Product analysis by Joel Oleson for CollabShow.com and requested by BrightWork, but these thoughts are my own.
I recently had the opportunity to visit with the folks at BrightWork talking about SharePoint BrightWork Project Management templates. We had a bit of a SharePoint history lesson when we started going back to the early days of Tahoe discussing early SQL dashboards or digital dashboards and how they were working closely with the early marketing team with Kari Hensien and Brian Murphy. It really brought back some great memories, but it also told me how long these guys have been working with SharePoint.
The story really started out with their emphasis on project management and how they have put together an approach to help project managers adopt a framework that helps them get from what they are using today to more of a structure around common processes. If you haven’t seen it personally in your workplace, I’d be surprised. Today, project managers start with using a simple spreadsheet and emailing it around to diving into the deep end and putting heavy structure around the tasks halting progress. Reminds me of the movie Office Space… “I haven’t seen your TPS report.” “Let me remind you we really need to see those TPS reports.”
While Outlook and Excel are decent locations to start for scrappy, unstructured processes (with Excel being really the most common tool), they often don’t meet the needs of the user.
When you talk about the ultimate productivity of a team, the real cadence of the team is dependent on the project manager. Whether you’re talking about waterfall or agile methodologies of managing projects, a well-performing team has a rhythm of the business. I have personally experienced a very high-functioning team, and I give a lot of credit to our project manager and the methodology and rhythm we were using to push our projects forward. Even with a vision, and strategy there was a lack of organization without some structure of who is doing what, with priorities, tasks, and divided projects. Otherwise, we were all working on what each of us thought was the best thing for us to be doing. When I was a product manager on the SharePoint team, I assembled my own team and was responsible for building that cadence and communicating my projects back to the team. Strong communication, reporting, and dashboards were absolutely critical in keeping my management up to date with each project.
Why do we need project management templates in SharePoint?
- Best practices built in templates
- Predefined charts
- Structured reports
- Simple and powerful dashboards
- Roll-up data into scorecards
- Easy-to-use, step-by-step guides for end users and project managers with a familiar interface
- Easy work processes and flow
- Samples to see how it works with easy deployment
- Structure to organize teams, projects, departments and more
- Transparency for reporting plus security trimming
Figure: Projects Tracker data editor
Those who are familiar with Excel will find a simple transition with the data views, with a bit of online training which is built into the product.
BrightWork provides an incremental path to finding balance and helping users adopt the platform for managing projects. They have built project management templates, dashboards, and reports that all work together to achieve the balance of providing the right amount of structure, based on the needs of the project or expertise of the project manager.
Figure 1: BrightWork: Project Management Lite
In Figure 1, above you can see the basic project management lite with a simple three-step approach to project management. First the project charter… what are we doing? What is in scope? Second the list of tasks, and finally the documents that relate to it. On the home page, you can see the timeline and calendar of due dates, and what’s happening as well as a simple Gantt chart and simple tasks with status. It is very easy to see the project and status. By simply following the template itself, it aggregates the necessary information into a simple dashboard, providing up-to-date status not only for the project manager but for the team, management or anyone else who needs to be informed.
Figure 2: The Project Standard
The Project Standard provides a five-step approach providing the next level of structure—the statement and relevant dates, the goals, tasks documents, and then the ability to clearly communicate risks beyond the simple status. An additional health metric is added to the dashboard. Structure around the project is provided through an approach of Initiate, Plan, Execute and Control.
The real power of BrightWork is not only in the templates that take the work of transforming SharePoint into a usable project management tool, but in also providing the roll-up needed to get the necessary reporting and dashboarding for levels above the project managers.
A Project Management Office or PO or PMO is structure provided by BrightWork to gather the status from what happens underneath to communicate to Division Directors and ultimately provides transparency to others through status reporting, project trackers including status reports, resource reporting, and more. All of this is put together in a way that policies can be set up and pushed down modifying the sites and fields that are being gathered. The BrightWork templates are not static and can be modified to enforce new metadata capture or to add additional information for updated budgeting or additional requirements. These changes need not be enforced all at once, but changes can be both pushed and pulled by the project managers, based on the agreed-upon policies for enforcement.
