If you have been following my blog posts, you know by now that I am not just passionate about SharePoint, but also about Project Management. I am PMP-certified Project Manager and spent 10+ managing all sorts of IT projects. So these are my 2 passions combined. May be that is the reason why it is 4 AM on Saturday morning and I am writing this blog post…
Anyway, I just recently came to realization that we have reached a historical point in the evolution of Project Management Software. For the first time in the history, we have a single platform that is robust and comprehensive, yet flexible enough to be adjusted to any project management process and methodology. That platform I am talking about is Office 365 and SharePoint. Let me explain.
If you google “project management software”, you will and up with literally hundreds of software vendors offering a myriad of online software tools to manage projects online. From simple task management solutions to broad, PMO-style solutions to manage projects, programs, people, risks and tasks. They all have a particular niche they serve and I am sure have a strong unique selling point that sets them apart from competition.
No matter what the tool is, they all revolve around same typical characteristics of Project Management. Here are some common ones:
- Document Management
- Task Management
- Resource Management
- Risk Management
- Calendar/Milestone Management
- Status Reporting
All of the existing solutions available on the market today essentially offer you a bundle of those features above in some shape or form. Up until recently, Microsoft, had its own stake in the ground with a variety of tools to achieve the above. However, they lacked the eco-system to pull it all together. While you had MS Office suite (Word, Excel, etc.), to author documents, you had to store them on some file share or network drive. While you had MS Project to create comprehensive project plans and Gantt charts, there was no easy way to communicate those tasks to stakeholders. While you had cool-looking calendars in Outlook, they were not integrated with anything and were useless from project management standpoint. And Risk Management – let’s just say that the best you could do is list them in Excel and email to your boss via Outlook.
That has changed recently with introduction of Office 365 in 2011. For the first time, Microsoft pulled in all of its valuable tools (MS Office, Outlook, SharePoint) into a one-stop shop eco-system. Not only all the tools are in one place, they now are also integrated together and “talk to each other”. While this is a fundamental change for all industries slated to use Office 365, this is a true game changer for the Project Management Software industry and practice. Let me explain major characteristics that set Office 365 and SharePoint apart from its competition (other project management software vendors).
How is Office 365 different from other Project Management Software?
No Project is the same. Do you have a quick and easy project? Just start an Office 365 Group and collaborate in a matter of minutes with your team. Need something more long-term and expandable? SharePoint Team Site to the rescue. I have actually created the whole blog post and slide deck on this very topic, which you may access here.
Are you a control freak like me and want to organize documents a certain way on your project team site? Use metadata on your document library to do just that. Want to track your tasks in SharePoint and send an email every time task is assigned to the user? Task Web Part in SharePoint does this out of the box. Want to list all your risks in SharePoint list for easy sharing? Not a problem. Got tired of blue and white color and want your project site to be green with blue accents? Just change the look and feel in under 1 minute. You get the idea…
None of the tools out there do a better job being integrated together. Why? Because it comes in naturally for Microsoft suite of applications. Outlook, Word, Excel, MS Project, MS Visio, SharePoint are all native Microsoft tools that are now magically talking to each other. This is absolutely critical and fundamental from Project Management perspective. Your users have been using these tools for the last 10-15 years. They are already familiar with all them. There is no need to learn new 3rd party software. Because of tight integration, the difference is a value-add for your project teams who can eliminate some manual steps and duplicate entries thy used to perform previously. For example, want to surface up all the tasks from your MS Project in SharePoint Task List? No problem, just seamlessly sync the two.
Ease of Access and Sharing
One of the reasons lots of the 3rd party project management software options became popular was due to the fact that they were all in the cloud and allowed for easy access and sharing of information from any place. Historically, this was never the case with Microsoft tools. Everyone used MS Office and MS Project and file shares strictly within their organizational network. There was no easy way to access (unless you VPN) or share content with external clients (unless you knew someone real well in your IT department). Office 365 changed that playing field. Just like the Berlin wall came down in 1989, the Microsoft firewall came down in 2011 with introduction of Office 365. All of the sudden, you could check your Outlook email while sitting at home, share the latest version of the Project Charter with your boss by clicking a share button in SharePoint or OneDrive and access all your project files on a SharePoint Project Team Site while munching your dinner at the hotel.
Searching and Reporting
One feature that already exists and will continue to evolve in SharePoint/Office 365 is the Search capability. We live in the world that is search-driven. We can’t imagine our life without Google. Same logic applies to Project Management. You want to be able to easily find a document from a project someone did 3 years ago. Or you want to roll up all the incomplete tasks from all your high-risk projects. It has become possible with the introduction of robust search mechanism in SharePoint 2013. True, it is not something that is easily done just out of the box, but the option is on the table and the beauty is that you can configure your search and data roll-up anyway you wish. I am sure this feature will continue to evolve and we will see the best of it in years to come.
In summary, in my opinion, Office 365 and SharePoint are the perfect fit for Project management and vice versa. This is not a statement I would stay behind just few years ago. However, with the recent changes in the cloud space and latest advances in Office 365, I believe we are on track to see an industry-changing shift in how we manage projects and what tools we will be using to do that.