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Sync Outlook and SharePoint With EPM Live for Effortless Project and Work Collaboration

SharePoint is the largest collaboration platform on the market today. With over 36 million users world wide, it no wonder most organizations choose SharePoint as their business application of choice. Savvy business leaders are leveraging project and work management companies such as EPM Live to help them extend the capabilities of SharePoint in to a complete end-to-end business intelligence and project management tool. And even taking their deployments one step further into social project management. 

Collaboration is a key practice in the way organizations work today.  Working together to deliver project and work deliverables that otherwise may not be reached by working alone, allow organizations to streamline work, deliver services and increase overall productivity across the organization. Collaborative environments provide resources the ability to combine effort and expertise to produce greater business results allowing them to work better, faster and smarter.

Two of the most effective, widely adopted, easy-to-use collaboration tools on the market today include Outlook and SharePoint.  EPM Live combines these two powerful products Outlook Publisher, an Outlook add-in that allows seamless synchronization with Outlook and SharePoint.  EPM Live customers can leverage Outlook to extend the collaboration tools available to maximize productivity.  Teams can convert Outlook emails into work items directly in SharePoint .  Outlook Publisher enables teams to reduce effort and improve communication.  Outlook Publisher includes the following functionality:

  • Full integration with Outlook ribbon controls – Outlook Publisher allows you to create list items directly in Outlook.  As a new item is created from the Outlook ribbon controls, a new item in SharePoint is created
  • Email threading and monitoring – Tracking information such as ID, date and time are automatically produced for item identification as items are created in Outlook.  All updates to the defined list item are appended and tracked to account for all collaboration and communication throughout the work item’s life cycle
  • Flexible configuration tools- Outlook Publisher comes with easy to use configuration tools to allow for flexible field configuration and list mapping

Outlook Publisher can be used for any work item in SharePoint including but not limited to help desk tickets, work requests, task lists, action items, risks, issues, IT requests, maintenance requests, bug lists, etc.  EPM Live will continue to drive innovation by finding new and better ways for teams to work better together.

Use EPM Live Wikis for Team Communication

Many of you will work in distributed teams where you have project team members located in a number of offices. This can be a real challenge for communication. Even a large team based in one city may not all share the same office space. How do you share knowledge with people who are not based locally, without expensive travel or taking time away from the day job to host knowledge sharing sessions? A wiki is one way to help tackle the communication challenge for distributed teams.  Read on to see how project management software can leverage wikis to improve project collaboration. 

‘Wiki’ comes from the Hawaiian word meaning ‘quick’. It also stands for ‘What I Know Is’. Essentially, it is a collection of linked web pages about a topic or series of topics. In project terms, you could have a wiki for a project, or your Project Management Office could set up an enterprise wiki at the portfolio level. Project team members can access the wiki, create new pages for new information or update existing pages with new information.

If that sounds complicated, it’s really not at all. If you can type a document in a word processing package, you can use a wiki. There is no complicated coding required and you can create, update and search pages straight from your web browser.

Wikis in practice

Let me give you an example of how this works. One project manager we know has created a project wiki. Her project is to implement a new IT system for around 2,000 staff, and the wiki is kind of like a Frequently Asked Questions database. Each time someone asks a question, a wiki entry is created, so that in the future other people with the same question can search the wiki and find the answer themselves – the idea is to take the burden off the project team and share information.

This project manager has also created a number of sections for the project team – technical information, data about server models and IP address ranges and so on. This is updated when the project team has new data, or when things change. As a result, they aren’t looking back through emails to find the latest situation, which is risky as they could pull up something that is out of date. The wiki gives everyone the same version of the project status.

Through their wiki, they have also created a great knowledge repository to hand over the operational team once the new IT system is live. Keywords on the wiki pages link to other pages, so the wiki has become like a little website in its own right. People can navigate around the wiki, clicking on topics to get more information, and this will be a great benefit to the IT help desk team when they have to take customer queries when the project goes live.

