Nov 23 2008
To review this book I need to tell you a true story first…
The very first MOSS 2007 project that I was involved in did not go well. I was the architect who had to design the SharePoint farm, perform some IA work, sort out governance and work with the stressed out project manager who was dealing with stakeholders who insisted we press ahead, despite the fact they all had wildly different interpretations of what problem they were trying to solve.
In fact, my first series on branding, ROI and disk planning were inspired from that particular project. Other articles such as my “document management for metalheads” and my “project failure” series were also inspired by it too (although in that case the actual articles came from more broad soul searching).
Now one thing that came out of that experience, is that the organisation had a string of problematic projects prior to that. Thus they had attempted to rectify the problem by doing what many medium to large organisations do. They put together a program management office (PMO). Highly paid consultants came in and trained up various staff on the rigour and process for a PMO based on a PMBOK foundation. I was very supportive of this initiative, because at that time I was hell bent on achieving the PMP certification, so I was studying PMBOK anyway.
PMBOK for those who don’t know stands for the Project Management Body of Knowledge. It is a set of project management best practice guidelines produced by the Project Management Institute (PMI). Since the word “institute” is in its name, they are obviously really, really smart.
But the very same highly paid PMBOK consultants had no SharePoint experience. So, they also put together a new Project management Information System (PMIS) based on a complex folder structure, a bunch of new MSWord based forms, strictly managed manual workflows in relation to managing and tracking various critical aspects of projects (Excel-based, of course).
So, here we were, implementing a large scale collaboration project with the aim of improving the management and tracking of knowledge within the organization, and the PMO was not actually using SharePoint. The irony was not lost on me, especially considering that this was a service based organisation that made its money by undertaking projects! Even better, the outcome for the SharePoint project was to create “project portals” for staff to better manage their own information!
I used to make the point that it sent a bad message when we were undertaking a project to bring SharePoint to the masses so they could better manage their projects, yet not using it to manage *this* project. What did that say about our confidence with the platform?
Of course, it was easy for me to criticise this perceived hypocrisy because I was the tech guy who had learned how the product worked. The others had not had that luxury and trying to learn PMBOK rigour, combined with a new tool was simply too much for them to handle.
Story over – fast forward two and a half years later, here we are and what do we have…?
When I first heard that this book was coming out I was very pleased because I noted that its author, Dux Raymond Sy was certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP). This means that Dux has passed an exam validating his knowledge of PMBOK, but more importantly, had the real world experience to even qualify (PMBOK has some tight eligibility requirements). Given my interest and knowledge of PMBOK and experience of working in a PMBOK based PMO, I was very keen to read this book indeed. Luckily for me, Dux was kind enough to give me this opportunity and supplied me a review copy.
Before you even start on this book, do not skip the preface. Dux is not setting out to write for low level geeks or developers. In this book, you will not find insights into how to create a custom site definition for a PMO, complete with stapled features, event handlers or Visual Studio based workflows. Instead this book is more akin to a more focused “Teach yourself SharePoint” type book, combined with a “Project Management 123″ style book.
Dux states that he has written the book for the following groups, of which only the last one may have expectation issues.
- Project Managers
- Project team members
- Program Managers
- IT/IS Directors
- SharePoint consultants
Aside from the last group, we are not exactly talking uber-tech geeks here. Additionally, Dux explicitly states that the book can help SharePoint consultants to “leverage your SharePoint technical skills by offering a focused approach to implementing SharePoint as a PMIS“. He also states in his assumptions that “I am not inclined to write yet another technical book about SharePoint … the level of technical detail I will cover is just enough to get your PMIS up and running“.
So this book is pitched squarely at the end-user as far as the complexity and accessibility of the material, and Dux has actually come up with something that I think is of value to people who do not have a project management background either.
End-user training books work best when there is a context to the lessons. So whether it is using SharePoint for project management or using SharePoint to help Americans to play the game of cricket, having that unifying theme underneath always makes for a more coherent book helping to explain the rationales for all your actions.
Dux has used PMBOK as the basis to introduce SharePoint features. Each chapter steps you through the project management life cycle from project kickoff at Chapter 1, to project closing at Chapter 9.
Chapter 1 outlines the essential project management activities that have to take place and borrows from PMBOK theory. The concept of a PMIS is introduced and SharePoint is introduced as a product. Thankfully for all of us, Dux has resisted the urge to waste excessive paper on the history of SharePoint; something that every other author seems to feel compelled to do. The chapter is finished off by introducing a fictitious company called “SharePoint Dojo Inc.” which is used throughout the rest of the book.