Ultimately, you’ve got a dashboard and roll-up of all your projects, the status including cost, and the scorecard that the executives have been begging for.
My Experience with Project Management
I’ve seen some compelling SharePoint templates, but often they are difficult to implement and difficult to get adoption. Think about the Fab 40. What a nightmare! Once people did adopt them, you saw a huge challenge of Microsoft not wanting to support the upgrade. In this case, you’re seeing a solution that is supported and can easily be adopted with the strategy of start small and then add on structure. When it comes to SharePoint, success builds on success.
I’ve also used Clarity. There are some really challenging third-party project management software and tools that management uses for budgeting that drives everyone crazy. We push our project managers to use that software and simply keep us in the loop. I had some real nightmares when I was trying to manage the projects, budgets, and status through these complex systems that required old versions of IE, and didn’t work well. Adoption was forced. The time keeping functionality and form validation seemed broken. It seemed no matter what we did, we were fighting with the system to make it work the way we did. Ultimately, we did start using a combination of our SharePoint sites for documents and project details, and then some budgeting in Clarity, and reporting Urban Turtle in yet another system with TFS being where the actual tasks and management was. Did I mention Crystal reports, or SQL Reporting Services or other portfolio management software, based on where the data was? Some departments started using Project Server in a rogue sort of way to try to get better tracking and reporting, and get closer to the users for adoption, but ultimately not everyone was on the same page and the CIO I think was going a bit crazy. Saying why can’t we all just get along? Why do we have so many platforms for the same thing? You get the idea. Project management really can easily get split out into highly complex systems with data spread across multiple systems with users not wanting to even know about all the junk that has to go on to get a project through.
Now that you’ve seen a bit of the powerful dashboards, site templates and more. I want to step back and give you some of my thoughts.
First, I think this is a very clear example of using SharePoint for real business processes. These seem very simple and make sense. If I was looking for real SharePoint adoption and was struggling with third-party project management processes, I would introduce the PMO to this product. I think it would both encourage adoption of SharePoint and give it a real sense of purpose beyond the simple file sharing it has become in so many companies. There are a lot of templates and different ways to communicate. These project management best practices in these templates have been taken from more than a decade of real use across small to large and complex enterprises. When we started talking about integration, the BrightWork guys didn’t bat an eye. Since SharePoint as a platform supports great integration, it takes advantage of the platform to provide rich charting and reporting.
Pros and Cons
The biggest thing going for what I saw was the simplicity. It seemed like it would be easy to encourage project managers to start using these best practices templates and to get everyone using it in a consistent way. I see that as its biggest strength. Imagine the reporting for an enterprise leveraging the power of these templates. I need to hear more about the scale in the reporting and some of those limits on numbers of sites in a site collection, but really I think SharePoint easily handles hundreds of subsites which could be projects. You’ll have to talk to BrightWork to hear about how they scale.
I think as well, some of the charts are pretty simple which creates real simplicity, but I think there’s opportunity to take these charts to the next level with iPad reporting, and mobile scenarios and responsive designs since they really can make these scorecards something that executives can take with them on the go.
One thing I saw as well was the emphasis on roles and being able to see what you should see based on your role. It does a great job of trimming as well based on who you are and what rights you have when you go into the rollups of information.
With what I’ve seen from BrightWork I have to say this is a great set of templates that is worth considering for anyone interested in going from using Excel and Outlook to using a process that has been proven and that’s built on top of already existing investments in SharePoint. I also see this as a strategic investment in adoption and business buy-in. Those looking for business buy-in find a great solution and foundation that can be catered to your business processes and wrapped around existing frameworks and methodologies.
- Two Free SharePoint Project Management Templates that will get you started managing projects with out of the box SharePoint today!
- Collaborative Project Management eBook that delivers a simple and easy to follow guide on how to initiate, plan, track and close a project to success.
This product analysis is designed to be an unbiased review by Joel Oleson for vendors and the community. How did I do?