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SharePoint for Project Management: A case study

Two weeks ago I told you about my trip to Paris to speak at PMI’s Ile de France chapter. The other speaker that evening was Christophe Campana, one of the founders of consulting company Campana & Schott.

Point Croissance (Point of Growth, also known as Poetic Totems) sculpture by Lim Dong Lak at La Défense

He told me how his company was changing its recruitment adverts in an effort to attract more female applicants. Currently only about 10% of the company’s consultants are women. About 10% of the attendees at our event were women. About 10% of graduates from the French Grandes Ecoles are women. Christophe has an uphill struggle on his hands but he is one of the switched on male managers who have realised that having women in the company is beneficial for everyone. I wish him well. (And if you want to apply, C&S sounds like a great company to work for.)

Using SharePoint 2010 on projects: a case study

Christophe’s presentation focused on how companies can use Microsoft SharePoint to help the project management process and delivery.  He explained how Campana & Schott use SharePoint to manage their entire business.

C&S has around 180 employees in multiple countries across 9 subsidiary companies.

They manage 150-200 projects per year. Small projects take up to 15 days and larger projects can take over 500 days.  The team spent most of their days on email. The company was suffering from high telephone bills and expensive travel costs. The company’s success is based on the knowledge of the people involved so they constantly need access to each other’s expertise.

Christophe explained the criteria for a tool to address these issues:

  • It must be available off-line with the ability to synchronise when the user went online again
  • It must have high availability
  • It must work globally
  • It must be implemented with no training and no extra ongoing admin overhead
  • It must be used to standardise information and project delivery but with flexibility to allow the project manager to organise the team as he or she saw fit because project contexts differed greatly.

They decided that SharePoint addressed all of these needs and created a corporate intranet called CeaSar (see what they’ve done there?).

How it works

If you are familiar with SharePoint, you’ll know how it can be used to create workspaces and tailored views of information depending on who is browsing. The CeaSar site has a tailored home page, which shows the user’s projects and clients. You can then browse to a project site.

A project site includes photos of the team members, announcements and other project documentation.  Your own profile includes a dynamic organisation chart linked to Active Directory, and you can ‘subscribe’ to your colleague’s pages. And unlike Facebook, Christophe said, they don’t have the option to say no.

The project sites also include pertinent emails, and Christophe explained that the team routinely copied the SharePoint site into emails. This gives the software the ability to automatically store emails in the project area.

The team have also used the list function in SharePoint to create risk and issue logs. Christophe said that this avoids team members wondering if they have the latest copy of a document, as they always know that they are looking at the most recent information with SharePoint lists.

Want more information on SharePoint? Read my review of SharePoint for Project Management

Advanced search

SharePoint gives you the ability to rate documents so if you feel it is really relevant to the project, you can give it 5 stars. This apparently makes it easier to find again as you can display ‘my top documents’. But the search is so good that I’m not sure that rating information gives you a great deal of added value.

You can publish documents direct from Word to SharePoint, and the idea of a powerful search tool means that you don’t need to attribute it to a particular area (if I understood correctly). Dynamic search will find it again when you need it. I think it will take a mindset change to get people to do this rather than save documents to a shared drive.

The new search feature gives you the option to refine your search by various criteria, much as Amazon allows you to refine you search by category, release date, format and so on. This is a nice feature but it is hardly trailblazing. For example, Ravelry, the knitting and crochet site, allows you to search patterns and apply filters for hook/needle size, yarn type, age range and more, and has done for a while.

Forms for Project Charters

Christophe also demonstrated an application that C&S had written for an Austrian client. It was a light touch approach to managing portfolio requests. It was form-based. The first form enabled people to suggest ideas for projects – a kind of Project Charter. A workflow behind this allowed the project to be approved or rejected.

Another form was a monthly report which the project managers completed each month. Apart from that, nothing was mandated: project managers were free to use whichever scheduling tool they liked, and manage the projects how they liked. The application provided standardised reporting and the ability to capture data on projects at various levels.

All this data was stored in a database and could be presented in a variety of ways. The portfolio team could view project dashboards to see overall performance, and then drill down to individual projects. Very impressive, and not a great deal of time required from the project managers either.

Christophe said that he had never seen such growth in the take up of a product as SharePoint is enjoying now in the 25 years that he has been working with Microsoft tools. That more and more companies are using SharePoint for project management is testament to the fact that it must work. I’m sure he will be busy for years to come helping companies get the best out of the tool.

What are your experiences of using SharePoint for project management?

Comments

  1. Your perspective on the subject seems to have changed a bit since your 2009 book review (although admittedly it wasn’t a software review). You seemed much more lukewarm on Sharepoint then. You didn’t mention if Christophe’s comments about the adoption spike were related to a change in version and perhaps improvements in flexibility and features. I haven’t worked with Sharepoint before so I’m curious. From the sounds of things in this article it gives you just enough structure to be able to do some fabulous things, but not enough structure that you’re trapped by it. That can only be good! 🙂

    • I do like the functionality of SharePoint but it isn’t easy to use straight out of the box. It does require a mindset change to use it in the most effective way, like many project management tools. I’m not wedded to it, because it seems as if it is trying to be all things to all people and doing some of them poorly (like the wiki feature, although this could be better in the newer versions). However Christophe’s demo was excellent – he’s a SharePoint consultant, so you’d expect his use of the tool to be above-average. It does show you what is possible!

    • This post is spot on! It was like I was writting my own experiences with SharePoint. I’ve been using custom built lists to manage project intake, project sites, project email, risk and issue tracking too. The exciting thing about 2010 is that it intergrates Project into it.

      -Ryan Endres

      • See, now I have to work with Sharepoint on my next project! 🙂
        You seem to be a big fan, Ryan! Would you say Microsoft is headed in the right direction with 2010?

        • Yes, Microsoft is listening to the needs of PMs and put many nice updates in 2010 ….

          • Long may it last… Vendors listening to customers is so important, and in this case it sounds as if Microsoft are actually doing a good job of it. I just hope they don’t end up shoving too much mediocre functionality in.

    • I’ve not used the new version of SharePoint, but I do think it is better, from what I saw. Having said that, Christophe is a SharePoint consultant and I’d expect his demo and use of the tool to be excellent! I think it is a tool that is powerful, but needs to be set up and managed carefully, otherwise it becomes a spider’s web of interconnected sites that will be an information architect’s nightmare.

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