All projects generate a lot of information in the form of emails, documents, templates, reports and a host of other things. Keeping on top of it all can be difficult. A Project Management Information System (PMIS) can help. The Project Management Institute defines a PMIS as:
An information system consisting of tools and techniques used to gather, integrate, and disseminate the outputs of project management processes. It is used to support all aspects of the project from initiating through closing and can include both manual and automated systems.
Microsoft SharePoint is one tool in use across many organizations that can be used as a PMIS. Here are 5 tips for using SharePoint to help you manage your project information more effectively.
Create a project calendar
You can create a project calendar in SharePoint to store details of project meetings, key milestones and team holidays – or anything else that is date driven. The calendar function works on a similar basis to Outlook and you can schedule things with a duration of several days (like a training course), or for a particular hour (like a regular project team conference call). You can also attach documents to calendar entries, which is a good way of ensuring everyone has the meeting agenda in advance, and this can be updated once the event has taken place so the calendar entry can serve as a repository for documents created as an outcome of that session, like meeting minutes.
Use version control in your document library
If you already have SharePoint in your organization, chances are you are familiar with document libraries. These are repositories of shared documents, than can be organized and viewed by date, keyword, or any other metadata and form the bulk of most people’s experience with SharePoint. Did you know that SharePoint document libraries can automatically manage the version history of your documents for you? The default setting is that if you make changes to a document the new version will overwrite any previous version. But you can change the settings to ensure that previous versions are kept. This is great if you have several people responsible for updating documents, as you can track exactly what was changed as the document evolved.
Give all your stakeholders access
SharePoint allows you to set access controls so that different users have read or write permissions to different areas. You will probably want to allow at least read access for all of your project team and stakeholders. After all, nothing you have on the site should be so private that you can’t share it with your stakeholders. However, you won’t want to give your project sponsor the ability to delete documents – just in case they accidentally click something and you don’t have a backup!
Don’t use the Gantt chart feature for your scheduling
SharePoint does have a Gantt chart function but it is not as powerful as other scheduling tools. It’s also cumbersome if you have more than 50 tasks and you are not able to customise the Gantt view as much as you would need to. Instead, use it for high-level milestones. This way you can give all your stakeholders a snapshot view of progress, and it’s an easy way to share the significant achievements on the project without bogging people down in the task-level detail.
Check documents in and out
When you have documents that are work in progress and multiple people making changes, it can get confusing to know who has the document open at any one time. One document can only be worked on by one person at a time, and if you don’t automatically get a message telling you so, you could find that all your changes are lost because someone else gets there before you. The check in/out function in SharePoint stops that from happening.
If you check a document out others can still read it, but no one else can make changes to it until you have checked it back in. You can set this option as a requirement for your SharePoint site, to ensure all users are prompted to check out documents for editing. You can do this in the Library Settings menu.
Set up alerts
Alerts are a great option if you have a team that is not co-located and doesn’t look at SharePoint all the time. Those team members might not notice when a new document is available or when you have posted the minutes from the meeting last week. An alert is an automated email that is sent when something new happens on the SharePoint site. Users can subscribe to alerts themselves if there is a particular library or list they want to receive updates for. Alternatively, you can subscribe people to an alert, so you can be sure that those required get notification of new items. For example, every time you add something to the budget tracker you can notify your Finance department, as they probably won’t use your project SharePoint site as often as you do. Or you can set up alerts for your team so they get sent an email every time a new project document is added.
Alerts can be configured to be sent when new items are added or when something is deleted or modified. You can also set if you want to receive alerts in real time or as a daily or weekly summary, to help manage information overload.
Use a contact list
You need to know who to contact for everything on your project, right? You can use a contact list to store key pieces of information about your project team members like:
- Phone number
- Email address
- Fax number
- Job title
- Normal office hours
You can also configure your contact list to display internal and external contacts separately, so you can easily see who works for the same company as you and who is a supplier or other third party. You might want to store slightly different information for third parties, such as who is the main contact for accounts, or what the main switchboard number is.
Photos are a useful addition as they can create a sense of team, especially if you don’t all get together very often, or the team is new and no one really knows yet who does what.
Make the most of RSS feeds
SharePoint has the feature to import RSS feeds. You can make these appear on your project SharePoint site homepage, so everyone stopping by will get to see the latest news. Choose feeds that relate to your project somehow, like news from your industry or from your main supplier. If your company has a blog you could also link to that. One of the good things about pulling RSS feeds into SharePoint is that it encourages your team to use the site as their main source of information about the project and everything related.