By Nathan Lockwood, MCP, Eclipse Consulting
Do you ever find that you are so wrapped up in the project plan that you can’t work on the project? Now there are new tools that can help automate standard or repetitive projects. If your work is similar for each client engagement, then why not get it into a tool that will help you work faster and keep better track of tasks through automation? You might be surprised to find out that the application that can help you do these very things is Microsoft® SharePoint®.
With SharePoint®, you can now add what are called workflows. It’s important to note that your SharePoint® site must be located on a server running Windows® SharePoint® Services 3.0 to create a workflow. So, what are workflows? Think of workflows as a process that has a specific start and end. So, how can workflows put your project on hyper speed? Workflows consist of events, actions, conditions, and steps that are programmed by you to automate the management of your project. Below, you’ll find a description of these components:
- Events are what start or initiate action. In a process flow diagram, they could also be referred to as a trigger.
- Actions are tasks that can be performed by the workflow or by people. For example, your workflow might include the following actions: send an email message; create a task for a team member; update an item; check an item out; and check an item back in.
- Conditions are rules or logic that you apply to SharePoint® lists and items. When the conditions that you set are met, an action results. For example, you might have a document review process that requires certain people to review documents related to specific topics because they are the expert in that area. When you set up a condition, the workflow can automatically route documents to predefined people based on the keywords that the documents contain.
- Steps allow you to group and organize a set of actions and conditions. How you use steps really depends on the workflow and what you are trying to accomplish.
Once you have workflows documented, you can also modify or tweak them for projects that may have specific nuances or requirements.
Does this mean that you no longer need project management software like Microsoft® Project®? Not necessarily. SharePoint ® contains task lists, but does not show the interdependencies of tasks. So, for more complicated projects, you’ll probably still need a tool like Microsoft® Project®. In fact, you can actually combine the best of both worlds. With Project 2010, “A Project Manager (PM) can use all the advanced scheduling capabilities that exist in Project Professional with all the collaborative capabilities that exist in SharePoint.” (Source: Project 2010: Introducing Sync to SharePoint)
So, depending on the needs of your projects, you might need a combination of solutions. Microsoft® Project® is better at creating task interdependencies and scheduling whereas SharePoint® provides a collaborative workplace, document management, and automation to keep your project running smoothly. SharePoint® also gives you great dashboarding to visually see the status of your project. If you also need to track your team member’s billable time on a project, then you may want to add a CRM database solution into the mix.
Are you looking at different project management tools and wondering which ones are right for your company? It can be confusing. Rest assured there are solutions available to fit your business and your project needs. With the right tools in place, you can: save time, streamline your processes, instantly get a snapshot of your project’s status, and gain new insights for improvement.
Nathan Lockwood is the co-owner of Eclipse Consulting, a technology firm that helps businesses become aware of and understand the technology that is available to accomplish their business goals, and helps them implement it. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2011 Eclipse Consulting, Inc.