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.
Basically, this solution can save you a TON of money and hassle by avoiding the need for purchasing licenses for all those team members who only occasionally (or, let’s face it, rarely) need to view or update your Project MPP.
In this post, I’m covering how to use your newly synced Project–SharePoint project plan on a day-to-day basis, both from the perspective of the project manager and the other project team members who need access to the project plan.
Moving forward with your newly synced project plan
So, now you’ve got some serious relief from the Project paradox: your colleagues, managers, contractors, clients, whoever can view and edit the content in the Task List (depending on their permissions, of course). And thanks to SharePoint views, you can also display the information in just the right way for the right people.
Here’s my new SharePoint Task List based on the MPP I synced using the “Create a new site” method described in my earlier post.
Viewing your synced plan
Your project team likely has regular meetings to cover progress and status updates. Anyone with at least view access to the SharePoint Task List is able to see the project, inspect the tasks, identify the owners, and understand the progress of operations.
Accessing the Task List is easy. Start at the home page of your site and, presuming it hasn’t been renamed, the Task List is available on the left-side Quick Launch under “Tasks”. If your Site Owner has changed the name or moved the link, make sure you find that out.
The first thing you’ll note at the top of the Task List is the Timeline. The Timeline is a default tool that comes with a Task List. To start, it’s bare; there is no content.
Even though you might suspect that zero-day events (“milestones” in MS Project parlance) would show up there automatically, that’s not the case. You have to add tasks to the Timeline. This is good because it lets you pick what you want to see there; it’s bad because, well, you have to put forth effort to pick and choose the items since they don’t show up automatically.
To add items to the Timeline, whether they’re milestones or multi-day events, click the blue checkbox to the left of a task (note my section on check boxes below), go to the ribbon, and click “Add to Timeline”. Anyone with contribute permissions or higher can make this change.
I added a few items to my Timeline to show you what it can look like. I included some milestones and some multi-day processes. You should choose your Timeline additions carefully. They can quickly overlap and clutter up the Timeline, making it not so pretty. So be careful.
The Timeline spans the distance from the earliest to latest task that has been added to the Timeline, not the entire length of the project. That’s important to note.
Because the Timeline is easy to change, it can be a great spot to “promote” big tasks coming up in the next week or month as a sort-of dashboard view of upcoming work at status meetings.
Note: there is no way to allow updates to the tasks in the Task List, but only view the Timeline. It’s all or nothing.
The check boxes
One thing you need to be aware of are the check boxes in a SharePoint Task List. They can be confusing. Like with any other SharePoint list or library, there are somewhat invisible checkboxes to the very left of a task in a Task List. These checkboxes are specifically for enabling the “Tasks” tab in the ribbon (allowing you to modify the task itself).
Additionally, Task Lists provide another checkbox, which is more obvious and visible. They function as a “this task is complete” checkbox. Once you check this box, you’ll see a strikethrough appear on the task name and the % complete will update to 100% (as will the percent complete in your MPP).
Don’t mix these two up. It’s easy to do so.
SharePoint Task Lists come with several handy views. There are two ways to access the views. First, views are available just below the Timeline, but above the first listed task. Second, you can go to the Ribbon, click the “List” tab, and point to the views drop-down menu.
Likely the most important view to any PM is the Gantt Chart. No worries, SharePoint’s got it covered. Here’s my Task List shown in Gantt Chart view. Note that the Timeline remains at the top, as well.
The next most important view is likely the Calendar view. This places all your tasks on a calendar so you can see what’s being worked on with respect to a given date. It’s a nice graphical way to look at your project and helpful for managers and upper-level folks to get a quick glance at the “what’s going on right now” aspect of your project, another way to look at your plan that I don’t believe Project provides. (Albeit, this can get confusing and overwhelming if you have a lot of tasks going on at the same time.)
Below is my Task List in Calendar mode.
Next, the “My Tasks” view basically takes the original “All Tasks” view and filters the list to only tasks that have been assigned to whichever person is viewing the list. It’s this view that makes the Resources entries in the MPP file mentioned in my previous post so important. If you want to make use of the “My Tasks” view, then your Resources need to call out your colleagues exactly as their names appear in SharePoint.
Lastly, “Late Tasks” filters the original “All Tasks” view to display only those tasks whose due dates are before today’s date and “Upcoming” filters the original “All Tasks” view to display only those tasks whose due dates are in the future.
