Using SharePoint to Maintain Project Archives

When working with clients on how to use SharePoint to improve their project environment, I am frequently asked about what should happen to a project site at the end of the project. This is a great question! With any luck, your projects will end, and therefore your project site will also have an end of life. The information captured on the project site throughout the project life cycle represents intellectual property that can be leveraged to improve future project delivery efforts and support future product releases. Decisions need to be made at the end of the project in terms migrating project information to a “permanent destination” and deleting the project site. These decisions are dependent on the type of project deliverable, and the status of the solution/product delivered by the project. The following are your options for migrating project information:

Project Site – If a there are plans to initiate another project associated with the solution/product, the information may be migrated to another project site. This situation applies when plans to enhance the solution/product are identified during the project closeout process.

Product/Solution Site – If the deliverables are linked to the product or solution, the information may be migrated to a product or solution related site (e.g., product support, or product development sites). Examples of this type of content are requirements documents, test plans & scripts, support & operation manuals, and training materials.

Project Archives – If the deliverables are tied to how the project was delivered, the content may be migrated to a project archive library (generally maintained within the PMO or Project Office site). Examples of this type of content include the project charter, project management plan, project schedule, project budget, risk/issue list, change request list, and the project closure report.

The main point is that purposeful action needs to be taken at the end of the project in terms of content migration. Project sites left unattended at the end of a project become irrelevant, and useful information that is not migrated to the appropriate location becomes difficult to find, and sometimes altogether lost. In my opinion, the project manager is responsible for making sure the content migration process occurs in a timely manner during the closeout phase of the project.

The focus of the remainder of this post is how to create and maintain an effective project archive document library within your project office site to facilitate storing and retrieving relevant project delivery information related to completed project efforts.

Moving Project Information

The administrative closure process should include the activities required to clean-up the project site, and migrate the site content to the appropriate location. To me this activity is just as important as facilitating the lessons learned session and creating the project closure report. The timing of migrating the project site content is important, because if it does not happen in the first 30 days after the project is complete, it is unlikely it will ever happen (after team members have moved on to new roles).

The first step in the content migration process is identifying the content that will have value to future initiatives. Old versions of deliverables should be purged, and interim work products should be deleted. Content maintained in lists are generally exported to Excel spreadsheets, and saved as a document in the new location.

In terms of physically moving the content from the project site to the new location, you have a couple options:

Save the document to the new location: Select the document, and the use the “Send to” option to move / copy the document to a new location.

Move the Documents Using Explorer View: Open up two windows, one with the current location and one with the future location. Change the view in both windows to Explorer view and then “drag and drop” the document from the old location to the new location. If you choose this option, you will need to utilize the “check in” function for each of the documents in the new location.

After the content is moved to the new location, delete the item in the old location, and add the metadata to the item in the new location (using the edit properties function).

Capturing Project Archive Data

As I explained in my blog on Using SharePoint to Organize your Project Deliverables, I do not recommend creating a Project Archive library with sub-folders for each of the projects or asset types. It is a best practice to maintain the Project Archive files in a single library, and capture metadata for each document that enables searching, sorting, and filtering of the files.

Capturing the following information for each document maintained in the project archive library enables storing and retrieving project archive information in an effective manner:

  • Project Name – Represents a look-up of project names maintained in the project portfolio list.
  • Project Asset Type – Represents a choice of valid types of project assets (e.g., schedule, budget, project management plan, project status report, project closeout). This could be a long list of individual types of project deliverables, or groupings of project deliverables.
  • Project Manager – Represents a look-up of resources in the project office resource list.
  • Fiscal Year – Text field utilized to capture the period (year or month) the project was completed.

The Rating setting is “turned on” to facilitate rating of documents maintained within the project archive library. This function makes it easier to find a “good” example of a specific deliverable from a previous project (one that another project manager has marked as a 4 or 5 star).

The following is an example of the process asset type choices utilized to categorize the types of project documents maintained in the project archive library.

Creating Views for the Project Archive Library

As in the case of lists that I have described in previous blog posts, SharePoint Views are used to display the project archive documents in the best manner for each target audience. Based upon the metadata created for the project archive deliverables, views allow you to sort and group the project archive document by project, project asset type, or period (year). The sorting and grouping provides the ability to find what you are looking for, without “digging through” folders and sub-folders.

Below is the Project Archive by Project view that groups all documents maintained in the Project Archives for a particular project. This view is utilized by people interested in researching or reviewing documentation associated with a specific project.

Below is the Project Archive by Asset Type view that groups all documents maintained in the Project Archives for a specific type of project asset. This view is utilized by project managers when locating a good example of a specific type of project deliverable.

