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A Simple Approach to Collaborative Project Management Using SharePoint

Part 1 – Collaborative Project Management

More initiatives than ever are now delivered as collaborative projects, but the reality is that the world of collaborative project management can be very challenging.  So having a common process and collaborative tools to support it will help your project teams get on the fast track to success.

A Common Scenario

A term that has been in use for many years now is “P-MBA” or Project Manager by Accident! This label describes the project management experience of many organizations.

For example, P-MBA’s can be the “Technical” lead and are not necessarily trained in formal Project Management practices, and their organizations simply don’t have the budget or time to train them. Couple that with the fact that many organizations do not have a defined process or set of standards for new Project Managers to follow, the prospect of successfully completing a project can become very difficult.

Furthermore, these days Project Teams are staffed with smart Team Members, many of whom are part qualified to manage the actual project and expect to be involved in the decision making. Most project Team Members have access to web-based collaboration sites where some – but often not enough – key project information is housed. And remember… a little information is a dangerous thing!

Does this scenario sound familiar?

Reflection

If the above scenario seems like it could be your organization, take a minute to reflect on the following four questions.  I would wager that most organizations involved in project management would answer “No” to some of the following questions.  They should give you a good idea of whether investing in collaborative project management is right for you and your group.

  1. Are your projects meeting expectations?
    If the answer is yes, then maybe just keep on doing whatever it is you are doing.  But if you answered no, then move on to question number two.
  2. Do executives have real-time visibility into all projects?
    If you have visibility you can at least begin to pull on the levers of control. But if you don’t have visibility into all projects all the time, then the third question becomes important.
  3. Are you confident the people working on projects are trained in collaborative project management?
    You want to have confidence in knowing that each of the people involved in the project – especially those managing the project – are experienced and trained enough in collaborative project management.
  4. Does your organization have best practice processes and guidance for project managers?
    This includes documentation, explanations, templates and training that explain to people how you want projects run and how you want them to be successful.

A Simple Approach

In order to implement successful project management in your organization, you should really have a process – the way you want to manage projects successfully. Here is a very simple approach to project management comprising the following five stages:

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As any Project Manager knows, the process of re-planning is a constant one since in reality and by necessity project plans do change a lot.  It is not a question of “If,” but rather “When” something will go wrong.  As the Chief of Staff of the Prussian Army and Master Strategist Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke said:

“No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength.”

You might say that having an approach does not really matter – and in some cases you are right—but what if an organization wants to move people around to drive larger projects to success? Some common way of managing projects would be useful. Similarly, what if an organization has problems delivering projects with these new Project Managers? Would it not be better to have a project management process to fix than a person to blame!

 

Part 2 – A SharePoint Example

So you’ve decided on a process for your project teams to use. Now the best way to get your team to use the approach is to create a template to guide them by baking that process right into the collaborative project site.

Here’s how this can be done in a SharePoint site.

Configuring Project Processes

Below you will see a screenshot of a sample SharePoint project site where the Quick Launch exposes the 5 stage process we described above.  It is made up of several lists and libraries (i.e. Tasks, Risks, Issues, Lessons Learned, etc.) that mirrors the approach to project management that you will undertake.

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So here you see the stages and “sub-stages” of collaborative project management can be mapped to a SharePoint site, with the Quick Launch giving you the ability to easily organize these items based upon your processes.

No matter what process or terminology you use, the Quick Launch can be configured accordingly.

Adding Project Reports

So along with lists you’ve added to the Quick Launch, SharePoint sites consist of many “web parts,” which essentially gives you a view into the lists on the Quick Launch.  For example, on our site we have added getting started tiles, the Start/Finish Gantt chart web part, traffic light indicators, open tasks and project goals.  However, you can configure your SharePoint site to surface the information that is most important to your project team.

Using Microsoft Project Sync

One of the major benefits of using the SharePoint for collaborative project management is the ability to sync with Microsoft Project.

You noticed in our process above that tracking and re-planning will be an integral part of your job as a Project Manager – so Microsoft Project will come in handy.

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Using the “Open with Project” option on the ribbon in SharePoint allows you to open the tasks list in Project to interact with the tasks.  Once the Project 2013 client is open, you can easily manipulate and change things the way you are familiar with in Project – such as predecessors, Start/Finish, titles, moving tasks around – all within the Project 2013 client.

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When you click on Save, not only does it save a copy of that Microsoft Project file in your SharePoint site, it will initiate the sync as well to keep the SharePoint tasks list “in sync” with what is happening in the Project file. Any changes that are made in Project 2013 will be represented in the SharePoint tasks list, or vice versa.

Once you have saved and synced in Project, you will see that the Tasks List in SharePoint is updated:

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A project by its very nature can and will change.  As a Project Manager, tracking and re-planning is absolutely necessary.  But as you can see, the Project 2013 to SharePoint 2013 synchronization enables you to easily manage the project schedule in Microsoft Project, and seamlessly communicate and collaborate around that plan with your team in SharePoint.

 

 

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9 Comments
  1. Good article. All too many organizations devalue formal project management skills and consistent project outcomes by giving lip service to PM, but assuming any smart person should be able to do it.

    While communication and collaboration platforms will certainly help, they will not take the place of experienced PMs utilizing proven project management processes and methodologies.

    Reply
  2. Is the connection between MS Project and SharePoint restricted to 2013 (for both products)?

    Reply
  3. @Vance … “While communication and collaboration platforms will certainly help, they will not take the place of experienced PMs utilizing proven project management processes and methodologies”.

    You are of course correct. As an old manager of mine at Digital used to say – a fool with a tool is still a fool! This is why we at BrightWork bring the Project Management process and SharePoint together.

    Reply
  4. I’m an engineer and in the situation of being a pmba, given that I had this great idea, convinced folks of it, and now am tasked with implementing it, which requires quite a few folks input. What I would like to do is close the cycle time between steps 3 and 4 by having people log their actual time under a given project task, therefore at least giving me a good way of knowing the present. I imagine that sharepoint is good at query forms, such that you could have a drop down box with resource names, get their current tasks, pick off a timeframe or declare a number of hours, and update the actual time spent column, even perhaps giving them a chance to update their estimate of the % work remaining. Surely, however, I am reinventing the wheel. Any ideas as a sharepoint-project expert?

    Reply
  5. @Rik – Yes you are right – this is very possible in SharePoint. Suggest you do an internet search for solutions to do this – maybe search using “Project Management Templates on SharePoint” – or some such search. (I do not wish to direct you to only our company!)

    I would issue a word of advice – if I maybe so bold! Team Members do not like filling out time sheets (as you probably know) – especially for a PMBA Project Manager! But you might start the Team Members by asking them to fill a few simpler fields (e.g. Done or Not done; Status; any issues). Ease them in gently! Hope this helps.

    Reply
  6. Would this work if I am using SharePoint 2013 with Project 2010? I was hoping the different versions would still play nicely together. Thanks.

    Reply
  7. Good article! Glad to see that we are on-track with our PMO. Some good tips and ideas to improve our SharePoint Project Site Template!

    Reply
  8. Good to know, however how is this processes impacted by EPM 2010 or is this all managed through Sharepoint?

    Reply
  9. Great read, thank you! For a PMO, is it best practice to create a site template, and then create a new subsite for each new project using that project site template? I have had someone recommend running all projects in one site using audience targeting to help with serving up project information to pages for different audiences that need to see different information. I have a huge concern with this approach and just wonder what others think. Thank you!

    Reply

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