Chapter 2 is entitled “Setting Up the PMIS” and starts by explaining SharePoint basics such as top level sites and subsites and site templates. He then relates this back to how a PMO may be structured. Once again, rather than go into excess theory, several different ways to organise your PMO are suggested with some basic considerations and we are quickly creating a SharePoint site as a workshop. The key point here is that Dux has set the scene, explained what we are going to do and the outcome that we want. Readers therefore aren’t going through the motions without knowing why. Each workshop then has a debrief that summarises the actions performed.
Chapter 3 is called “Adding PMIS Components” and, once again, Dux sets the scene by explaining the functionality that a PMIS needs to provide. This premise is used to introduce lists and libraries, and this is where non project management readers will also get benefit. There are lists and libraries created for tracking project risks, tasks, resources, contacts and documents with some customizations. Therefore, readers get a subtle introduction to PMBOK as well as learning how to customize lists and libraries in SharePoint.
Chapter 4 deals with “Adding stakeholders to the PMIS”, which is essentially a subtle way to write a chapter on managing users, groups and permissions.
Chapter 5 is entitled “Supporting Team Based Collaboration” and builds on chapters 2-4 by introducing more advanced SharePoint features, such as versioning, check-in and content approval in the context of project team members, stakeholders and project sponsors wanting to review and track the evolution of project documentation. Dux then introduces Wikis, discussion boards and document workspaces on the premise that “collaborative project activities can be ad hoc, offline or remote in nature”, such as brainstorming, sharing lessons learned and continual process improvement.
Chapter 6 is back into the PMBOK discipline again and is called “Project tracking”. It expands on chapter 3 in particular and tracking project tasks and risks. The workshop updates the lists with chapter 3 and requires readers to make more advanced changes to the existing lists. Additional columns are added and the datasheet view is introduced. The second half of chapter 6 introduces workflows, and the out of the box three-state workflow concept is introduced and implemented as a change control system.
Chapter 7 builds on chapter 6, by talking about requirements for project reporting in a PMIS and covers the SharePoint features of custom views, specific web parts and alerts to achieve this. This chapter also covers the creation of web part pages for the purpose of management dashboards (publishing pages are not covered). Mind you, later in this chapter the MOSS only KPI web parts are covered as well as a 3rd party web part by Bamboo Software. Alerts are also covered off, as well as particular attention to meeting workspaces as a means to improve the quality of project meetings. Anyone in project management knows, that meetings are a fact of life and a constant source of frustration and wastage.
Chapter 8 deals with integration issues. Dux offers techniques for integrating MS Project with SharePoint and Excel for managing SharePoint lists. Out of the box integration with SharePoint and MS Project is not overly slick and some 3rd party options are suggested. The integration with Excel on the other hand was actually something that I did not know existed – bi-direction sync between Excel and SharePoint via a Microsoft add-in.
Chapter 9 is the final chapter and entitled “Project Closing”. By this time we have created a fully functional PMIS site and this chapter rounds off the book by taking our complete site, and saving it as a template for re-use for new projects. As a final note, Dux writes about the importance of buy-in from stakeholders when adopting SharePoint as a PMIS.
I think that the level of detail that this book went into was well pitched at Dux’s targeted audience. If I was to make one suggestion in relation to the coverage of SharePoint features, it would have been to include both filter web parts and the concept of web part connections in chapter 7. I think that web part connections add an extra dimension to dashboards without requiring application development expertise. This may have been a good fit for this book.
SQL Reporting services integration may have been worthwhile in chapter 8 as well. Whilst excessive detail is not required for reporting services, the sort of functionality that it provides is definitely worth covering, especially as MOSS specific functionality like KPI web parts were mentioned. That chapter also was fairly small compared to the other chapters and I think this would have rounded it off nicely.
In terms of people who have never been involved with project management disciplines, there is also something to offer here. This book is not a PMBOK study guide by any stretch, but it still provides an insight into the rigour and processes that should be followed when managing projects. For that reason, I think that this book is actually better than many of the “teach yourself…” style books that provide lessons without an underlying context. If I was to nit-pick in this area, there is probably scope for further fleshing out some of the head-space around project management practice. But in saying that I’ve already read PMBOK books so I may be biased in this regard.
If Dux felt really inclined, he could probably repeat this formula. I could easily see this style of book being applied to say, using SharePoint for Scrum methodology.
All in all, a great book for what it is and a “must read” for those involved in project management who want to know what SharePoint is all about.