This week I’m going to talk about a topic and technology that is near and dear to my heart – SharePoint. SharePoint has become a de-facto industry standard for a ‘document repository’. Sadly, many view it as just that. Designed and rolled out effectively, SharePoint can be an incredibly powerful tool to support your project.
SharePoint at its very core is an online collaboration tool. It just happens to do document management very well and this has become one of its signature pieces of functionality. However, it offers so much more in terms of being able to let you as the project manager collaborate with and report to your team and your customer. Here’s just a few tidbits that you can utilize SharePoint for that will help make your life easier as project manager.
One thing SharePoint is really good at is being flexible enough to allow novice tech’s (otherwise knowns as business power users) to create and manage their own sites within the SharePoint infrastructure. A very power, yet simple tool is the ability to create and manage custom lists. As a project manager, your main job is keeping track of a lot of moving parts. Action items, decisions, risks, issues – they all can be incredibly burdensome to manage. Luckily with SharePoint, you have the ability to create custom lists for all of these. SharePoint even has templates for some items (such as an issue tracker) that build a custom list for you with pre-defined fields (priority, category, related issues, etc.) that make it quick and easy for you to create and deploy your lists. Creating them is just the beginning – once you’ve got your lists created, you can share them out with all of the collaborators on your project site (team members, client, sponsors, executives, etc.). You might even want to start using SharePoint during your status meetings – many times when running through issues, I’ve simply pulled SharePoint up on my screen, gone through the list of open issues, added comments, updated status, etc. and then your job is done in terms of marking out any updates. Everything is tracked via versioning (should you enable it) so you can see the historical data associated with each item in your list.
Calendars in SharePoint are simply another way that SharePoint stores and presents data to the end user. The default view is a nice looking calendar view that makes it easy for users to add their own items that are date-related. Hmm, project milestones perhaps? Maybe an important on-site meeting. Team vacations or planned absences are simple to add into this calendar that gives the reader a great overview of upcoming activities for your project.
Document Management – Metadata and Views
Now we get to the perceived ‘heart’ of SharePoint – document management. SharePoint does this really, really well and it’s a widely accepted tool for document management. Versioning is probably the most powerful aspect of document management (and it’s saved me on a number of occasions when I had to retrieve a past version of a document). I’ve stressed to my teams and management that we should not be sharing documents via email when doing collaboration because ultimately there will be an incorrect version that becomes the baseline which defeats the entire purpose of collaboration. Storing and retrieving documents on SharePoint is probably nothing new to readers of this article but I like to stress this anytime I can. How you effectively store documents within SharePoint to make for easy retrieval is something that escapes many novice SharePoint users. The one most important rule that I abide by when building a document library in SharePoint - No folders! Folders defeat the purpose of using SharePoint metadata. By creating custom fields that you can attribute to your documents, you are able to sort, group, filter on whatever criteria you like. Creating folders creates clutter in your document library as users are forced to click in and go back which makes for a very tedious and unpleasant experience.
SharePoint is a very effective online collaboration tool. I hope that some of the tips and tricks I’ve gone through today help you in setting yourself up for success by using SharePoint.
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