Building an Effective Project Portal Site with SharePoint

This week I’m going to focus on something that is often overlooked by organizations with even the strongest methodologies. The project portal site – the information hub for your project where team members and stakeholders alike can go in at their leisure and see a bird’s-eye view of how the project is progressing, what’s outstanding and what do they themselves have to do. I have a deep passion for using SharePoint for this. SharePoint offers a quick and easy way to build out a project portal site in a relatively short timeframe.

Project Schedule & Milestones

Having visibility to your project’s schedule and (more importantly) milestone dates is vital to keeping the schedule front of mind for not only you and your project team, but also your project stakeholders. Your schedule and milestones are set as part of the project planning and (like most projects) will likely have altered dates from the original baseline plan. While this can be tracked internally on whatever tool your organization uses, it’s nice to be transparent and publish regular schedule updates to a centralized portal where schedule issues can be identified and addressed early on. SharePoint offers a robust timeline view of a custom task list that can be quickly and easily updated via the web interface. This timeline gives great (and quick) visibility to your project schedule and lets viewers see the whole project (or just a phase) with a quick glance.

Document Management

This is how SharePoint is most often used, although not always the ‘right’ way. SharePoint is known for its document management capabilities and your SharePoint portal site should leverage this power. Depending on the nature of your project and the sensitivity of certain documents, you may need to create multiple document libraries and lock security down, or have just a single wide-open document library. One golden rule of SharePoint that I’ve reiterated at numerous organizations is to stay away from creating folders. Once folders are created, it tends to take away from the power of leveraging metadata on documents for the purpose of building effective library views to expose the documents in a meaningful way. Having your documents managed in central repository eliminates the need to manage offline copies (usually via email) where the end result is likely multiple versions floating around in the ether where neither and both are the source of truth which can lead to massive confusion and unneeded customer consternation. Editing a document and submitting for review is as simple as storing the document online, copying and sending a link to your reviewer for feedback. Edits can be done online and managed with versioning within SharePoint (second-to-none in my opinion). This all but eliminates the need to send offline copies of documents anywhere.

Risks, Issues & Action Items

This is probably the most overlooked aspect of using a centralized project portal. Risks, issues and action items are managed in a number of different ways, ranging from email follow ups to OneNote checklists to whiteboard notes. Building out custom lists in SharePoint (which is easier than it sounds) provides you as the project manager a one-stop-shop for tracking and managing all of these items. Often times I’ve seen project managers actually go through the SharePoint lists during status calls to get (and enter) updates on these items. When preparing regular status reports, information in this list can provide some great content for your status reports, either manually transposed or through an export to a spreadsheet.

While I tout SharePoint as a preferred tool for building out project portals, I don’t want to lose sight of the primary message of this post is that a lot of value can be realized from having all of your project information updated and managed in a central repository that is accessible by your team and stakeholders.

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