Collaboration for project teams is essential and establishing this engagement is essential as a leader and project manager. There have been some recent changes to the Microsoft Office 365 suite that make their product “SharePoint” a standout tool today for project managers and PMOs. I contacted A. Lynn Jesus, President of ALJ, LLC to share her expertise with our community. A. Lynn Jesus has 15+ years of experience in worker management and business solutions and is an experienced trainer delivering hundreds of hours in project management methodology, certification prep, and information worker technology, such as SharePoint. She specializes on empowering the end user to efficiently utilize tools that will assist them in their day to day work.
I asked her a few questions about SharePoint and the current and future state of collaboration tools for project management. Here’s what Jesus had to say about it…
N. Can you tell me more about your life as a consultant training project managers/business analysts?
A. It can get quite hectic with a lot of travel. Often I am gone at least part of the week for several weeks in a row. But what is always enjoyable is assisting organizations in developing project management as part of their organizational way of life. It also makes me keep my chops sharp and stay on top of trends in the industry. Training takes comprehension to the next level. Someone can say they understand a concept, but that is cemented when they can teach the concept. And this transfer does not have to be to a large class – it can be co-worker to co-worker.
Training is an essential piece of building a strong project management practice within an organization – whether stand alone to increase skills, or as part of an introduction/roll out of a new tool (such as Project Server, or SharePoint). Training, for me, is about adding value to my students. Topics must be anchored in real life. My goal for every class is that people walk away with at least one concept or idea that they can immediately implement into their work (or even non-work) life to make their day to day work easier.
N. You recently wrote a book entitled “SharePoint for Effective Team Collaboration”. Tell us more about SharePoint as a document repository; what are its best features for PMs and their teams?
A. A fantastic thing about SharePoint is that is creates the hub for collaboration and communication. This is the one stop for teams to get the most up to date project information. The goal is to have this information easily accessible so team members can focus on executing on tasks, rather than hunting in multiple spots, and worse yet, multiple document versions buried in email attachments, for information in documentation.
Utilizing SharePoint as a document repository empowers team to have project documents at their fingertips. Its document control features applies a simple, yet robust structure to documentation development and maintenance. I have always taught that we don’t create project documents just to leave them somewhere. These are dynamic living documents that must be referred to, reviewed and updated as needed. It does project teams no good to access documents with old or irrelevant information. In fact, this one thing can significantly add to scope creep, re-work and eventually lead to a blown budget or schedule.
Checking in and checking out creates a fantastic safety net from simultaneous editing. This means one person at a time is in control of the live document when they have it checked out (but the team can still refer to the latest checked in version as a read-only document). As soon as revisions are complete and the document is checked back in, then it is available for editing by another party. This control reduces confusion and stress and provides an account of whom and when the document was altered.
Another great feature is versioning. This tracks the different versions of a document. SharePoint offers great flexibility in both team needs and reduction in administrative overhead. Usage of major only or major and minor versions can be enabled. It is up to the organization’s policies and procedures as to what defines a major or minor version, which allows for the organization to add their organization culture to the tool. Adding comments pertaining to what was revised or updated also creates a quick reference for listing the changes to the document. Also, limits can be set on the number of versions to keep, so this automates cleanup of the document versions without requiring a person to manually audit and clean out old versions.
I like these features because they capture the life history of these documents. It streamlines communication and provides one place to refer to during the project lifecycle. And this information becomes historical information which can assist project managers/team members on future similar projects. Now they have a reference that will help them in their project’s planning and they don’t have to start at ground zero. This adds efficiency to project planning.
There are also multiple ways to surface desired document information through creating appropriate views. For example, a column can be added listing the version number, or showing who has the document checked out. This allows for quick viewing of pertinent data. What items are desired in a view is up to organizational culture and team needs.
N. Is SharePoint more of a medium to large organization implementation or can small business take advantage of SharePoint?
A. I believe SharePoint offers features that can be taken advantage of by any size organization. A team is a team whether imbedded in a 5000 person company or a 15 person company. And every team needs a great tool to facilitate communication and collaboration.
Plus SharePoint is so much more than a place for documents to reside. With the use of surveys and discussion boards, feedback can be collected from team members without requiring meetings. Blogs can assist in troubleshooting or brainstorming, especially if the team is not collocated. Slide libraries can assist with up-to-date slide information that will make presentation development quicker and easier. Utilizing meeting and document workspaces can also enable smaller team sub-sets in collaborating on projects, and permissions can control access to only pertinent parties.
But at its heart, SharePoint is a tool, and some education and thought must be put into implementing this platform. A poor rollout will result in poor usage. So it helps to get the advice from people familiar with industry best practices, such as developing governance and training. It is not enough to know how to create a list or library, but how will these things help the organization and create efficiencies for the teams.
And with Office 365, SharePoint is now available to really small companies at a very affordable rate. They can now benefit from enterprise echelon tools, but not have to fund the often very expensive infrastructure needs of this platform. Plus the upkeep of that infrastructure is deferred to Microsoft. Microsoft will apply all the patches and updates to the system. This will ease up on time demands of IT support and they can concentrate on mission critical or growth initiatives, instead of more infrastructure/system maintenance.
N. Do you have any tips for consulting project managers; what would you like to share?
It is also imperative that consultants match the organizational culture and skill level to the appropriate level of formal project management doctrine. For some new to project management, just getting a common terminology is their biggest need and delivering that, while they still use tools they have already in place, is best for their situation. The idea is to build a relationship with the client. Then when they are ready for more advanced topics/tools they will look to you to provide the next steps for them. Inundate them with too much too fast and the usage rate will plummet.
Also, when applying knowledge transfer, it is important to always think about the value this will add for the client. If you cannot get the client to see the value of how this will help them, then they are much more likely to smile and nod during trainings and meetings and not adopt the knowledge or tool.
N. Do you have any wisdom/tips/insight for women in Information Technology (IT) Project Management?
A. Jump in! Get involved! There are so many facets to IT project management. You do not have to be the expert in every technical aspect, but our job is be the subject matter expert (SME) in project management, and to drive the project forward. It is about pulling on our team in the best way to get the information needed to move the project along. This requires communication and collaboration.
Soft skills are a must to be a truly effective project manager. Project managers cannot execute a project without people. The better you are at soft/people skills, the smoother the ride. There inevitably will be a bump or two in the road, so the sharper the people skills, the less the lapse and the quicker the recovery in leading the team back to producing progress.