In the first post of this Project–SharePoint series, I discussed how to sync an MS Project MPP file to a SharePoint Task List, which gives you the wonderful benefit of getting around “the MS Project paradox”: only so many Project licenses are available, yet many project team members need to be able to see and/or update the MPP.
In this post, I’m covering how to customize, or a better word would be configure, your newly synced Project–SharePoint project plan before your release it to the hounds for day-to-day project management within your team (that’s the next post).
Let’s face it: you probably have some custom fields in your Project MPP. Any good PM should, right? So SharePoint should support that and let you display those columns if you want. And, thankfully it does. It’s called mapping fields or mapping columns.
After doing a bunch of testing it looks like you’re best off pushing columns from the MPP to the Task List. What I mean by that is I can’t seem to find a way to connect, say, SharePoint’s “Priority” field to a similarly created field in an MPP in case you wanted to track the priority in the MPP. In that case, you’ll have to create a new field in the MPP and map it to another new field in the Task List.
On the plus side, I can easily create a new column in the SharePoint Task List based on columns I’m using in the MPP, which is the most likely case you’d want to.
As an example, I added an “Owner” field in Project. This field is a text field, but provides choices only; I cannot enter my own values unless I update the list of choices available. I then map the column to SharePoint where the data gets synced and the new column in SharePoint—ta da!—is also a choice column and matches the MPP exactly. After that I added the column in my default Task List view so it’s visible to everyone.
Note: you must be a Site Owner to complete this task because you’re creating a new column in the Task List, which is something only a Site Owner can do. Here’s how to do it.
1. In Project, point to the column header where it says “Add New Column”. Right click > Custom Fields. (Don’t left-click first, otherwise you won’t get the correct menu.)
2. You’re provided a number of Text fields you can work with. Click the name of the first field.
3. Click “Rename…”. I named my column “Owner”.
4. I want this field to be a choice field (not an “enter anything you’d like” field), so I need to choose the radio button next to the “Lookup…” button.
5. Click “Lookup…”.
6. Add your values (put them in alphabetical order for your own sanity).
7. Click “Close”.
8. Click “OK”.
9. Still within Project, make your choices in the field for all of your tasks.
10. Click File > Map Fields.
11. Click Add Field.
12. In the Add Field pop-up, select the “Owner” field from the “Existing Project Field” menu.
13. Project will propose a name for the “New SharePoint Column” field. In this case it automatically inserts “Owner”. Click OK.
14. Save the MPP. This will sync the column to SharePoint.
15. Refresh your Task List in SharePoint.
16. Update the default view to display your new column using the steps described further down this post.
That’s it! Your columns are now mapped between your MPP and your Task List. Jump over to your Task List and you can confirm that the SharePoint column is a choice field by checking the column name in the List Settings.
I tested whether you can add a new choice in the SharePoint Task List (as a Site Owner) by updating the Owner field, then have it push to the MPP automatically. It appears you can. That said, I suggest only making these types of changes from the MPP to ensure the fidelity of your plan.
One nice way to confirm this is a choice field is going to your Task List in SharePoint, clicking “edit this list” and clicking the Owner field next to any task. (More info on “edit mode” here.)
Creating new views
Just like any other SharePoint list, you can create new views. This lets you sort, filter, and group the tasks in a way that makes more sense for your specific needs. For example, the default Task List doesn’t show the “% complete” or “Assigned to” fields (even though Project synced that information to SharePoint automatically).
So you might think those columns were missing and never got imported from the MPP. Not so. Below I’ve updated my Task List to include those columns.
Yes, you’re right, there are no names in the “Assigned to” field. As I mentioned in my earlier post, only names of actual SharePoint users entered exactly as they appear in SharePoint will display in this field in SharePoint.
The example MPP I used referenced terms like “builder”, “contractor”, “architect”, and things like that. So, SharePoint displays a blank field because those values can’t be entered into a “people and groups” field, which “Assigned to” is.
I never updated these entries, but I can tell you from testing that they work. The good news is, you can create a new field that will support entries like that, which I also covered in my last post.
Let me show you how I made that view. Presuming you’re a Site Owner, you can do the same thing. (Site Members, Viewers, Contributors, etc. cannot create a public view, however.)
1. In the Task List, point to the Ribbon, click the “List” tab, and click Modify View.
2. In the Modify View screen, check the box next to “Assigned to” and “% Complete”. The numbers in the drop-down menus to the right of them indicate in which order the columns will be, from left to right. I preferred having them all the way to the right (higher number).
- Click OK.
Your default view will now include these two fields. The data was always there (coming from the MPP); it was just invisible until I displayed them by updating the view.
Require approval for updates
Maybe you’ve got a good project team, all of whom make updates to their task statuses every week, but you want to make sure their updates make sense, have been peer reviewed, or simply won’t break any auto-scheduling in your MPP. The fidelity of your MPP is critical, after all. Stupid mistakes can’t be tolerated.
SharePoint offers the option in lists to require approval for all changes. And that includes Task Lists. Once you enable approval, changes will only sync to Project once they’re approved in SharePoint first. If those changes are rejected, they won’t impact the MPP (and won’t display in SharePoint either).
If you want to use an approval process, it’s best if the project manager who owns the MPP is also the Site Owner. If you fit this situation, you can set up an automatic approval workflow that will ping you when changes are made so you know to approve or reject the changes.
You can actually set it up so you get an email when a change is made, or you can simply go to the list’s “needs approval” page after your regular status update due date.
- From the SharePoint Task List, mouse to the Ribbon and click List > List Settings.
- Click “Version Settings”.
- Click “Yes” under “Require content approval for submitted items?”
- Click OK.
- A new column will be added to the right side of the Task List called “Approval Status”.
Whenever someone makes a change, they will see a message in the edit page that indicates the approval process is in place, shown below.
Once the change is made, that action will automatically set the new, draft version to “Pending”. You as the Site Owner can see the change implemented (as can the editor in question); however, nobody else will see the change until you or another Site Owner approve it.
An easy way to review the pending changes is to filter the “Approval Status” column to display only pending items. This is good if you want to do batch changes.
To approve or reject the change, click the ellipses to the right of the task name, then click the ellipses in the pane that pops up, then click Advanced > Approve/Reject, as shown below. Choose Approved or Rejected, then click OK.
If, however, you want to know when something changes, you should sign up for an Alert. From the Task List, point to the Ribbon and click List > Alert Me > Set alert on this list. Choose the appropriate settings and you’ll get an email whenever a change is made (literally any change). From there, you can review the change and decide whether to approve or reject, as discussed above.
The skills you learned in this post can be mixed, reconfigured, and played with. Especially if you’re a guru with Project. I mean, imagine all the fields you can create and sync to SharePoint that can then be viewed and updated by others in your team. There are a lot of views you can create, fields you can map, and other configuration permutations that make for an excellent experience.
One thing I didn’t explicitly discuss here is permissions. Your Task List is just like any other list in SharePoint. If you’re familiar with how permissions work, you can do a lot of things with it. For example, you can provide Contribute (update) permissions to just your project team and View (read-only) permissions to everyone else in management and other teams that may want to check statuses on a given day.
Okay, so now that you’ve got your SharePoint–Project plan synced and configured, let’s talk about how to use this new solution in a day-to-day way. This should be reasonably easy for your team to access, update, and use. And for the most part it is. You just need to give them some tutorials and guidance. Check the next post in the series for that.