Below is the Project Archive by Period (Year) view that groups all documents maintained in the Project Archives for a specific time period. This view is utilized by people reviewing project deliverables produced during a specific time period.

5 Ways to Ensure Project Archives are Useful

1. Clean-up – Prior to migrating content from the project site, perform clean-up of information maintained on the site. You want to limit the information migrated to content that will be of value for future reference or efforts. The clean-up effort includes deleting old versions of documents, purging interim work products, and migrating content maintained in lists to spreadsheets.

2. Timely – Establish project closeout processes that include ensuring that project site content migration is performed in a timely manner. If the project site content is not migrated before team members move to new roles, it may never happen and valuable intellectual property will become hard to find.

3. Organize – Utilizing metadata to organize your project archive library is a much more effective approach than creating sub-folders for each project or asset type. The use of metadata allows the project office to create views of information maintained in the project archive library that are tailored to the needs of specific audiences or use cases.

4. Views – Views can be tailored to meet the specific needs of your project community (using groups, sorts, and filters). The goal is to make it easy to find information that can be leveraged for future project efforts, enhancing the culture of continuous improvement.

5. Rating – Document rating is an excellent collaboration feature that allows people to “rate” how useful a specific deliverable was for them. This feature is particularly helpful for project managers attempting to locate a good sample project deliverable from a previous project.

Using SharePoint to Support the Project Office – Portfolio Management

My blogs about using SharePoint to improve project delivery have been focused on processes and collaboration at the project team level. At the project team level, SharePoint can be used to streamline processes, increase team collaboration, and more effectively measure project performance. This is where most clients start to drive improvements in project delivery performance.

There is also a great opportunity to use SharePoint to improve the effectiveness of your Project Office, with different areas of focus, and different resulting benefits. At the Project Office level, SharePoint can be used to improve visibility of your project portfolio, govern the way work gets done across the portfolio, and uplift the project management processes and tools utilized by project teams. These improvements drive stronger relationships with your key customers, better control of projects throughout the project life cycle, and consistent application of more effective and efficient project management practices.

Portfolio Reporting

Maintaining project profile and performance information at the project team level provides the ability to “roll-up” the project information to a project portfolio dashboard. Portfolio reporting is utilized to communicate to key customers the status of projects supporting their business unit strategies. SharePoint enables portfolio dashboard reporting without creating overhead or redundant processes within your Project Office. It also provides the ability for customers to consume more detail about individual projects by providing links to project sites and project status reports.

Below are a couple very simple examples of the portfolio dashboard, one sorted by project phase and the other by business unit. Key project information can be communicated on the dashboard (project name, business unit, project phase, project status, budget status, actual spend to-date, target date, % complete, project manager), as well as a link to the project status report and/or project site to obtain additional information. With some minor help from your SharePoint Development staff, the look and feel of your dashboard can be further enhanced to include things like stoplights for the project status.

Active Projects by Project Phase

Active Projects by Business Unit

Governance

Many of my colleagues hate the concept of governance. To them it represents overhead and “red tape” that slows down the process of getting actual work done. To me, governance represents an enabler that makes it easier for customers to initiate projects, as well as establish a process that ensures that projects delivered meet customer expectations. SharePoint can be utilized to implement workflow and reporting around the project intake process. The project intake process allows customer to submit projects ideas directly, increase the visibility of project requests, and reduce the cycle times associated with the project initiation phase of the project.

SharePoint also provides the capability to manage portfolio and milestone reviews with key customers. This can be accomplished by creating a Project Office level calendar, and leveraging meeting workspaces to collaborate on key deliverables and manage follow-up actions. Strong processes in this area helps ensure that your teams are working on the right projects (aligned well with business strategies), and that projects delivered are meeting the expectations of your customers. Below is an example of the Project Office calendar of events.

Project Office Processes & Tools

The SharePoint collaboration platform can be leverage to uplift the processes and tools utilized across the project portfolio. A very simple example of improving tools at the Project Office level is creating a list to manage project manager assignments. A contact list with metadata added to collect information about project manager assignments can be added to the Project Office site to improve the cycle time associated with assigning a project manager for a new project. Below is a summary view of the project manager assignments list.

Another example of leveraging SharePoint to upgrade Project Office processes and tools is creating a central repository (using document libraries) for maintaining project management processes, tools and reports. This central repository enables more consistent application of key practices across the project portfolio. Collaboration amongst project managers facilitates sharing of processes and tools “in-line” with completion of project work. Project Office resources leverage the information captured during the project managers’ collaboration to implement continuous improvements to the project management process and tools. Metadata added to the process library helps organize the documents by process area, document type, and status of the document. Below is an example view of the process and reporting libraries.

