Using SharePoint to Improve Project Delivery – Project Management Best Practices & Your Project Environment
As I work with different clients, I usually run across the same project management related theme. Project Management is a very mature competency with very well-defined concepts, processes, and tools. There are a lot of resources available to help organizations improve the PM competency, including one of the best professional organizations I have worked with, the Project Management Institute (PMI). However, clients still have projects that fail, or are significantly challenged (e.g. bad quality, scope creep, late delivery, over budget). Clients are frustrated with inconsistent delivery results from project to project. The root cause of project related problems are often linked to shortfalls from a project management competency perspective.
Project Management Best Practices
To address this shortfall, I generally start the conversation with clients about establishing Project Management best practices. Best practices represent the practical application of the knowledge contained in the PMBOK and other sources of knowledge (concepts, processes, tools). The critical few processes that are integral to the success of the project are listed under each of the phases of the project life cycle in the graphic below. Practical application of these best practices drives a consistent project management approach, and tangible business results:
- Quicker ramp-up of project managers
- Easier integration of projects in a multi-project environment
- More productive project managers (not inventing processes & tools on the fly)
- Better overall team performance (including measurement of performance)
The Project Environment
The other element associated with driving improved project results is the project environment in which we work. Enterprise Environmental Factors and Organization Process Assets are the most commonly referenced process inputs within the PMBOK. They are the things that your team inherits as it launches a project:
- Existing systems (finance, timekeeping, project management)
- Knowledge bases (repository of information about processes, previous projects, organization)
- Standards / Guidelines (particularly important in a regulated environment)
- Process, Policies, and Procedures (commonly describe Project Management and SDLC related information)
- Historical information (artifacts from previous projects)
- Culture (organization channels, communication vehicles, teamwork)
As I work with clients it is important to understand whether their project environment enables improved project performance, or represents a project constraint. Does the environment enable you to launch and execute the project effectively, or constrain you (weighing you down with baggage and roadblocks)? Some of the questions I ask to determine the answer to this question are:
- Are the systems tied to the PM best practices, or create “incremental steps”?
- Are policies, processes, and procedures fully integrated into the project work to be performed?
- Is information about other projects accessible?
- How do people work together? How is information shared?
Using a Collaboration Platform to Drive Improved Project Performance
SharePoint 2010 is an enabling tool utilized to dramatically change the project environment (within both single and multi-project environments). Creating a more productive project environment helps you launch the continuous improvement phase of your Project Management “Best Practices” program from a more efficient and effective starting point.
Key elements of a more productive environment include:
- Collaboration – Enhancing your project environment to create more effective interaction between team members.
- Providing a single source for the truth
- Upgrading version control for key project artifacts
- Establishing closed loop communications
- Streamlining Processes – Utilizing a tool to establish or enhance project management related processes.
- Establish structure via lists and libraries
- Use workflow and alerts to reduce cycle time associated with reviews/approvals
- Measuring Performance – Capturing the data required to measure project performance, and make the appropriate “course corrections”.
- Measurements are a by-product of the work performed
- SharePoint provides a platform to communicate “real-time” project performance metrics
Best Practices Associated with the Collaboration Platform:
The following are the key best practice associated with implementing and maintaining collaboration tools / processes to improve your project environment:
- Ownership – If team sees the value in the collaboration tools and processes, they will take ownership for updating and maintaining the project site. The value of collaboration is significantly diminished if the project manager is the only person providing updates to the project site.
- Central source – The collaboration tool must represent the single source for current project information. As the project manager, you need to make sure team members use the tool in this manner (e.g., discourage people from maintaining work in progress offline on their own laptop).
- Version control – This best practice ties to the central source of information. If utilized correctly, the collaboration tool helps solve the version control related issues across the project team.
- On-boarding team members – The project team site represents an excellent source of information to on-board new team members. The team needs to make sure the project site is set-up and maintained in a straightforward manner. You do not want new team members to get lost in the information that is available within the team site.
- Project closeout – With a little luck, your projects have a beginning and an end. Decisions need to be made at the end of the project in terms of what happens to the project site.
- There may be a next version of the product in which case the site would be “rolled forward” to a new project site.
- The production information may need to be available on a support site.
- At a minimum, key project information is captured on a historical project file site.
- There needs to be purposeful action related to the disposition of project site at the end of the project or you will end up losing valuable project and/or product related information at the end of the project.
Recommended Next Steps:
Depending upon the current maturity of the people, processes, and tools around SharePoint in the project environment, your next steps may vary.
The standard approach related to implementing a collaboration platform to upgrade your project environment includes the following:
- Identify (or confirm) the “critical few” best practices that should be emphasized and integrated into the collaboration platform.
- Establish some standards / guidelines that would be used by each of the teams (and a place where these standards are accessible). Some examples include:
- When to create project site
- What are the standard elements of the project site
- What meta-data is important for standard reporting or site organization
- Create templates for key lists and libraries (risks/issues, change requests, status reports document libraries)
- Depending on the experience of your project team, you may need to provide training for the team on SharePoint. At a minimum you need to get your up to speed on the specifics associated with the implementation of SharePoint within your project environment.
- Get started => don’t wait until everything is perfect before you launch your new project environment. You will never get complete consensus on the standards/guidelines, and there is opportunity costs associated with “do nothing”.
- Establish processes to identify and capture best practices in the context of your new project environment. As these ideas are incorporated into the standard best practices they will be reflected as tangible continuous improvements.
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Steve Hart is the Practice Manager responsible for project leadership & delivery services for the Cardinal Solutions Group in the RTP area. He has 25 years of project management and technical leadership roles, and has developed an extensive practical knowledge that spans a wide variety of industries, and project delivery approaches. Steve recently transferred to the North Carolina Chapter of PMI from the Dayton Ohio PMI Chapter, where he was active as the editor of the chapter newsletter, and PMP certification instructor.