Working around the world

Wikis have another advantage for distributed teams. They are not synchronous communication. By that we mean that you don’t have to have people there at the same time, like you would on a conference call. Someone in the Sydney office can update the wiki and when the London team come into work later that day they have instant access to the latest changes.

Your project wiki becomes the first place to look for all the relevant project data, wherever you are in the world. Users can upload images, documents, other project artifacts or even videos so that their colleagues always have the latest information to hand.

Wikis allow you to search knowledge

Wikis typically have great search functionality, so you don’t have to worry too much about setting up a good information architecture to begin with. Pretty much the only rule is not to duplicate pages, so if you are going to give multiple people in the project team access to create new pages, ask them to check to see if something on the topic exists already before setting up a new page.

Of course, if you can add a bit of structure to your wiki, your project team will thank you for it later. Try to group relevant topics together, such as status updates and meeting minutes, and use hyperlinks on the pages to ensure it is easy for people to navigate between wiki entries.

A good way to do this is to add simple links to each relevant entry saying something like ‘back to all videos’, ‘go to main meetings page’ or similar.

Some wikis, like the functionality that comes with EPM Live Project Wiki’s, allow you to subscribe to updates through an RSS feed so that you can keep up with all the new entries, and click through to topics that interest you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ll never miss any project updates again!

Email your entire project team with a few clicks in Project Publisher

One of the greatest challenges a Project Manager has is keeping everyone informed and connected with the latest and greatest when things change… I said when things change because we all know that dates shift, resource availability fluctuates, scope creeps, and risks can manifest into issues.

Using the EPM Live Project Publisher, a Microsoft Project add-in, you can easily get everyone on your project team — literally: every resource on your project team — informed with the favorite business communication tool of this age: email.

Project Publisher works with all EPM Live product versions, so no matter whether you have a free project workspace, or an EPM/PPM system, you can use this trick!

We have a few assumptions to cover:

  • The first is that you have a Microsoft Project file setup – scheduled & linked, as you see fit.
  • The second is that you have the project resource loaded into the schedule and assigned to tasks. One way to check is to see whether or not you have people showing up on the Resource Usage view, with assignments on tasks.
  • The third is that you have already done the Project Team build on your EPM Live project workspace. Of course, for the communication to get delivered to the person, their correct email address has to be in the system.
  • The last is that you have done the Resource Mapping with your Project Team & the Microsoft Project schedule.

So, let’s get to this. Smile

Open Microsoft Project, click on the Publisher tab, and then click the Communicate option. Email team is right there:

Compose your message using your favorite desktop email application, and send it off. It should be that simple!

Helping Teams Communicate More Effectively Using Comments

Every Project Manager and project team needs tools to communicate with and amongst the project team easily and efficiently.

The Comment thread acts like a simple discussion board to allow very quick, focused and accessible conversation on any particular Task, Issue, or document. Let’s explore the communication barriers that this Comment feature was designed to resolve.

Communication barriers with…

  • Email: the communication tool that was once revolutionary has become a burden in a lot of organizations. Conversation is restricted to the number of participants and the growing number of email communication makes finding information (that you know you have in there somewhere) a little more difficult.
  • Discussion threads: possibly focused, but not necessarily quick. These threads can become off-topic as they grow longer, and the conversation is not physically linked to a specific Task, Issue or Document on the Project.

Introducing: Comments!

Communication  is  more effective with…

  • Clarity/Focus – the Comment thread is literally attached to a specific Task, Issue, Document or other item. There is no mistaking what this comment thread is in reference to.
  • Quickness – the Comment box is a popup that you can type and post into with two clicks from the item drop-down menu.
  • Easy access for Commenters – viewing the Comments on an item is as easy as making a Comment. To accomodate the established business requirements for email alerts for everything, when you make a Comment, you are automatically added to the thread for notification of additional comments on the thread! So you can get back to an item’s Comment thread from a link in your Inbox if you’d like.
  • Accessibility to the entire project team – Anyone can view a Comment thread on an item that they can view. The Comment thread serves as a source of “documentation” on the item’s history.