5 Ways SharePoint Improves the Effectiveness of the Project Office

  • Portfolio Dashboard – The project dashboard represents a “roll-up” of key project information maintained on project sites. Without introducing redundant processes, the Project Office can provide improved visibility of projects throughout the project life cycle to key customers.
  • Project Intake – Customers have the ability to easily submit project requests in SharePoint. Implementation of workflow associated with the project requests provides improved visibility of the requests, and reduces the cycle time associated with the project initiation phase.
  • Portfolio Governance – The Project Office calendar and meeting workspaces are utilized to effectively manage customer interactions associated with on-going portfolio reviews, as well as specific project milestone reviews.
  • Team Utilization – The Project Office site can be utilized to manage project manager assignments and utilization across the project portfolio.
  • Centralized Process & Tools Library – Document libraries can be utilized to establish a central repository for project management processes, tools and reports. The Project Office drives improvements to these processes and tools in parallel with completing project work.

PM Foundations – An Effective Lessons Learned Process

In my experience, the best practice area that is most often minimized or entirely overlooked is project closure. At the end of a project, project teams are hurriedly preparing to move onto their next assignment, and miss a prime opportunity to leave a lasting impact on the client organization. Implementation of a consistent continuous improvement practice (aka, the lessons learned process) enables the ability to enhance the organization’s project delivery capabilities with the initiation of each project. The overall purpose of the lessons learned process is to identify improvement opportunities (things done well, or areas for improvement), and to initiate actionable next steps. In the context of this discussion, improvement opportunities can relate to both the product that was delivered, as well as how the project was planned and executed.

The lessons learned process should have consistent structure and organization from project to project. The following represents the primary steps in the lessons learned process:

  • Kick-off – The process is initiated with a brief discussion of the purpose of the lessons learned process. Information captured in the project closure survey is helpful to determine the best flow for the initial lessons learned discussion.
  • Capture Ideas – Ideas are generated for each of the project areas (e.g., project phase, functional group, or product category). Again, these ideas represent things done particularly well on the project, or areas for improvement. The facilitated discussion includes a review of ideas captured throughout the project (primarily by the project manager) and from the project closure survey, as well as brainstorming new ideas during the lessons learned meeting.
  • Group into Opportunities – Organize the ideas into groups based upon the type of improvement opportunity.
  • Prioritize – Identify the high priority opportunities, based upon impact of the opportunity (to the product or future projects).
  • Identify & Assign Actions – For the selected opportunities (high priority), identify actions that represent the next step(s) associated with implementing the opportunity. In addition, assign ownership for the opportunity to someone on the team who is responsible for seeing that the next steps are initiated.

Capturing Ideas

There are 3 primary sources of ideas around lesson learned opportunities:

  • Opportunities captured throughout the project. As improvement opportunities are identified throughout the project, they should be captured in a central repository. Particularly for longer projects, these ideas may get lost by the time you get to the end of the project.
  • The themes from the Project Closure Survey represent direct input for capturing ideas about lessons learned opportunities.
  • Through the review of opportunities that have been captured previously, the facilitator prompts the participants to brainstorm additional improvement related ideas.

It is a best practice to attempt to “guide” the discussion through the various aspects of the project in an organized manner. This could be based upon project phases, work streams, product categories, or functional areas. As with any well facilitated brainstorming session, the facilitator discourages passing judgment on ideas at this point in the process. You are trying to encourage participation in the process from all participants. In addition, using techniques such as having participants write new ideas on post-it notes helps get everyone involved in the process.

Grouping & Prioritizing Ideas

After completing the “brainstorming” process, the facilitator helps the team organize the ideas in groupings of related opportunities. It makes it easier to organize the ideas if they are grouped / organized based upon the type of opportunity (or opportunities that can be addressed with a common set next steps).

During this process it represents a best practice to physically organize the ideas into the related categories. This is either accomplished by re-organizing the post-it notes (posting the ideas on the wall in the groupings), or resorting the ideas captured by a software tool (displaying the ideas in the groupings using tools such as a Excel, Visio or MindMapper).

Once the ideas are grouped, the team works together to identify the high priority opportunities based upon the potential impact associated with each opportunity. This impact could be related to an improvement to the product, or an improvement to the project delivery process (across all projects). The opportunities can either by rated as High, Medium, Low, or ranked from High to Low.

