As a Project Manager, I am always looking for ways to better organize my project documents in SharePoint. Following my very popular slide deck from 2013 on SharePoint Project Management (35,000+ views!), I have been getting lots of questions on how to actually go about creating a functional project site or team site in SharePoint. Out of the box SharePoint Team site template (shown below) leaves a lot to be desired. Therefore, I decided to document this step by step guide on how to create an awesome and intuitive Project or Team Site in SharePoint.
In this blog post I will demonstrate how you can get from site above to site below, using out of the box SharePoint functionality, without a single line of code.
You will notice that I am using project sites and team sites interchangeably. Some organizations might use the term “project site” to track some project activity. Some might call it a “team site” and use it for any sort of team collaboration (not necessary a project per se). Department site terminology is also often used to store and collaborate on documents among employees of a given department. So for the purpose of this blog post, I see those as being the same. In reality, all utilize same or similar SharePoint components (web parts). As such, I will interchangeably use all these names throughout the post, as in reality (and design and architecture-wise) – they mean same thing.
As with the rest of instructional posts and presentations on my site and my SlideShare account, all configuration documented below is utilizing out of the box SharePoint functionality – no coding or additional add-ons required!
Few notes/pre-requisites before we start:
- The screenshots you’ll see are from SharePoint 2013 online (Office 365). However, same functionality exists in older version of SharePoint (i.e. SharePoint 2010)
- You need to have Administrative (Full Control permissions) access to create the sites using instructions below
- It will really be great if you first familiarize yourself with another blog post I published on SharePoint Information Architecture. Please read it first – it is sort of a pre-requisite to the instructions below
There are a total of 10 steps involved in creating a fully functional, practical and intuitive SharePoint Team Site. The 10 steps are:
- Step 1: Determine Overall Site Architecture
- Step 2: Determined Site collection structure
- Step 3: Decide on components (web parts) that will make up the project site
- Step 4: Determine the layout of the project / team site
- Step 5: Create the project / team site
- Step 6: Configure all the web parts
- Step 7: Add the web parts to the site
- Step 8: Setup security for the site
- Step 9: Setup quick launch navigation
- Step 10: Create a template based off the project site
Let’s go through all the steps now!
Step 1: Determine Overall SharePoint Site Architecture
Before we create our site, let’s first figure out where the site will fit in the overall SharePoint environment that we have. As stated above, I published a whole post on this, that will give you an overall idea of SharePoint site collections, site structure, etc. Please read it first.
If you are a small organization you can typically get away with just 1 site collection and host all your project sites and content on just 1 site collection. However, if you are a bigger organization that has a defined structure/hierarchy, i.e. various departments, Project Management Office (PMO), etc. – then you might want to think about putting your PMO organization on a totally separate site collection. Another reason for using separate Site Collection is if you intent to share content with external users. But that is a whole different topic for another blog post.
Step 2: Determine SharePoint Site Collection Structure
As mentioned above, every site collection has a Top-Level site. All the sites you create in addition to this Top-Level Site will sit underneath the Top-Level Site.
This actually perfectly leads us into proposed hierarchy of our future project sites. Though there is an immediate need to create a decent project or team site template, in the long term, you might want to store additional project information that is common to all project teams you have (i.e. project templates or some sort of dashboards to roll up content from project sites).
So below is a screenshot that shows proposed structure for our project or team sites. Like stated above, you could use Top Level site as an entry point for your project team with some sort of dashboard, common content and links to all project sites (PMO Homepage). All the project sites would then sit directly underneath the Top-Level site (in other word, they will be sub-sites directly underneath the Homepage.
Now, and this is very important, as you see in screenshot – our structure is almost flat (1 Top-Level site + 1 level down – multiple project sub-sites. Yes, you can create sub-sites under sub-sites, under sub-sites.
The best practice is to keep the SharePoint Site structure as flat as possible
This will significantly simply sites’ administration, security model and navigation for your users. Another reason for such “flat” setup is this would allow us to easily roll up specific content (i.e. certain project documents or project tasks) onto the dashboard down the road.
Step 3: Determine the components / modules / web parts that will be part of our future SharePoint projct site or team site
Now that we put the “technical” stuff behind us, it is time to work on something more exciting. We now need to determine the modules we would want on our project site. There is no “one-size-fits-all template”, every organization is different and has different requirements and needs. For the purposes of this blog post / instructions, I am going to choose the following modules:
The list below shows a list of modules (SharePoint Web Parts) that I have chosen, as well as their purpose on our future project or team site.
