization’s processes look like now?
• How fast can we move towards transforming?
• What are our change management strengths and weaknesses?
• What organizational tools do we already have in place that are key to our business?
• Are we looking to implement Dynamics 365, and is the organization ready for such a change?
• How much configuration would need to be done to make the out-of-the-box Dynamics suite fit our needs?
• Does the benefit of tight integration between sales, CRM, Finance, and Operations outweigh the cost of disruption and change?

Bottom line

Change can be hard on an organization. An organization can find itself over-committing to an ambitious change that disrupts its daily operations. Putting money towards a transformational shift may end up being wasted if the transformation is abandoned partway through.

Advisicon sees Microsoft Project as a transformational bridge between a non-project methodology disciplined organization and one that is fully project-immersed across all organizational functions.

Project Operations, though more costly, supports a full-service business lifecycle. If you follow a best practice approach and integrate the software into numerous aspects of your organization, the benefits can outweigh the cost.

Licensing and pricing

Keep in mind that the licensing and pricing of the Microsoft offerings can be confusing for either tool, with many caveats along the way that affect pricing. It can take quite a bit of administrative effort to set up and maintain the licenses. Licensing and pricing are per user (in some cases per workstation) and is usually a minimum of a year commitment. Microsoft recommends working with a Microsoft Partner to purchase the exact software you need. Advisicon has been serving clients in this capacity for many years and can provide you with a right-sized solution.

A great blog post explaining the Licensing of Microsoft Project can be found here.

To explore the pricing of Project Operations, visit this Microsoft site.

Whatever your business case, Advisicon stands ready to help you compare, implement, and leverage the project management technology that will best meet your needs. Fill out this form to let us know you’re ready to get started. We’ll cut through any confusion to help you identify exactly what’s right for you!