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Combine Microsoft Project and Visual Studio Team System for a One-two Punch of Productivity : Page 2

Visual Studio Team System (VSTS) provides centralized storage of work item tracking features while MS Project provides rich planning and tracking features. By using them together, you can improve team productivity, minimize data conflicts, and reduce administrative overhead.


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Enabling VSTS integration: MS Project Add-In
To enable MS Project to integrate with VSTS, you need an add-in for VSTS. The add-in gets installed automatically when any of the VSTS team clients (Team Architect, Team Developer, Team Test or Team Foundation Client) is installed on a machine where MS Project is installed or vice-versa. The add-in adds one menu group, "Team," and one toolbar to MS Project as shown in Figure 1.
 
Figure 1. MS Project Add-in: The figure shows the Team menu group and the toolbar installed by the add-in to MS Project.
In addition, the add-in also adds many dialog boxes that simplify working with VSTS data.

Author's Note: Because the toolbar buttons and the menu items in the Team menu group perform the same actions, I have used the term 'button' to refer to both toolbar buttons and menu items. There are two menu items that don't have corresponding buttons, but those are described separately.

Creating a Project Plan
With VSTS, you create a project plan using the work items. This provides the following benefits:
  • Work items are stored in the TFS, which helps to avoid inconsistencies created by having multiple copies of the project plan.
  • Team members can update their work items in Visual Studio. Such changes are automatically reflected in the project plan, which helps to reduce the need for status meetings.
  • You can specify complex rules for the allowed values of the work item fields. These rules are not just static constraints; they change according to the state of a work item at any point of time, making the creation and the maintenance of the project plan much more consistent and less error prone.
  • Work Items support complex queries. Project Managers can use these queries and MS Project views to get highly customized views of the project plan.
 
Figure 2. Connecting to a Team Foundation Server: This dialog lets you choose a team project and a Team Foundation server.
The above benefits are achieved just for using work items based project plans. When this is combined with the other features of VSTS, the project management process becomes much more efficient and simpler. Detailed description of the other project management features in VSTS is available in the MSDN article, "Visual Studio 2005 Team System: Software Project Management."

Connecting to VSTS
To create and update work items in MS Project, you first need to connect to a team project. To do that, open a new project plan in MS Project, which enables the Choose Team Project button on the add-in toolbar (see Figure 1). When you click that button you'll see the dialog box shown in Figure 2. The dropdown box at the top of the dialog lists the available Team Foundation Servers. If it doesn't list any, you can add servers by clicking the Servers button to display a dialog box listing the available servers. The dialog box contains Add and Remove buttons; clicking the Add button displays a dialog box as shown in Figure 3.



 
Figure 3. Add Team Foundation Server: This dialog lets you add a new TFS to the server list.
 
Figure 4. Blank Project Plan Connected to a Team Project: The figure shows a new MS Project plan with a set of columns appropriate for a Team Project.
 
Figure 5. Get Work Items: Using this dialog, you can review, select, and import work items from a selected team project.

Servers added in this manner are subsequently listed in the drop down box in Figure 2. When you select a TFS, the dialog displays the available team projects for that server in the Team Projects text box. You can select only one team project at a time. After you select a project and click OK, you'll see a normal MS Project interface, but it will have a different set of columns as shown in Figure 4.
 
Figure 6. Populated Project Plan: The figure shows an MS Project plan populated with selected work items.
You can import work items from the connected team project by clicking the Get Work Items button, which displays the dialog shown in Figure 5.

The Get Work Items dialog box allows users to view work items available in the chosen team project and to select work items to import to the new project plan. The add-in does this by running a query based on WIT or by running one of the stored queries in Team Project. The dialog shows query results in the data grid. Users can choose the work items that they want to import by selecting the corresponding check boxes. After you select some work items, clicking OK returns you to the project plan, now populated with the selected work items as shown in Figure 6.



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