Updating your tasks
It’s likely that before your regular status report meeting, a number of project team members will be expected to update the progress of their respective tasks. For those without Project licenses, SharePoint allows you to do so and the MPP will get updated automatically.
Creating a new task
You can create a new task and connect it to other tasks easily using SharePoint. In the Task List, click the “+ new task” button. Alternately, you can also go to the ribbon and click Task > New Item.
When the page loads, make sure to click “SHOW MORE” under the “Assigned to” field to see all of the available fields. Complete the fields in the page that comes up.
In the screen shot below, I’ve indicated which SharePoint fields sync with which Project fields. Note that SharePoint has some extra fields that Project does not, so some of your updates (if you use the N/A fields) won’t push to Project (at least, not unless your Site Owner and/or PM map the fields).
Once you’ve input the information, click Save and your new task will be added to the list in SharePoint and the MPP.
Editing a task or tasks
When it’s time to make an update, you’ve got a couple options.
If you’re editing only one task, click the blue checkbox to the left of the task name, then point to the Ribbon and click Task > Edit Item. When the page loads, make sure to click “SHOW MORE” under the “Assigned to” field to see all of the available fields. Make your changes, then click Save. Your updates will be synced to the master MPP.
However, if you’re editing multiple tasks or, say, running a status update meeting and don’t want to be held up by page loads each time a change needs to be made, click the “edit this list” link above the first task, shown below.
Clicking the edit option basically turns the Task List into a live spreadsheet in your browser. You can change any field name live, on-the-fly. Date fields will provide you a calendar, name fields (like Assigned To) will pop up names as you type them, etc. It’s a really handy way to make lots of edits quickly.
But be sure to click “stop editing” before you finish! If you don’t, you could lose all of your changes.
Deleting a task
You can delete tasks in a SharePoint Task List, but I’ve found that they don’t sync correctly with an MPP file and end up getting recreated because the sync is overwritten by a later push from MS Project. That said, I could just be experiencing a glitch.
To delete a task, click the blue checkbox to the left of the task name, mouse to the ribbon, click Task > Delete Item.
Just be careful: you could be deleting a parent task or predecessor that screws up lots of things down the road. The clean-up process for you or your PM could be a nightmare.
For these reasons I suggest not deleting any tasks in SharePoint. Delete them from the MPP instead (or have your project manager do it).
Connecting your tasks to Outlook
Thanks to the built-in SharePoint-Outlook integration options, you can easily add tasks to Outlook so you can see them without having to go to the SharePoint Task List or the MPP. It’s a great way to keep your tasks in the front of your mind and keeps you from having to leave Outlook all that often.
This works when the “Assigned To” field includes actual user names from the system. Once you connect to Outlook, any task where you are identified in the “Assigned To” field will show up in the Tasks section of Outlook for you.
There are some limitations you should be aware of and review before building a business-critical process out of this, but this solution can definitely be handy.
To connect the Task List to Outlook, simply:
1. Browse to the Task List.
2. From the Ribbon, click the List tab > Connect to Outlook.
3. Follow the prompts that SharePoint and Outlook send you, namely to get agreement that you are okay with making the connection.
Your tasks should now display in Outlook. Depending on the version of SharePoint and Outlook you’re using, you may have to make these connections on every version of Outlook you happen to use (your desktop, your laptop, your phone, your tablet).
Technically, these tasks are synced, though I don’t suspect you can three-way sync between Outlook, the Task List, and the MPP. Use the tasks in Outlook as a reminder and do not make changes to them there, lest you mess something up inadvertently.
Working with the MPP
As you continue using the SharePoint-Project sync, the project manager who will be owning the MPP must retain at least Designer permissions to the site, though, honestly, it’s always better if the PM is the Site Owner. It just is.
As changes are made in SharePoint, it’s smart to open the MPP, allow Project to update the auto-scheduling, work with any changes that may need to be cleaned up, etc. Then you (the PM) need to save the MPP. The MPP will then sync the updates made in Project (most importantly the auto-scheduling changes) to SharePoint.
It’s best if you do this after your regularly scheduled status update meeting after all changes are made by your colleagues on the project team.
I’m curious what other features and functions you discover as you use your synced SharePoint−Project plan going forward. If you have new tips and tricks that you think others could benefit from, tweet me or send me a message via @thatmattwade.