At the end of this process the facilitator is attempting to get people to agree that the “right” opportunities have been identified, and prioritized appropriately.

Many times this point in the process is a good break for the first lessons learned session. The break provides participants time to review and elaborate on the improvement ideas before identifying the next steps.

Identifying & Assigning Actions

After the ideas have been organized and prioritized, the facilitator helps the team identify the appropriate next steps for the high priority opportunities. The next steps identified generally represent actions required to get the improvement opportunities moving in the right direction (vs. the exact steps to solve/implement the improvement). The facilitator should steer the team away from getting into a detailed discussion on how to solve the problem.

At this point in the process the team is also looking for people that can “own” the problem, or at least take ownership for the problem to the point that the next steps are initiated. The “owner” is generally somebody that either has accountabilities tied to the opportunity, or the passion/desire to help move the opportunity forward.

Managing Action Items

The single biggest complaint or “pitfall” associated with the lessons learned process is that nothing happens with the feedback that is captured after the project is closed and the team members return to their “regular” jobs. Sometimes this happens because the action items generated out of the process are not “actionable” enough to be implemented, but more often than not it is because there is not a group or process that is responsible for making sure there is the appropriate follow-through for the continuous improvement ideas and actions..

Part of creating a culture of continuous improvement is ensuring that there is the appropriate hand-off between the project team that identified the opportunity and the team that is responsible for implementing it. In a best case scenario, someone from the project team that is passionate about the opportunity can be part of solving the problem, but this is not always the case. Some practical ideas on where to go with the opportunities / action items from the project team:

  • Continuous Improvement Initiatives – If the opportunity is large or strategic in nature, a continuous improvement initiative may be launched to implement the action item(s). Like any other initiative, it will require adequate sponsorship and resources to be successful.
  • Project Operations – A client may have organizations that are responsible for taking learnings from initiatives and implementing continuous improvement ideas/actions (e.g., project office). The hand-off in this case is generally a presentation of the high priority opportunities and proposed next steps from the project team, and agreement on initiatives the project office should include in the future plans for their area.
  • Product Releases – Many times the improvement opportunities are associated with the product. In this case the opportunities and justification would be presented to members of the team that is leading the next product releases (or managing the on-going support of the product). This is the scenario where it is most likely that a member of the current project team would be part of the implementation of the continuous improvement opportunities.

Upon completion of the feedback process, and hand-off of the recommended next steps, it is the project manager’s responsibility to ensure that the process and supporting documentation is documented and stored in the project files. A summary of the process and recommended next steps will become part of the final project report. The supporting details should become part of the documents archived in the project files. This becomes a valuable asset for use by members of the project office or future project teams.

7 Lessons Learned Best Practices

  1. Timing – The lessons learned session can be performed at the end of the project, or at the end of major milestones/project phases (retrospective at the end of each sprint in the Agile world).
  2. Guided Discussion – Attempt to “guide” the discussion through the various aspects of the project in an organized manner. This could be based upon project phases, product categories, or functional areas. Generally if the discussion is “guided” (vs. randomly generated), the discussion is more organized and more likely to cover all aspects of the project.
  3. Organizing Improvement Ideas – Using a tool or physical representation on the wall, re-organize the improvement ideas into groupings. The re-organization process helps the team better visualize the appropriate next steps required to implement improvement ideas.
  4. Accountability – Someone is assigned accountability and responsibility for ensuring that something happens with the next steps recommended by the project teams. This accountability generally resides in the Project Office (project delivery opportunities) or the Product Maintenance teams (product improvement opportunities).
  5. Impartial Facilitation – To be an effective facilitator, engaging the group and guiding the discussion, it is best to have not been intimately involved in the project. As the project manager it seems natural to facilitate the lessons learned discussions, however that limits your ability to contribute as a participant. Consider engaging an experienced facilitator that has not been actively involved in the project to facilitate the meeting. The facilitator should be provided some level of background on the project (e.g., summary of project closure surveys) to help them better guide the discussion.
  6. Targeted Discussions – Often times it makes sense to break the groups into multiple sessions to focus on specific topics (e.g., components/phase of the project). One caution with this approach is to make sure the discussions are not so focused that you lose the overall cross-functional nature of the lessons learned process.
  7. Meeting Length – Lessons learned meetings that are too long tend to lose energy and focus by the end of the session. Therefore, you have high quality feedback around improvement opportunities and limited direction in terms of what to do about it (action items and assignments). To address this issue it is often helpful to break the lessons learned into two meetings: Meeting #1 = Capture, group & prioritize improvement ideas, and Meeting #2 = Identify & assign action items.