Aug 19, 2020 | Daniel Bach

We have been handling many Microsoft Dynamics 365 Project Service Automation (PSA) projects for customers at proMX. I want to share some into common requirements we face in almost every project. While we’re at it, I will introduce you to some deeper controlling mechanics required in project controlling since they do not exist out-of-the-box in PSA right now.

There are some analytic features like Power BI solution templates but those are just samples.

Scenario

Projects are very dynamic with a lot of different possible constellations. To deliver them on time requires deep controlling of the current plan and status compared to the initial value agreed with the customer.

In our scenario we require some way to report the previous plan schedule vs the actual plan schedule. In other words, we need to see how the project schedule has changed over time.

Project managers used to just save different versions of the plan in simple tools like Microsoft Excel or they used enterprise tools like Microsoft Project that provide multiple baselines.

With Microsoft Dynamics 365 we need to find a way to save different project schedules while working with the live data, either on demand or fully automated.

Considerations

I will not go into the depths of the Dynamics 365 and Project Service Automation data model but want to highlight some basic facts about the different implementations. The source code provided is “as is” because I did not fully reimplement and test the functions for this article.

For customer implementations we provide robust and efficient implementations based on Azure functions or plug-ins. To demonstrate functionality and its implementation we try to demonstrate them with easier to understand Power Automate integrations and some basic SQL scripts.

First Implementation: Single Baseline

This first example of a possible implementation is a very basic one. The idea is to use the existing data and data model to create basic project controlling on a regular basis by saving some calculated figures as custom entity values. The custom entity is used to provide a historic reposting functionality for the data over time.

Data Model

By default in Dynamics 365 Project Service Automation the existing sales order is named Project Contract and is developed during the sales process until the customer accepts the offer and the contract is marked as “confirmed”. This confirmed state sets the Project Contract to a read only state.

Put simply, this is our baseline! Negotiation are completed, the customer has accepted our offer. This is the baseline we can use to report the current project status. While the project schedule may change over time during the project delivery process, the project contract will stay the same.

The project is linked to the project contract line. All related data (like the work breakdown structure (WBS) schedule and expenses estimates) imported with full detail, we get a clear picture of the “base” project schedule.

Project Contract relations

In the data model, the 1:1 relation is handled by Dynamics 365 Project Service Automation logic because it does not exist in Dynamics. In the order line the project is provided as a look-up. When the project is set, the project estimates include WBS schedule and expense estimates can be imported as full detail.

In our scenario, the import of estimates was automated at a fixed order line named “Order no \ Delivery”. An additional order line named “Order no” was added for further development by the salesperson during the sales process.

Here we know that when the project estimates get imported, PSA will delete all previous ones, so we would lose the salesperson’s work unless we save it in a special order line.

Project Contract: Snapshot

We use the project contract in its confirmed state as our reporting snapshot. There was no change in the data model because it provides every function out-of-the-box. Some automatisms and logical checks were added and the UI was updated to provide a better process flow.

Here is a small sample what it would look like at the end:

Project Contract

For a better overview, we restructured the UCI forms and used the editable grid with a nested view. Having all the project contract line details (I will call them ‘details’ from here on) arranged under their project contract line (‘line’ for short), gives us a clean picture of the different figures.

We use a business process flow from Opportunity to Order which will then switch over into the Project and the Project Delivery business process flow.

Our sales process includes stage gating for negotiations and depended branches for approval processes based on the quotation volume.

Our basic project delivery process includes a close out phase to provide lessons learned and further details after project completion.

Contract Details

In my sample we have a very small WBS schedule with a single expense estimate:

Project Estimates

Here is the overview of the project and the estimates at the time of the import into the project contract:

Financial Detail: Report

To provide reporting of project schedule changes compared to the snapshot, we implemented a custom entity to store our values. Once created (automated every month for every project and on trigger), this entity collects and saves all data from the project contract and project delivery at the given time.

Financial Detail:

NameTypeDescription
BudgetFloatValues from Project Contract
ForecastFloatValues from the Project
ActualFloatValues from the Actuals
PoCFloatPercentage of Completion
ProjectLookupRelated project
Project ContractLookupRelated Project Contract
Project Contract LineLookupRelated Project Contract Line
UnitLookupDifference time and expense
Transaction ClassOptionDiffererence time and expense
Transaction TypeOptionDifference sales and cost values
DateDate OnlyReporting Date
ReportLookupRelated Report

To provide easy monthly reporting and to avoid having to deal with mass data over time, we also added a Reporting entity where all financial detail records are grouped together by the date. For better overview we added Excel templates providing Pivot reports based on the data.

We also added a process flow to provide a review and approval process for monthly project review meetings.

Report:

NameTypeDescription
DateDate OnlyReporting Date
ProjectLookupRelated Project
DescriptionTextbox 

Logic

The core logic was implemented with a robust Azure function and ribbon button triggers and a time schedule. To show the basic idea of the logic behind this implementation, I added a very basic Flow to illustrate how it would work.

When the process is triggered (whether automated or by user interaction), we grab the details of our report entity and its project affiliation. With the project in mind, we select every related project task representing our ‘Forecast’ figures and the estimate lines.

All project related actuals are selected representing our ‘Actual’ figures.

Finally, we select the related project contract by querying the project related order line. Now it depends on the customer scenario if only the linked order line with its line details should be considered or every detail in the contract.

At the very end, all data needw to be merged to create a single financial detail line in our report entity.

The handling in this article was based on the default Dynamics 365 Project Service Automation entities without deep customizations. In our customer scenario we had to use transaction categories with an additional mapping table to match it against the tons of SAP categories. Grouped by the responsible contracting unit, we had clean figures and no issue in merging the values together.

When using the default system, consider a ‘group by’ definition because there is no WBS ID existing on the project contract side, and name match won’t work in every situation.

Controlling

At the end of each month during project delivery, a new report with the current financial details is created triggered by a Flow. The Flow collects the data from the project contract, project WBS and project expense estimates and adds the project related actuals to it.

In the report itself the data is provided in a grid view to give an overview of the ordered values vs the current project plan and actual data tracked in the system.

Report overview

In the sample report we can see some differences in the figures. Some project estimates are different, and we also see a brand-new project task which was not part of the original project contract.

Since nobody enjoys validating columns and rows, we added an Excel template to report the data with Power Pivot. With no need of implementing Power BI or other reporting services it is easy to add calculations and other validations to an Excel file. The data is saved within the report entity and will not change over time.

Online Excel Reporting

Well, here I need to confess that the report from our customer was much better than mine. Having worked with Power BI and SQL servers for years now, my Excel skills have withered. 😊

Recap

This implementation was very easy but it does provide deep reporting based on different figures. In the customer project the actual data was provided by an internal SAP system where sales only works with Dynamics 365. The project manager wanted an easy way to compare the contracted values and have a long term reporting method to see changes in the project schedule.

With data as custom entities we controlled the flow and added functions to automate report generation but also added them for users to create as many reports as they desire. Since flows are added to the UI, users can directly access and use them to trigger data generation.

For the so-called monthly progress meetings between the different project managers, different KPI measures were also added to give deeper performance controls, like a risk matrix and handling for different milestones.

Answering