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SharePoint 2010 for Project Management, 2nd Edition by Dux Raymond Sy

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Chapter 1. Project Kickoff

It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things.

Niccolò Machiavelli, Italian philosopher

As most of you would agree, the definition of a project varies greatly—it can be building the next space shuttle, upgrading the production line of your manufacturing facility, or just creating a new website for a customer. One common factor that holds true across these varying project types is that all of them involve multiple people interacting with a wide array of project information.

This information can include templates, emails, schedules, proposals, forms, budgets, contact information, status reports, regulatory compliance, and even ad hoc documents. In spite of our best attempts to effectively manage project information, we all seem to fall short at times. We rely on inconsistent and inefficient tools that are typically a combination of three things:

Local/personal storage

If project information is stored in an individual’s personal computer, email, or portable storage device, can important information—such as a project schedule—be made available to relevant stakeholders in a timely manner? If the computer or portable storage device breaks down, how is the information restored?

Network-based storage

If you are using central storage through a file-sharing network or web-based environment, how do you prevent files from being overwritten? What are the standards for maintaining versions? Can you easily define who can access what information?

Mixed bag of project management tools

Some common tools used in project environments are Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and possibly Microsoft Project. In certain cases, complex enterprise tools such as Microsoft Project Server and Primavera are also made available.

To improve these inefficiencies, three things are necessary:

Apply a standard set of project management processes from the start of the project until the end

While I won’t go into detailed discussions on project management concepts and theories, I will say that to make SharePoint work to your advantage, you have to employ sound project management techniques and practices.

If you don’t have one, the best way to develop a project management methodology is to review best practices from the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide and the Projects in Controlled Environments (PRINCE2) road map.

Consider this example: I have no cooking experience, so if I were to compete in a cooking contest against the best chef in the world (à la Iron Chef), I would definitely lose. This is because even if, by chance, I cooked really well, there’s no method to my madness—I dislike reading recipe books, so it’s hit or miss. I am certain that a veteran chef would have proven processes in place, from how to chop the vegetables to how long okra should simmer. Not only do veteran chefs document these steps, they also constantly tweak their processes for improvement. Guess what? The same thing applies to project management.

Use a Project Management Information System (PMIS) to support your project management processes

As any experienced project manager would validate, having an easy-to-use, accessible, reliable, and scalable collaborative platform can contribute greatly to a project’s success. That’s the crux of what you will learn in this book: using SharePoint as your PMIS.

Educate and update your project team with project management best practices

Having an incremental approach to continuous process improvement will enable the project team to make better use of the PMIS.

What Is a PMIS?

As defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI; see http://www.pmi.org), a Project Management Information System (PMIS) is a standardized set of automated project management tools available within an organization and integrated into a system. Although the PMI does not specify which tools or technologies to use as a PMIS, SharePoint can be customized as one.

Deciding to Use a PMIS

No matter how small or large a project is, being able to efficiently manage project information whenever, wherever, and however can greatly contribute to project success. A key requirement for making this possible is leveraging a PMIS.

Here are five telltale signs that you need to begin using a PMIS:

No standardized system for integrating project goals

Project schedule, cost, and quality objectives are individual silos. For example, financial information in Excel is not automatically recalculated anytime the project schedule is adjusted using scheduling tools such as Microsoft Project. Making manual updates takes time away from other project activities.

Inefficient document management

Project documents are not stored in a central location. Tracking, undoing changes, and the ability to roll back to prior versions are limited. Additionally, varying levels of access permissions are unavailable. IT/IS can only do so much in supporting information access requirements.

Lack of appropriate tools to facilitate team collaboration

Project information is not accessible anytime, anywhere. In addition, the team is incapable of developing or working with information at the same time.

Inability to report accurate and timely status of the project

Project status information is available only when the project manager makes it available. How do you deal with project sponsors who want to view real-time project status data?

Not achieving organizational strategic goals

Lacking a standardized tool to facilitate consistent project management processes throughout an organization can limit the ability to effectively support strategic goals.

As a project manager, these five issues can more than justify the need for any organization to invest in a reliable, effective, customizable, and easy-to-implement PMIS.

Today, multiple PMIS solutions are available. However, in addition to being costly, they can require specialized skills to implement, customize, and maintain. That’s why a lot of these initiatives have achieved only limited adoption. This is how SharePoint sets itself apart.

What Is SharePoint?

How do people describe SharePoint? In my experience, the definition always gets lost somewhere between collaboration and document management. Here’s a concise and straightforward description of SharePoint:

SharePoint allows individuals in an organization to easily create and manage their own collaborative solutions.

It sounds simple, but let me dissect what it truly means:

Individuals

Does this word specify that SharePoint users have to be technically savvy? No. In fact, as long as users have familiarity with Windows, Microsoft Office, and surfing the Web, they will be in good shape.

Organization

This term implies that SharePoint can be used by a limited number of people belonging to the same group. It also means that there will be varying levels of authority and privileges within the group. As a result, you don’t have to rely on the IT/ IS department to set up permissions in SharePoint—you are empowered to define and manage access to specific information. You will learn more about permissions in Chapter 4.

Easily

Instead of contacting IT/IS, any individual can create, customize, and manage this collaborative tool. Although IT/IS will not be totally out of the picture, SharePoint empowers users to develop a customized automated solution that can appropriately support their needs in a timely manner.

Collaborative

The intent of SharePoint is to support collaborative activities (formal or informal) in which groups engage.