- Announcements – to publish project, team or departmental announcements and short bits of information
- Document Library – to store various files and documents for a project, team, department
- Calendar – To store and track information on upcoming meetings, deadlines or other events
- Tasks – to store and assign tasks to yourself or team members
- Issues Log – to store a log of ongoing project issues, that are not necessarily tasks (i.e. log of actions, decisions or operational items)
- Contact List – a list of contacts for the team. To store contact info like phone numbers, address, emails and other relevant information.
Step 4: Determine the layout of our future SharePoint Team Site
So while everything we covered up until this point were more of “best practices”, we are now getting into an area where it is more of a personal preference, taste or choice. As you probably sensed from my previous blog posts, I am all about simplicity and intuitive designs for the end user. The instructions and screenshots you will see below is what I typically configure for my clients, but once again, feel free to adjust according to your organization’s needs and requirements.
The next major step is to determine the layout of our future team or project site. There are lots of different ways to present information / content to end users. SharePoint out of the box allows for all sorts of page layouts. My favorite has been the 2 columns with header layout. The header could be used for project information (i.e. Project or Department Name, project manager name or names of key project leads, some basic project characteristics like start and end dates, budget, etc. The header can also contain some sort of image/graphics to spice things up. The 2 vertical columns could display all the web parts we have chosen above.
Such an arrangement allows for way to accurately organize and display all the modules we chose in previous step and present them to the user on a single page/screen.
Step 5: Create a SharePoint Project Site that we will customize
So now we come to the point where we are ready to create/customize our first site. A good starting point is one of the existing templates that existing in SharePoint.
To Create a new site, follow these instructions:
- Click on Site Contents > New Subsite
- On the screen that pops-up, fill out the site title, web address and also answer questions about navigation. The most important thing here would be to choose a starting template. I typically choose Team Site Template, as it automatically gives you the layout I described above + ability to easily change it as required.
- Clean things up. Because we have chosen Team Site Template, SharePoint threw in few default modules and web parts for us to start with. Since we have our own list of web parts, let’s clear the page first so we can start with blank sheet of paper. To do this, click on Page Tab in top-left hand corner. Then Edit. Hover your mouse over each module’s upper-right hand corner. There is a very small drop-down menu that you will notice. Click on that arrow. There is a small menu that drops down and one of the choices is Delete. Click on it. Repeat for other web parts on the page (all of them).
- Hit Save (upper-left hand corner)
Step 6: Configure each Web Part according to your needs
OK, now that we prepared the site and a page, we can add each module we have chosen and customize to our requirements. True, you could use all web parts AS-IS, straight out of the box, but to make the SharePoint site user-friendly and improve SharePoint User Adoption (link), you need to do some significant configuration. The depth of configuration really depends on how comfortable you are with SharePoint and how much time you have to play with it (link to consultant infographic)
Below are some basic instructions on how to configure each of the modules (SharePoint web parts) we have chosen.
NOTE: For now we will only be creating and configuring web parts – we will be adding them to our site/page later on
How to configure SharePoint Document Library
There are lots of ways to configure SharePoint Document Library to store project documentation. If you have been following my blog posts, you know that I am a big advocate of using metadata in place of folders. And in our case, Project Site Document Library is a great candidate for metadata. Majority of times, the documents used by project teams are easily structured. You upload “typical” project documentation like agenda’s, budgets, meeting minutes, project charter, test documentation, etc.
Assuming you are following my advice and using metadata instead of folders, I usually create a custom column called Document Type, make it a drop-down, and have user tag the document to appropriate document type when he or she uploads a file. The cool thing about this approach is that you can then create a view where you group the documents by Document Type and you get a nice and clean document library all organized and easy to follow. And because it is all metadata, you can easily filter your document library for any type of document, say “Budget” files. You can introduce other metadata properties (columns) as you wish, up to you. But if you just implement this basic step (Document Type) – you will be well ahead of the curve!
Here are step by step instructions on how to create a document library and add metadata property called “Document Type” to it. I strongly suggest you also check out my blog post and slide deck on metadata as it provides STEP-BY-STEP instructions on how to setup Metadata as well.
