Transparency in projects is becoming a requirement for many organizations today. SharePoint provides a number of out of the box features and integrations with third party tools to support the transparency required. But even before you go about designing the solution, make sure you have your transparency objectives and processes in place.
Editor's Note: Read more about the importance of SharePoint in the organization in Dux's two-part series "5 Reasons Why Executive SharePoint Ignorance is Not Bliss".
Back in my early days of being a project manager, my biggest frustration was not being able to get timely project status information whenever I needed it. I had to track down key resources and extract relevant project information (I sound like Jack Bauer interrogating people). Often times, it was too late when I found out that the project was drastically behind schedule, over budget or multiple issues had come up.
Even worse, on a weekly basis, I would manually create visual reports showing the high-level status of the project schedule and budget to keep the customer in the loop as to what’s going on. Certainly this is not a wise use of my time as a project manager. I’m quite confident that other project managers never had to suffer the same fate as I did (at this point you realize that I’m being sarcastic), right?
The Need for Project Transparency
In today’s economic climate, organizations and their leaders are put under a microscope and are being scrutinized further. Since a large part of organizational activities involve project related initiatives, they are held under higher standards of accountability, responsibility and transparency.
Take for example projects that are being funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 (aka US Federal Stimulus Package), the general public has visibility on the status of these projects through Recovery.gov. (Click here to learn more about ARRA)
Not only this is true for the government, but being able to “provide relevant and timely information to key decision makers and stakeholders so the decision makers have the opportunity to take corrective action and the stakeholders have the information necessary to hold them accountable if they do not” is critical for private enterprises too as pointed out by my colleague Mike Taylor. Read his informative blog series about Project Transparency.
With this pressing need, how can organizations today carry on with their unstructured and inconsistent ways of delivering relevant project information?
People then Process then Tools
From the outset, providing project transparency sounds simple enough. All you need to do is put together a website with colorful charts and everybody will live happily ever after. NOT! That’s the biggest mistake an organization can make -- trying to throw tools at it right away thinking that it will solve the problem of delivering project transparency.
The first step is to make sure that you have a clear understanding of the project transparency objectives and the right people who have the authority to set standards and identify key project metrics that need to be measured. For example, what constitutes late in a project? 5 weeks behind? 10% behind baseline schedule?
Second, the process of providing timely project status has to be defined and enforced. Would project status be updated daily? Bi-weekly? At the end of the day, no matter how much automation we enable, someone would still need to provide the information about project status like schedule and budget which means that a process has to be in place.
Lastly, once you have well defined key performance indicators (KPI) AND related project processes in place, identify the tool or set of tools that can support your project transparency needs.
For those not familiar, SharePoint is Microsoft’s collaboration platform for the enterprise and the web. It comes with a lot of out of the box (OOTB) tools for document management, collaboration, reporting and integration with other industry standard tools and technologies. In addition, there are a lot of third party products that are available to extend the capabilities of SharePoint.
SharePoint’s OOTB capabilities, in conjunction with its’ integration with existing and 3rd party tools, allows for rapid deployment of a project transparency solution.
To better appreciate this, here’s a project transparency solution that my company recently deployed for the Washington DC Department of Transportation (DDOT). The purpose of this solution is to track DDOT’s ARRA projects in order to provide relevant and timely information to relevant stakeholders (general public, management and the respective project team).
At the highest level, everyone can see the dashboard for schedule, budget, overall performance and a list of all the projects. You can then drill down to a specific project to see more details about the project.
Each project has its’ own website that centralizes all project related information (schedule, budget, documents, etc.) that is accessible to relevant stakeholders. This also means that if you’re the project manager for example and log in to the project site, you would have more project specific information available to you compared to the general public.
The beauty of this project transparency solution is that as soon as relevant project information is updated, not only is it available at the project website, it rolls up to the higher level dashboard reflecting timely information.
Specifically, SharePoint was utilized because:
Functionality needed was available OOTB which allowed rapid deployment
- Built in authentication tools allowed the capability to define who has access to what information
- Provisioning independent project websites with pre-defined templates
Integration with existing tools
- Project related documents are stored in a central repository that can be opened from Microsoft Office tools like Word. In addition, version history is tracked that meets specific compliance requirements.
- Readily available third-party tools enabled the display of rich, graphical dashboards and integration of the project site with Microsoft Project. Project managers are able to use Microsoft Project to create their project schedule and publish it to the respective project site and synchronize information whenever a project resource updates information on the site.
- Financial data from other systems can be integrated and made available in respective project sites.
All project related information is centralized
Don’t you love it when project information is scattered in repositories like your email inbox, network share, some website and maybe a thumb drive?.
Lower barrier to user adoption
Technologies that are being utilized (Web, Microsoft Office, Windows) are familiar to the majority of users and do not require learning complex toolsets.
This Is Just the Beginning
Isn’t SharePoint compelling? I don’t know about you but I sure don’t miss the days of manually putting together project status information and find out that it’s too late to address challenges that come up. How valuable would it be to take corrective actions early on? That can mean money saved, project delays prevented and improved customer satisfaction.
Looking at the big picture, it excites me to know that having relevant project processes and timely information available to stakeholders can greatly contribute to better accountability and project transparency.
Lastly, did you know that Recovery.gov is also powered by SharePoint?