SharePoint has been around since 2001. It has evolved from a simple website management tool to an empowering collaboration platform that integrates seamlessly with the Web, Microsoft Windows, and Microsoft Office. Since it is a foundational Microsoft technology, various organizations—including government institutions, airlines, banks, construction companies, and retail industries—have benefited from its tools and feature sets.

SharePoint does not refer to a specific product or technology. Using the phrase “Microsoft SharePoint” is like using the phrase “Microsoft Office.” It refers to several aspects of collaborative solutions. The key components are SharePoint Foundation (SF) and SharePoint Server (SS).

To distinguish SF and SS, an analogy that I often use is to compare SharePoint to a car. What’s the main purpose of a car? To take you from point A to point B, agreed? Which component of a car is required to do this? The engine, of course.

The main purpose of SharePoint is to empower users with document management and team collaboration tools. SF fulfills this purpose. It is the core “engine” of SharePoint. Without SF, there is no SharePoint. SF (shown in Figure 1-1) is available with Windows 2008 Server or later.

A SharePoint site using a SF site template

Figure 1-1. A SharePoint site using a SF site template

SS provides extended capabilities to SF. Going back to the car analogy, we can equip our vehicles with accessories such as GPS, a DVD system, voice command, etc. However, these extended features are not required to run a car (taking us from point A to point B). If these accessories are not installed, the car will still work. It’s just that having a GPS might enable us to reach our destination faster without getting lost. SS extended features include Enterprise Search, Personalization, Enterprise Content Management, etc. Unlike SF, SS (shown in Figure 1-2) has separate licensing. Licensing can vary and become quite costly. For more information about licensing, visit Microsoft’s SharePoint website at http://www.microsoft.com/sharepoint.

A SharePoint site using SS features

Figure 1-2. A SharePoint site using SS features

Since SharePoint can be considered a platform for improving document management and collaboration, it can be adopted as a tool to assist most project environments.

In this book, I will show you how to build a SharePoint PMIS primarily using SF. This means that the techniques you will learn can be applied regardless of whether you have SF or SS in your organization.

As depicted in Figure 1-3, project management maturity should have the people, process, and technology in lockstep.

Project management maturity

Figure 1-3. Project management maturity

Other Options

How about free, web-based, open source products such as Google Sites, Dux? Well, they can serve as a relatively good PMIS to a certain extent. My issue with these tools is their lack of integration with existing project management tools that I use. The last thing I want to do is enter the same set of information 10 times in 10 different places.

So, how is SharePoint different? If you are coming from an environment where you don’t really have an established project management process and are mostly using Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, and maybe Microsoft Project to manage your projects, using SharePoint is taking a baby step ahead. Remember that people are often averse to change. Well, stepping up to SharePoint is not as drastic a change as learning how to use other, more complex PMIS tools.

Also, I really like the integration between SharePoint and the Microsoft Office products that I use day in and day out. For example, I can enter project schedule information in my Outlook calendar and it will show up in SharePoint, and vice versa. Additionally, an Excel spreadsheet can synchronize milestone tracking with SharePoint, so if my team leads enter milestone completion dates in SharePoint, those dates show up in the Excel spreadsheet sitting on my computer. Isn’t that amazing? See Using Microsoft Excel and SharePoint in Chapter 8 for more on this.

Our Case Study: SharePoint Dojo, Inc.

To better reinforce what you will learn, you will practice key concepts and techniques by managing a project for SharePoint Dojo, Inc., a fictional company that we will use throughout this book.

SharePoint Dojo is a premier martial arts training facility with more than 200 studios in North America. Established in 1976, it has trained 700,000 students and produced many world-class athletes.

As history has proven, SharePoint Dojo provides first-rate instruction in the art of tae kwon do, led by a staff of certified masters who have at least eight years of teaching experience and who have competed in international events. In 2008, the company was cited as one of the fastest-growing businesses in the United States.

To continue its explosive growth, SharePoint Dojo is expanding internationally, opening company-owned martial arts training studios in major cities. Multiple project teams have been assembled, and each team will be responsible for managing the opening of each respective studio.

As the project manager, you will be personally responsible for integrating SharePoint Dojo into the local culture and community of the city to which you have been assigned. The challenges will be significant. You will be required to select the site and furbish the studio, comply with local laws and regulations, set up distribution and logistics, develop IT infrastructure and regional reporting initiatives, integrate with existing systems and processes, identify which programs will sell the best in your region, and highlight local opportunities. You will have to handle local contractors, employ staff locally, and carry out local marketing and advertising. The whole time you will have to stay focused on the SharePoint Dojo brand and the SharePoint Dojo experience—this is more than a series of local initiatives to make some money; it is about global expansion.

As identified by senior management, there are two areas that are crucial to your overall success. The first is having correct project governance in place. It is critical that existing project management standards and processes be followed. Second, a PMIS must be established for each project team, enabling all the teams to share and collaborate on detailed project information, risks, and lessons learned in real time.

To accomplish all of these goals, SharePoint Dojo has adopted PMI standards for project governance and implemented a PMIS using Microsoft SharePoint. You will need to set up your own SharePoint PMIS for your project.

Best Practices Checklist

  • Establish or be familiar with your project management processes.

  • Establish a PMIS for your project.

  • Centralize project documents.

  • Streamline project communication.

  • Become familiar with your SharePoint environment.

Summary

  • Successful projects result from sound project management practices, standards, and processes.

  • You can increase project productivity by decreasing project inefficiencies.

  • SharePoint’s main purpose is to improve how we manage information and facilitate collaboration. It can be used as a PMIS.

  • SharePoint can empower project managers because it is easier to learn, has better integration with existing project management tools, and requires less assistance from the IT/IS department than many other PMIS solutions.

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