- Click on Site Contents, Add an App
- From the list of apps, click on Document Library
- On the pop-up that appears, type in the name of the library, i.e. “Project Documents”
- Hit Create
Now that we create our library, let’s add a column called “Document Type”. We could add the column right at the Document Library Level.
However, it is best practice to define all custom columns (metadata properties) at the very top site (site collection).
That way, the column could be re-used all across the site collection for any other sites/sub-sites and document libraries.
To create our Document Type Column, let’s do the following:
- Go to the top-level site (your site collection root). If you cannot do that for security/administrative reasons, go to the most top level site you can
- Go to Site Settings
- Click on Site Columns (under Web Designer Galleries)
- On the screen that appears, you will see all the different site columns that are there in SharePoint by default. Click Create
- Type in the name of the column. (Document Type in our case)
- From the long list of radio buttons, please choose Choice radio button. Essentially this is where you specify the type of information the columns will store. You may study other ones later. The Choice type allows you to specify a list of drop-down choices that will appear as a menu to the end user to choose 1 choice from.
- Towards the bottom of the screen, we have to specify a list of drop-down choices for our Document Type Column. Type in each selection on a separate line (i.e. Agenda, Meeting Minutes, Budget, Schedule, Project Charter, Drawing, etc.). I always like to have “Choose Document Type…” line as first choice, this will lead the user to tag and select from menu
- Click OK. Congratulations – your column has been created.
Now that we created our Custom Column, we need to add it to our document library that we create in step above. To do this, do the following:
- Go Back to the site and the document library where you want to add the column.
- Click on the Library tab, then Library settings
- Click on Add from existing site columns link
- From the drop-down, choose Custom Columns group (or whatever group you have put your custom column in)
- Move the Document Type Column to the right hand-side section.
- Click OK
Now that the column is added, let’s create a special view to group our documents by Document Type. To do this, go all the way to the bottom of Library Settings Page.
- Click Create View
- Let’s start with an existing view, so click on All Documents under Start from an existing view
- On the screen that appears, give your View a name
- If there is a checkbox next to Document Type column, uncheck it
- Go all the way to the Group by Section and choose Document Type from the list of drop-down choices.
- Click OK.
That should take care of the Document Library module for now. So let’s leave it alone and move on to other web parts.
How to configure SharePoint Calendar
Calendars are pretty straightforward and could be used out of the box. There is not much configuration that we need to do on the calendar. If you need to track and tag specific information, you can add additional columns using method we used for Document Library. However, in most cases, the out of the box SharePoint calendar will do the job well as-is.
Just a side note, I would not use it in place of project schedule or task list though. Calendar is meant for tracking key project dates, team meetings dates and staff time off (vacations).
To Create a Calendar Web Part, do the following:
- Click on Site Contents, Add an App
- From the list of apps, click on Calendar
- On the pop-up that appears, type in the name of the web part, i.e. “Team Calendar”
- Hit Create
Once again, we will add the calendar to our site later on – let’s keep moving and create the other web parts first.
How to configure SharePoint Contacts
Contacts Module is a great module to track contact information for each team member. As with the calendar, Contacts Web Part is great out of the box. By default, you have a good selection of properties/columns ready for you to use (address, mobile phone number, title, email, etc.). You can create additional ones as desired. For example, certain teams want to know Skype ID of each team member. I also recommend that you remove the columns you are never going to need or have users fill out.
To Create a Contacts Web Part, do the following:
1. Click on Site Contents, Add an App
2. From the list of apps, click on Contacts
3. On the pop-up that appears, type in the name of the web part, i.e. “Team Contact List”
4. Hit Create
How to configure SharePoint Tasks
SharePoint Tasks Web Part got a significant upgrade with recent version of SharePoint (SharePoint 2013). In addition to just creating list of tasks, users can also add them to a timeline, which can be displayed along the SharePoint Task List. Users can also create sub-tasks in a way that is available in MS Project.
The SharePoint Task Module contains columns such as Priority (to specify urgency of a task) and Status (to specify status of a task). Those can be customized as needed or removed altogether.
