SharePoint is one of the most under used applications in most large organisations. Yes, it gets used as an alternative network drive, but it is such a powerful tool with so many useful features which most users never discover. In fact, it’s that power that often puts people off using SharePoint more effectively. A description of SharePoint and its components is included at the end of this article, but I am going to talk about how you can use some simple, out of the box features, to help you manage your projects.
I created a quick demonstration site containing most of the typical components you might want to control your project:
Down the left hand side is the Quick Launch bar. This provides easy access to each aspect of the site. Let’s start at the top.
Every project creates documents. The typical problem is controlling which version is the latest and making sure people are only using the latest version. SharePoint handles that brilliantly. Through the options on a document library you can enforce version control. You can also force anyone editing a document to check it out first. That way nobody else can update the document while it is checked out. Everyone can see who has the document checked out and the administrator can override checkouts if there are problems with somebody being away on holiday or off-sick.
And rather than filling everyone’s inbox with new versions of the document, you can send links to the document library or the specific file and everyone sees the latest version. The site administrator can easily roll back to an earlier version if changes need to be undone.
You can also add information about the document into the library (this is called meta data). In my demonstration site I have added a field called ‘Project Stage’. So every document gets assigned to a stage in the project. I have an overall ‘stage’ for project management. You could also add a project document category so you can easily find all requirements documents or all plans and even a document type so you could find all presentations. You can add whatever meta data fields you want to enable you to search and organise the project documentation. Different views of the same library can be created to only show documents with meta data that meet that view’s criteria.
Add in the fact that users can set alerts so they are notified of changes to documents in the library (the users sets the type of change to be notified and the frequency/timing of notification) and you can start to see the power of SharePoint in just this first element of the site.
The second heading on the Quick Launch is Project Control. In this section I have grouped three lists. The first is a Tasks list. This is a special list as it automatically creates a gantt chart view of the tasks. It also has special fields such a predecessors, to show the dependencies between tasks.
Now if you are running a major project you will be creating and running your plan in a tool like Microsoft Project. Well if you have the same version as your SharePoint site, you’ll be able to synchronise the tasks. For smaller projects you could even create and manage the plan just from within SharePoint.
In Project Control I have also created a Deliverables log to track key deliverables, their due dates and % complete, and a Change Control Log to track change requests on the project.
Now on many projects and Programmes I have run we’ve used Excel workbooks to maintain the RAID log. The problem with that is keeping this up to date and consistent across the various workstreams. By using SharePoint you get all of the version control and check-in/check-out functionality and have a single place for everyone to go to. And you can use the alerting to tell you when changes have been made.
In project Information I have grouped a series of lists designed to hold useful information. The Project Announcements list also appears on the home page of the Project Site. It is designed for publishing key communications messages. I encourage my team and stakeholders to have an alert set against this list so that if the project needs to communicate something urgently, they will get an e-mail.
The Project Calendar can be used for a number of things. Key meetings can be shown on the calendar and you could add an event type of holiday to show team holiday bookings. You can also add in resources like rooms, projectors etc.
The Project Contacts list is pretty obvious but you could add in additional fields to create business continuity call out lists. You could add a key contact marker or VIP marker and then use a tailored view to display only those people.
The Useful Websites and Project Wiki are two lists I like to include. The first is so that the team can share key web sites (internal and external) that the rest of the team might find useful. On one project we had a link to the Company’s inter-site shuttle bus timetable. The Wiki is great for sharing comments and knowledge and really start to get lessons across the project picked up by everyone.
Scratching the surface
What I have described so far is only scratching the surface of what SharePoint can bring to the party for your project. You could add discussion forums, lessons learned logs etc. etc. Without getting too techie, you could start to look at content types and having document templates available in your project document library straight from the ‘new’ button without having to look for the latest template version on a file share. If you, or someone in your team is more technically minded, you could start to investigate workflows to automate document sign offs, change control approvals, holiday requests etc. etc.
We also haven’t explored using SharePoint for resource management, financial management, status reporting and a project dashboard. What’s more, having built your project site, it can be saved as a template and re-used by you and your colleagues with a few simple clicks. If multiple projects are using the same template, it is a relatively simple job to create a consolidated site to pull together key information across the projects.
A site for sore eyes
If you have liked the sound of some of the features I’ve talked about in this post, I’ve created a site template in SharePoint 2013 that you can use on your system. Click on the ARRA-pmSite Collaborator logo, fill in your details and I’ll send a copy of the template to you. I also have an older version for SharePoint 2007 so let me know which version you want.
If you want to learn how to create and amend your own SharePoint project sites I will be including a series of SharePoint videos in the PM Bites training modules to be released over the coming months. In the meantime, leave a comment or send me an e-mail with any comments or questions you have.
What is SharePoint?
Finally, as promised at the start, a bit more on what SharePoint is. SharePoint is a web based application which provides an infrastructure and set of tools to help people collaborate. At its heart are two core containers – lists and libraries which hold the content of the application. Lists contain collections of information (e.g. tasks, calendar entries, contacts etc.) and libraries contain collections of files (e.g. documents, images, video clips etc.). These are grouped in sites to provide control over who can access what (communities) and displayed on pages directly or through components called web-parts.
Information within the site and across sites can be combined to provide composite views of that information. With the right technical knowledge and/or higher end versions, business data from other systems can also be incorporated. Excel is integrated into SharePoint and this provides the analytical capabilities to create insights into the information. To make it easy to find information and files a powerful search capability is built in. In the background there are a whole range of services to provide alerts, version control and extensive workflow capabilities that enable full blown applications to be created in SharePoint.