Using Comments, you as the Project Manager can quickly communicate to your entire team an idea, request or update on any item in your project workspace. And for people who are new to your project, viewing the comments on newly assigned tasks, issues or documents will allow them to get up to speed on previous discussions, decisions and directions on Tasks, Issues and Documents on your project.

As a project team member, you can trust the Comment thread to be what you need to know about a re-assigned task, handed-across issue, or passed-down document, as well as a viable channel to reach out to your Project Manager and team with requests for help or input.

The beauty of the Comment thread is that it is collaborative information truly integrated as part of the project! We hope you agree that this design is much better than information hidden away in someone’s email box or data stored in an unrelated discussion post in another part of your worksapce that nobody knows about.

The Comment feature is available from the ribbon or the item drop-down menu in all EPM Live products!

EPM Live's Project Collaboration – How We Use Our Tools Internally

Staying true to our EPM Live rock theme…. Bob Dylan’s third studio album titled, “The Times They Are a-Changin’” , says it in a nutshell.  With Facebook, Linked In, and the “Google age” providing information at your fingertips, communication in the project management world and the tools to do it are evolving at an alarming rate!  With the constant availability of technology, people want real time information at their fingertips at all times.  As such, Project and Product Managers are facing the challenge of having current data available to their team remotely and the flexibility to work in this dynamic environment.

At times, the rapid rate of change may feel a bit overwhelming for some.  However, I think the new ways for us to connect with our teams represent an opportunity for building our own mini-communities to help find and share information faster and more easily.  So, for this blog series, I thought I’d take some time to share some of my favorite collaborative features within EPM Live that we use internally.  These features help keep everyone in the loop and come up with the best ideas for reaching goals.

First, with our last release we included a new “Comments” feature.  This feature allows users to share comments on any item in the system.  We use this new feature here internally and it has allowed me to keep history and keep my discussions centralized on a particular work item.  For example, for a particular defect item within our backlog that I have questions about – I can simply add a comment/question.  The EPM Live system will email the comment to the user who is assigned to the item, and anyone else on the discussion string.  It’s a very useful feature!!

In addition, I’ll highlight the new My Work web part.  The recently enhanced My Work web part allows team members to update and manage all individual work assignments from a single location. Roll up any work across the enterprise for global visibility and increased efficiency. Team members can update status in one view to reduce cost and improve productivity, so project managers know what the status is on their projects work items.  Yes, we do use it here – and when someone asks me what they should be working on – I ask them to review their “My Work” items.  Yes, change is difficult here too, but we are moving in the right direction!  :)

Lastly, Team Discussions that are included in project workspace templates let you share information and discuss project topics with your team for real-time project collaboration.  The unorganized email threads can drive a person batty (this person in particular)!!  Discussion boards can be connected right within your Outlook so you can quickly reply to messages within a familiar email application.  This allows you to keep track of discussions within your site, so the entire team can review and search the site to find information that is important to them.

To connect your Team Discussion to Outlook:

  1. Navigate to your Project Workspace Team Discussion.
  2. Within the List Ribbon, click on “Connect to Outlook”
  3. When you are prompted to confirm that you want to connect the discussion board to Outlook, click Yes.
    1. In Outlook, the discussion board is added to the folder list in a new folder called SharePoint Lists. After the discussion topics appear, you can read and respond to them.

* TIP   After you connect a discussion board to Outlook, you can send a sharing message to other team members that invites them to connect to the discussion board. Right-click the discussion board name in Outlook, and then click Share discussion board name on the shortcut menu. This creates an e-mail message that contains a link and a command to connect to the discussion board.

Over the last 10 years, the face of project and portfolio management tools has changed immensely enabling teams to work more quickly and efficiently than ever before.  Take it from Bob Dylan.…  “For the times they are a-changin’”