How To Use Your Free license with Microsoft Project Online

You can use the free license with Microsoft Project Online to do your basic reporting. There are caveats but I’ll show you ways that you can use the free license effectively.

What is Power BI?

Microsoft Power BI is a collection of online and client tools that enable organizations to visualize and explore data, share insights and allow consumption of these insights from multiple platforms. is the home site for the service and serves as the portal to see your dashboards. Power BI supports three primary entities:

  • Dashboards – A tile based way of showing you important information in a glance-able and easy to use fashion. Dashboards also support natural language querying, where the viewer can type in a question and have Power BI build a new visualization automatically.
  • Reports  – Are similar to dashboards in that they are tile based. However, reports are more interactive in that clicking on a bar in a chart filters everything on the report. A given Power BI project can have up to 10 reports.
  • Datasets – These are sets of data that have been transformed into business-usable formats.

Power BI is available on all mobile platforms via mobile applications in the platform app stores.

It’s Free?

Yes! Awesome isn’t it! When Microsoft last updated the Power BI pricing plans, they came out with a free license tier. To get your license, go to and login with your Office 365 account. Note, you can sign up with other accounts but if you want to use this license with Project Online, you have to sign up with the account with which you access Project.

Now What?

You need to download and install Power BI Desktop to create and publish your BI content. Think of Power BI desktop as “Word for Reporting”. You put it all together in Desktop but this isn’t where you would typically consume your BI content.

The Approach


For this approach to work, three things have to be true

  • Your report consumer wants to consume the data but desires accessibility over the ability to customize the views
  • The total amount of data you need to make available is less than 1G
  • Automatic daily refresh of data is acceptable

The second point is important as the data stored counts against both the creator of the visualizations and the consumer. The last point is the norm for most Project clients as most information is updated weekly.


Publish the Report Pack

  • If you aren’t already signed up for, create your free account using the same account you access Project Online.
  • If you haven’t already done so, download and install Power BI Desktop,
  • Create your Project visualizations as you normally would.
  • When finished, publish it to using the Publish button. image

Configure Auto-Refresh

  • Open
  • Hover over the dataset for your report, in this case, Project Report
  • You will see an ellipsis button appear on the right. click it
  • Select Schedule Refresh
  • Expand Data source credentials and enter your Office 365 credentials for Project Online
  • Expand the Schedule Refresh section and set up when you wish the data refresh to happen
  • Click Apply

Share the Report

Content Packs, which is a way of sharing report packs that allows the report consumer to customize the reports to their liking. However, creating and consuming Organizational Content Packs is a Pro only feature. You can consume the Microsoft supplied content packs with the Free license.

This is where the requirement that the end user is a simple consumer comes into play. The free license level can share their dashboards and reports with other free users. It simply makes the dashboard read only. For those tiles that support drilll-through, you can still access the reports.

To Share

  • Select your dashboard in the Dashboards group on the left pane
  • In the upper right corner of the screen, select the Share button
  • Enter either individual emails or preferably, AD groups with which to share the dashboard. These email addresses have to be within your organization.
  • Click Share

By default, everyone who is on the share list will get an email. The Report consumer will now see the shared dashboard under their dashboard section when they log into If they are using any of the mobile PowerBI clients, they will see the new shared dashboard there as well.

Please note, if you change the dashboard, the people with which it is shared will see the updates immediately.

7 Replies to “How To Use Your Free license with Microsoft Project Online”

  1. One of the challenges I ran into with sharing with the free version is that many clients don’t have Exchange activated as part of their O365 license. Hence, there’s nowhere to send the sharing e-mail to that the recipient will get it. (Unless I can hack the URL….haven’t tried it.) Curious if you’ve come across that scenario?

  2. Andrew, you don’t have to send the email. There’s a url provided on the Shared With tab within the Share dialog. You can copy and paste to send it via a different method.

    1. @tu@tumbleroad:disqus Is there way to copy a report and dashboard that we create in the desktop version for one company (say Acme Corp) and paste it into a different PowerBI account for Contoso Corp? Is that possible?

      1. You can do a Save As with the PBIX file and then point the second version to the second instance. However, that only gives you the report piece. There is an API that is in preview which may provide the ability to copy dashboards but nothing concrete just yet.

  3. Hi Treb! Just a quick question. Is it possible with Power BI App using the PO report pack to add ECF. I can see that they are not included in the report pack and see no way to add them in the datasets. Do you have any clue? Or should we go through PowerBI desktop to retrieve ECF?

  4. The content pack that is published by the Project Team cannot be modified to include these automatically. I’ll have something of interest to announce in the coming days. Stay tuned!

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