Make Your Project Management More Efficient with SharePoint

SharePoint as a Project Management Information System

During an average eight-hour workday, project team members spend about 45 minutes looking for information on the network share, in the email inbox, in project folders – or the information is stored in colleagues computer or the file cabinet. This search for information could have been spent better for more productive project work. More time is lost by project team members due to poor document management practices, inefficient project communication standards and ineffective project collaboration tools. Because of this dissatisfied situation, many companies implemented SharePoint as an essential tool to fight this inefficiency, to be more productive in teams in the line business and in projects.

SharePoint is an essential tool when it comes to managing information in projects, this might be in the simplest case project documents in document libraries as well as risks, issues, project calendars, etc. in SharePoint lists. If you work for example with Microsoft Project Server, you can edit task lists in SharePoint and maintain SharePoint and Project in sync and you can also add different attributes to task lists.

I have set-up and administrated SharePoint project and program sites in various companies as a program office manager. But as a beginner, I had a rough start with SharePoint when I took over the program office at a large program in a bank some years ago. My predecessor left the company and I took over a half set-up and productive SharePoint site – and I myself never had worked with SharePoint before. In recent years I have learned quite a lot, how to effectively use and customize SharePoint for projects and know where mistakes often will be made.

Practical Tips From my Experience With SharePoint in Projects

Recently I published a book with a summary of practical tips from my experience with SharePoint in projects in the recent years. I consider myself not a SharePoint expert but I am an expert in project management and know, how to use SharePoint to make projects more efficient. This is the first part of a three part series of articles with tips to help you to set-up SharePoint in your project.

Planning of Your SharePoint Site Matters

SharePoint is easy to use and with it, anyone can quickly create a project site. Your company may have defined templates for SharePoint sites e.g. a template for Team Sites and a template for Project Sites. The template for the project site is often a good starting point for you, but don’t rush into creating a project site, subsites, libraries, lists and content. Stop!

“If you fail to plan you are planning to fail.”

Although SharePoint is easy to use, believe this proverb and before you start, do first some planning activities. First, you have to think about different topics and layout a plan for the implementation of your site. At least these questions you should ask yourself before starting any other activity:

  • Who’s the target audience?
  • Do you have a permissions strategy?
  • How will permissions be governed?
  • Is there any confidential info I need to protect?
  • Access for anyone outside the company?
  • Who’s the Site Manager and his deputy?
  • Is there more than one team involved?
  • How will you document?
  • How to navigate?
  • What is your training plan?
  • Do we need to migrate documents or lists?

You don’t have to answer all these questions immediately. But the answers are part of your implementation strategy.

The first SharePoint Site in Your Company?

If this is the first SharePoint project site in your company, this book may help you a lot with project specific implementation tips and tricks.

In larger companies, there may be other projects with SharePoint sites. Ask the SharePoint admins of these sites for their lessons learned and recommendations how to implement a project site. This is always very helpful. If possible ask more than one admin to have a broader picture. I had to learn it from scratch and did a lot of mistakes. Don’t do the same and use this opportunity!

Do I Need Only one Site or Subsites?

For most projects, even larger ones in the size of about 10m Dollar, usually a normal SharePoint project site is sufficient. But if you’re a large program with several rather independent projects with the same overall goal, then it makes sense to define the main site with subsites for each project. This has the advantage that the individual project sites may have their own permission system and its own site administrator. The administrator of the program site is in this case then the site collection administrator. He can if necessary also administer the subsites.

How Many Libraries and Lists Should my Site Have?

If you, as an administrator, are responsible for setting up a SharePoint site for a project, you need to make some basic considerations right from the start. By defining the architecture of libraries and lists, you are laying the foundation for how well you can manage, process, and protect data later on.

The main elements you work within SharePoint are libraries and lists. Theoretically, a single document library for your entire project would be fine, and a list, e.g. for the risks and issues, and perhaps a list in which you save the contact data of your project team. However, I quickly learned that a poor architecture of a project SharePoint site would compromise many possibilities in the medium term. If you throw everything into one pot (library) you will have difficulties later, especially when it comes to:

  • keep the overview for a larger project
  • Create areas of organization, responsibility or protected areas
  • Organize/group documents and find them faster
  • Grant read and contribute rights according to the principle of “need to know” and “need to contribute”

Example: In our program, only the user group “Program Management” and “StC” (Steering Committee) should have access to the StC documents, the group “Members” (the project team members) cannot see these documents. The Finance Planning documents should only be seen and modified by the group “Program Management”. The “Risk and Audit” group is allowed to see this. The group “Members” should not see them. Members of the group “Risk and Audit” are allowed to see all documents and information, but cannot change anything on the site.

This can only be achieved if you distribute the documents to different libraries and assign specific permissions to the libraries. Only one library for a project SharePoint site is not a good solution, as well as too many.

Recommended Libraries and Lists

If you distribute data to too many libraries, there is the danger that the evaluation, filtering, sorting of the libraries and lists is maybe no longer possible as desired. Be also careful to not store the same date in different libraries and list more than one time.

In a larger project or program, the following document libraries are typically useful:

  • Document library for each larger sub-project or program stream
  • Steering committee documents
  • Finance planning documents
  • Schedule planning documents
  • Contracts/SOW’s documents
  • Change request documents (could also be done with a list)
  • PMO documents (Project/Program Office)
  • Communication documents (generally accessible)

The following lists are useful:

  • Issue Log
  • Risk Log
  • Schedule change log
  • Project contacts (contact information of team members, contractors with personal data such as notebook ID-number, phone number etc.)
  • Project calendar
  • Glossary

Below you see a schematic overview about the architecture of our program site. I suggest that you start small and add libraries and lists with the time when needed and when your program or project grows. It’s also useful to draw a diagram like this to have a fast overview of your site architecture.

The architecture of a program site

The architecture of a program site


Document Libraries for Sub-Projects or Streams

Depending on the size of your project or program, it might be meaningful to have separate document libraries for sub-projects. But be careful, if you have too many libraries or lists, it will be more difficult analyze, sort and filter data in your site.

In our program, I designed for each program stream a separate site page which looked similar to the program home page. I recommended the stream leaders to show certain content (extracts of lists and libraries) on these pages, because they often did not know what would be helpful for them and their team. Sounds strange, I know, but also Steve Job said:

“Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do”

Bringing It All Together

Think about the architecture of your SharePoint project site before you set-up and design libraries, lists and pages. This way, you save a lot of time and money in the long run. There a key questions to answer first about the target audience, permission strategy and e.g. who manages the site. Spend some time for planning your site. This is worth the time and you’ll be glad you did!


Roland Wanner is a project management expert and bestselling author. He has been in the project business for over 30 years. After his education as a mechanical engineer and industrial engineer he spent 5 years as a project manager and after that several years as a project controller and project portfolio manager in mechanical engineering and construction. For more than 15 years he’s worked as a project management specialist, project portfolio manager and project office manager in the banking and insurance industry.

Roland published in January 2017 his new book “Project Management with SharePoint – How to Make Your Project Management More Effective. This Book is intended to make the life easier for project managers and project office staff, who have to set-up and administrate SharePoint sites in projects and programs. Learn more about the book here.

Posted in SharePoint.

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