Using SharePoint as a Portfolio Management Tool

I’m a big fan of SharePoint. I see it as the “Swiss army knife” of online collaboration tools. There may be other tools with snazzier social features, or more colorful interfaces, but I think of SharePoint as the “workhorse” of online collaboration, and a fairly easy and relatively inexpensive choice for those organizations using Microsoft Windows Server. Microsoft’s strategy to seed SharePoint amongst it’s user base has been very successful, and combined with the tight integration with Microsoft Office tools, it makes SharePoint a very interesting tool for Project Portfolio management.

SharePoint doesn’t have the sophisticated features of a full blown portfolio management tool. If we consider the continuum of possible choices to manage a portfolio, with nothing at one end (or pen and paper, or even Microsoft Excel), and the most sophisticated web-based enterprise tools at the other end, like Microsoft Project Server or Clarity, SharePoint falls somewhere in the bottom half of that line. SharePoint’s claim to fame is the ability to put things online and let teams collaborate on them.

Taking things off people’s local hard drive or even the email system is still a struggle in 2014. Millennials are likely to not have as much problem as generation Xers in adopting online collaboration tools, and we can see that shift happening now, but it’s still a shift in progress. In the meantime, we need strategies for taking an organization that’s not used to managing its project portfolio online into the 21st century.

I like SharePoint because it lets me test out simple theories and ideas of collaboration without much if any IT developer involvement. If I want to try out a new Risk Log or a new Project Change Request process, it is easy enough to create a custom list and send out a link.

In the context of Project Portfolios, I can test out the very simple concept of a Project Record Master list. Does your organization have one list of all the projects across all portfolios?

If the answer is yes, then you can stop reading now. This article was not meant for you. 🙂

If on the other hand you struggle with providing a company wide view into your portfolio, where is the data being kept? Are you updating multiple systems? Do you have an Enterprise PMO tasked with creating and maintaining this view? Do you see value in having this view?

Choosing a tool is only a small piece of this puzzle.

Choosing a portfolio management tool requires a very high degree of organizational discipline and senior leadership support. This is a topic I’ve discussed in a previous post. If your organization has a need for portfolio management and you want to take a crawl-walk-run approach to developing a sophisticated project portfolio management capability, SharePoint may be the answer. SharePoint will let you start “crawling”.

Using SharePoint out-of-the-box can give you some interesting choices for creating a Project Record Master List and tying that to a concept of “Project Sites” where Project Managers and their teams can collaborate and communicate project status to key stakeholders. It will let you “test the waters” to gauge the level of organizational maturity and discipline you have (or not) in order to plan your next step in your project portfolio management “roadmap”.

If you are able to rally your organization around the concept of collaborative, online project management, then the chances of success with more sophisticated tools greatly increase. You also get a chance to prove the value of these type of tools to senior leadership, and showing value justifies continued effort and investment.

You can take this phased approach, or you can wait another decade or two while millennials make up the entire workforce, at which point not working collaboratively online will be as old fashioned as dialing a rotary telephone. I’d rather start that process now, and ensure the right foundations exist to support online collaborative project portfolio management. And these foundations are not just technological. They are primarily about project management discipline and senior leadership need and consumption of data to make strategic decisions.