To Create a Tasks Web Part, do the following:
- Click on Site Contents, Add an App
- From the list of apps, click on Tasks
- On the pop-up that appears, type in the name of the web part, i.e. “Project Tasks”
- Hit Create
Issues and Announcements Web Parts
I am not going to cover in detail Issues or Announcements Web Parts. They steps to add and configure them are identical to the ones covered above. I suggest you use the opportunity to play around with those web parts yourself. Just use the steps similar to those described above to create those web parts first.
I strongly encourage that you utilize metadata to your benefit as well. For example, you can separate your Issues log into various types of issues (i.e. Actions, Decisions, etc.) and track them accordingly.
Step 7: Add the Web Parts to the SharePoint Project Site (Team Site)
OK, now that we created all the web parts, it is time to do the exciting part – add them to our page. One important technique I did not mention previously is to first create an additional “compressed view” for each web part. What do I mean by “compressed view”? Well, by default, you have all the columns associated with the web part added to your standard view. For example, Contact Web Part has like 10 columns of data displayed (i.e. first name, last name, email, phone, address, etc.). If you are to put this web part on your home page, it won’t fit in the designated area and the whole thing will look ugly.
What I usually do is create a “quick view” for each web part, limiting it to 2-3 columns of information. Using the Contacts Example, quick view will just contain first name, last name and email. This is all that will be displayed on Project Site or Team Site Home page. Once user clicks on the web part, he/she will be presented with a full view of it, with all additional columns.
The whole idea here is once again simplicity. The team or department site homepage is meant as an entry point for a user and as an access to all available functionality. From that point on – the user can “dive in” to the module that he or she wants to explore.
Team Contacts – Full view (all columns)
Team Contacts (same web part) – Quick view (just 3 columns)
So first, set up a quick view for each of the web parts. Here are precise instructions for each of the web parts:
- Document Library – The view created all the way at the beginning of a blog post (View by Document Type) should be sufficient (only 4 columns).
- Calendar – Month view is usually the default, but Calendar already has a nice “list view” called “Current Events” whereby it displays only future events (it essentially filters out past events). That view, however, still throws in a few “junk” columns. Since we will be placing this web part on the homepage, I suggest, you just keep the following 3: Title, Start Time, End Time
- Task List – already has a great view called Upcoming (shows only future tasks)
- Contact List – display 2-3 columns like First and Last Name, email address.
To place a quick view for each of the web parts, do the following:
- Click on Edit Page first
- Hover your cursor over top right hand-corner of each web part.
- From the drop-down menu, choose Edit Web Part
- On the screen that appears, from the Selected View drop down, choose the View that you created previously.
- Click OK
- Repeat this for all the web parts
- Don’t forget to hit Save to save the page after you are done
Repeat above steps for all the web parts that you wish to have on your project or team site.
The only remaining component is Project header (that long horizontal space above the web parts. I usually use it for Project Information like Project Name, Project Manager, Start/End Dates, budget, etc. You can also insert an image to spice things up. Below is an example.
Step 8: Setup Security/Permissions for your SharePoint Project Site (SharePoint Team Site)
Security topic is a whole separate topic that really deserves a separate blog post. By default, security of your project site is inherited from the top level site. Depending on your business scenario and how you want to set things up – you might want to leave it as-is or break the inheritance and assign unique security to each site. This is more of a business decision.
Likewise, the security of each of the web parts we added, automatically inheritance security from the project site.
The best practice is to never break the inheritance of security from the site the web parts sit on.
If you do, each of your modules (web parts), will have unique security. Multiple the # of modules we have on our site times # of project sites you plan to have and you get the idea. Unless you want to manage security and site administration on a full-time basis, don’t do that!
Last piece of advice – SharePoint manages security via Security groups. Keep it that way. Resist the urge to add users directly to the site. Create security groups first. This will standardize on your setup and roll-out of future project site. Not to mention that when you have new members joining or leaving teams – all you have to do is just add or remove them from security groups.
Step 9: Setup User Friendly Navigation (Quick Launch) for your SharePoint Project Site (SharePoint Team Site)
OK, we are almost there, my friend. I know it is a lot, but I never said that SharePoint was easy or a like a walk in the park 🙂
Now that we placed all of the modules on the whole page, we have to cleanup our navigation menu on the left hand-side. If you notice, SharePoint has been putting all the links to the modules on the left hand-side. However, in my opinion, it does it not in a very friendly manner. Especially Site Contents Link – this should never be present on your navigation menu!!!
