Project Management Software – Microsoft SharePoint: Advantages, Limitations, Alternatives
Couple of years ago, Microsoft in “Future of SharePoint” event  claimed to have more than 200000 organization using SharePoint, its partners and developer community make up $10 billion worth of ecosystem.
Well, I was not at all surprised. Microsoft has a global reach, marquee mid/enterprise customers across the world using its products. Its integrated offering which include Office suite, Outlook, Active Directory are pretty well known and widely used. Cross selling products has never been a challenge for likes of Microsoft and Oracle. What is more concerning is, it is the customer who ends up buying complex, low-user-adoption product(s) without realising there are better and very cost effective alternatives.
During our interaction with our prospective customers, some of the enterprise prospects would tell us that they are considering and evaluating SharePoint as an alternative project management tool. So let’s look at how it fares?
What is SharePoint?
Let me quote a line from Microsoft portal ”Organizations use SharePoint to create websites. You can use it as a secure place to store, organize, share, and access information from any device. All you need is a web browser, such as Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer, Chrome, or Firefox.”
Wikipedia has an old reference to define MS SharePoint “SharePoint is a web-based collaborative platform that integrates with Microsoft Office. Launched in 2001, SharePoint is primarily sold as a document management and storage system, but the product is highly configurable and usage varies substantially between organizations.”
Dummies call “SharePoint is Microsoft’s premier collaborative server environment, providing tools for sharing documents and data across various organizations within a company’s network. Typically deployed on a company’s network as a series of intranet sites, SharePoint lets various departments control their own security, workgroups, documents, and data.”
Lynda defines “SharePoint can be a lot of different things, based on who is using it. A developer would say it was a platform; users would say it’s a consistent web interface for collaboration, productivity, and communication; and an IT admin would say it is a server product. SharePoint is what is seen from the user’s perspective: sites, navigation, consistent design, consistent tools, lists, and libraries.”
SharePoint as ECM , DMS , CMS , WCM
Microsoft SharePoint is considered as a great digital content management platform. It offers capabilities to store and share the information that it is termed by various technological names such as Content Management System (CMS), Data Management System (DMS), File Management System (FMS), Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Platform, Web Content Management (WCM) software. There are so much of capabilities and configuration options available, sometimes SharePoint confuses people whether to use it as ECM, DMS, CMS or WCM and what to call it.
How Is SharePoint Used / Applications of SharePoint?
ith many definitions come many uses. It’s difficult to pin down exactly how Sharepoint is used, but ApteraBlog breaks usage down in six categories:
- Intranet – a company’s internal news site and place for general information including HR Policies, company announcements, PTO system, training store
- CMS – central document storage with record management, business workflow, access permissions
- Collaboration – provide access to team members for collaboration
- Extranet – provide access to external users/ clients so that they can access information, files and collaborate with team
- Business Intelligence – use the data in the system to create dashboards, reports
But SharePoint Ain’t a Project Management Software
All great things said and done about MS SharePoint as a central document, content repository and collaboration platform; it is not a project management software.
Can it be configured as a project management tool?
Yes, certainly. BUT….
Let me give you another tool that can be configured as anything you’d like it to be.
They call Microsoft Excel as hammer to which everything else is a nail. Throw any problem at MS Excel and you will be able to fit it, in those tables, rows-columns and cells. Though MS Excel may solve the problem completely or partially, it has lot of disadvantages in terms of
- Scalability and
You will know what I am saying. Just think of doing resource assignment, capacity planning, resource alignment, etc in a multi-project, multi-portfolio scenario or trying to change a schedule of tasks which are inter-dependent. Say you have hundreds of projects to manage, thousands of tasks, issues to look at; so are meetings, risks, change requests, stakeholders, resources, team members, timesheet, expenses, etc. Can MS Excel make it any easier for you to mange these, all at once? The answer is NO.
It is a similar story with Microsoft SharePoint but just at a different level. The name itself says pretty much “Share Point”. It is about sharing things in a network. But you can share absolutely anything such as document, note, comment, calendar, email, tasks, lists. This precisely means that you will have to configure it a lot and make it SharePoint adaptive to be a Project Management Software.
Well, What Is It Missing Then?