To clean it up, follow these steps:
- Go to Site Settings
- Click on Quick Launch under Look and Feel
- Remove all the junk links
- Add links to each of the modules we added
Step 10: Create a SharePoint Project Site Template (your own SharePoint Team Site Template)
Now that we create a project site – we need to be able to replicate it for all of future project sites. To do that, we need to create a template out of it. Follow these instructions to create a template based on our project site:
- Go to Site Settings
- Under Site actions, click on Save Site as a Template
- Fill out the details on the screen
- Click OK
Anytime you need to create a project site based of the template, follow these steps:
- Go to the top level site under which all project sites reside
- Go to Site Contents
- Under Subsites, click on New Subsite
- You will be prompted to enter details which you did before when we created this project site. However, if you click on Custom Tab, you will notice the template we just created. Choose it.
- Hit Create
- Your new project site based on a template is now created!
Advanced SharePoint configuration of SharePoint Project Site or SharePoint Team Site
Believe it or not, all the 10 steps we covered above are just the basics. There is lot of additional customization you can do to take your SharePoint Project or SharePoint Team Sites to the next level. Below is a summary of more advanced customization that I typically setup for my clients based on their requirements (of course all code-free and out of the box):
SharePoint Project Dashboard
One of the most frequent requests that I get is an ability to create some sort of dashboard by pulling certain content from an existing project or team site. For example, in some cases you might want a snapshot from all the project sites of all the project tasks that are still outstanding. Or you want to quickly access all the budget documents or project charters of all your projects. Luckily, there is a way to achieve this. There is a web part in SharePoint called Content Query Web Part (CQWP). And since we relied on metadata when creating our project or team sites, you can surface up necessary information using CQWP based on certain filter/criteria.
Sync SharePoint Task List with MS Project
Another very common request. MS Project is a really powerful tool – but let’s be honest, it is complicated to use and has a long learning curve. I spent 15 years in Project Management and I never burdened my team with using this not so friendly tool. The SharePoint Task web Part we have setup above empowers your team members and allows them to use a “lighter” version of Project Scheduling Software by filling out drop-down choices online and not worrying about “fancy stuff” like task dependencies, resources allocations, etc.
However, if you have a complex project or just a hard-core Project manager – you might want to use advanced/extend capabilities of MS Project. Luckily, there is an easy out of the box way to sync Project Task web Part and MS Project. Some minor configuration and mapping is required if you are using custom columns/project properties.
Project Risk Register in SharePoint
You can also combine the power of metadata (SharePoint columns) and Calculated column functionality in SharePoint and have a column value be based on some mathematical formula involving other columns. Project Risk Register is a great example of a log that you can move from Excel to SharePoint. You can set it up such that you can calculate let’s say your Risk Rating based on weight and risk score.
SharePoint External Sharing
With the transition of SharePoint to the “cloud”, Microsoft has made external sharing of content in SharePoint available to the masses. Unfortunately, external sharing in SharePoint is very confusing, cumbersome to setup and maintain. SharePoint external sharing will be improved in next major release of SharePoint (SharePoint 2016). SharePoint External Sharing can still be setup, but to do it right, requires great discipline, governance and user training (the last thing you want is to inadvertently share content from your SharePoint Project or Team Site that you did not intend to share
Change Request Log in SharePoint
Very similar to Risk Register List above, you can create Custom List in SharePoint and convert those Excel logs that you have and surface up on SharePoint.
Calendar Color Coding
If you want to get fancy with color-coding, you can create multiple categories (i.e. time off, project milestone dates, etc.) and then display all categories on one calendar using overlay function (you can google instructions on how to do this). This will allow you to view different calendar categories in their respective colors. Not really necessary for a project site, but looks cool!
Calendar sync with Outlook
If need be, Calendar information can be synchronized with user’s Microsoft Outlook calendar.
Need help with SharePoint?
As an independent SharePoint & Office 365 Consultant and certified Project Management Professional (PMP), I help small businesses and non-profits unlock the power of SharePoint so they can improve the bottom-line business results.
My code-free, out-of-the-box SharePoint solutions include: SharePoint/Office 365 Migration, Document Management and Training to small businesses and non-profits. As an independent consultant who works virtually and remotely, my services cost a fraction of what you typically would pay SharePoint consulting firms.
Contact me at email@example.com if you need help with SharePoint/Office 365 in your organization.