The biggest missing point about SharePoint as a project management software is FOCUS. MS SharePoint is not designed to be help you manage portfolio of projects, Gantt chart, resources, timesheet, risks, issues, etc. It is a generic platform which tries to be everything to everyone. It’s a complex system designed to become an ultimate platform to manage any type of information. As a result, it doesn’t perform any of the intended functions say project management, really well, but does all of them on the average level unless configured meticulously. Microsoft has a different product for project schedule management – MS Project. Microsoft SharePoint is not a replacement of MS Project. But again you must understand that what MS Project does, is not everything about a project. All experienced project managers know it well. MS Project has been very popular but turned out to be exclusively loved and used by project planners/managers as a scheduling tool and less of collaboration tool or even less of project management tool if we compare.
On the other hand, project management software are designed to help you manage portfolio of projects be it with project templates, project tasks, Gantt chart, issues, risk, changes, stakeholders, resources, budget, billing, timesheet, discussions, comments, email collaboration, approvals, etc.
Challenges of Implementing and Using MS SharePoint
Complex Configuration (Configure Sub-Sites)
SharePoint is definitely not a DIY (Do It Yourself) kind of product. It requires massive configuration, such as defining sites, managing access permissions, defining rules, writing metadata configuration in the document library, etc.
It is just overwhelming and you are left with an obvious choice – to outsource the configuration and spend money on consultants to configure SharePoint for your organization.
Setup Cost | Hardware, Consultants
The initial set up cost for SharePoint is quite significant. You’d require hardware, you would need SharePoint server licenses and you will require consultant to implement the tool. And most importantly, you will have to spend time with the consultant to explain your project management processes, ensure s/he understands it, test it, implement it with changes, re-test it.
Complex to Use, Needs Training, Usability Issues
I mentioned about DIY (Do It Yourself) product earlier. If you are thinking of SharePoint; forget about setup, it is not even easy to use as a project management software, unless consultant gives you training. The training has to be provided based on how SharePoint is configured as a project management tool.
Yet, there are usability issues of SharePoint such as issues with navigation inheritance of sub-sites, views and links of breadcrumb, etc.
You know the reason why Facebook and Twitter has so popular and regularly used tools. Because they are easy to sign up and simple to use. Though there is no secret sauce of user adoption but I know for sure, more complex the system, it has lower user adoption. So in case of SharePoint, quite a few things have to fall in place such as
- Project management processes to be well defined
- Competent SharePoint consultant to be assigned
- S/he should understand your business, project management processes, project management KPIs, team collaboration
- SharePoint implementation should be done on time keeping all stakeholders informed
- SharePoint trainings to identified for different stakeholders and trainings to be imparted accordingly
- SharePoint administrator should manage the site well, upgrade appropriate without impacting user-base
Considering all above aspects, you would realise why there is lower adoption rate for project management application created from SharePoint
As it was mentioned above, there is SharePoint administrator who owns the SharePoint installation, manages its users, modules/sites/sub-sites, etc. If you are a project management office (PMO) / lead; every time you will have to run to SharePoint admin to server your request be it adding a new users, changing permissions, enabling/disabling modules, creating reports, etc. Ideally, project management tools should be in your control and you should be able to use ‘business as usual’.
Microsoft products are hardly favoured typically by the open source developer community though things have started changing a bit. There used to be practical challenges with Microsoft product because of incompatibility between two versions of its products. SharePoint has its ‘share’ of it. Once a company has invested in implementing Microsoft SharePoint, it can not relax that it’s done. No. Rather, customers have nightmare when there are upgrade to be formed.
One of the SharePoint consultants once said “(SharePoint for Projects) needs to be set up and managed very carefully, else it becomes a complex web of interconnected sub-sites that will be a nightmare for an information architect and in turn becomes miserable & frustrating experience for end users”
Alternative to Microsoft SharePoint As Project Management Software
Firstly, it is designed just as project management software; so there is no generic content management system or platform legacy that you have to worry about.
- It is All Project Manager and Portfolio Manager Need
- It is Simple to Use
- It is Super Easy to Set up and Start Using
- Implementation is Easy
- High Adoption Rate
- You Are The Owner, Complete Ownership is With You
- No Need to Worry About Upgrade or Maintenance
Note: Microsoft and Oracle are registered trademark of respective companies.