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Collaborative Project Management, A New Web Architecture Print
The project management paradigm has been shifting in recent years away from a top down view of how projects are managed toward a more collaborative model. And, in many cases, task interdependence and member distribution across time, space, and technology make high degrees of collaboration necessary to accomplish project work. Adequate and timely sharing of information and knowledge in all directions, proactive change management, and process monitoring are some of the important factors required for successful project collaboration. Today, many vendors offer solutions that promote inter-member communication in distributed ("virtual") projects where contributors may lack (or may not need) face-to-face interactions. See reference 1 for a detailed discussion of collaborative project management architectures.

This article will focus on how one vendor - Microsoft - has furthered collaborative project management through the use of Project Web Parts that plug into a Web page hosted by Windows SharePoint, which is a free downloadable team collaboration tool, and Workspaces, which are websites associated with individual projects.

These websites contain discussion boards, links, events, announcements, a picture library and contact lists in addition to the risk and issue lists and document library for individual projects.

At the heart of Microsoft's project management software is its Project Server 2003, which enables organizations to store project and resource information centrally and consistently. When integrated with Microsoft SharePoint, Project Server 2003 provides the document management and issues and risk tracking features mentioned above. These two repositories help prevent the long-term loss of organization memory and learning - behind the scenes, SQL Server databases holds their data. References 2 and 3 contain detailed discussions of Project Server and SharePoint, respectively.

Project Server has two interfaces: Project Professional and Project Web Access. The former is where the project managers do most of the detailed work on their project, such as planning new tasks, tracking status, and assigning new resources. The latter is where they communicate about projects with other team members, and other team members communicate with project managers and one another.

Though integrated, Project Server and SharePoint frequently require the end user to view them using separate Web pages. But when you introduce Web Parts technology, which I’ll discuss in subsequent paragraphs, team members can often see everything they need on a single, personalized Web page, as illustrated in figures 1 and 2. Project Server 2003 provides six free downloadable Web Parts that allow users to access Project Server data from within SharePoint Services. The six Project Server Web Parts are Project Timesheet, Project Center, Project Report, Project Manager Updates, Project Resource Assignments, and Project Portfolio Analyzer. In addition to acquiring the Project Server Web Parts, you can create your own custom Web Parts to further integrate Project Server with SharePoint. And, there are many 3rd party Web Parts, some free, such as RSS readers and automatic email notification.

 sharepoint

 

Figure 1     Each personalized Workspace (SharePoint Web page) can include different Project Server, SharePoint, and custom Web Parts content.

 

 

Figure 2   One team member’s personalized Workspace used to collaborate on a software development project.


Web Parts are all about personalization. One or more Web Parts can be placed in a Web Part Zone, a location within a Web page, by the developer at design time. Then, at run time, each Web Part Zone can be minimized, moved, deleted, or added by the end user (if given permissions to do so, as discussed below). Each user can configure the page to his or her own liking and the customization will be remembered and persist between each of his or her visits.

Web Parts provide an easy way to build powerful Web pages in a SharePoint site that can show you information ranging from a view of a Gantt chart (otherwise viewed separately in Project Web Access), shared documents, or discussions to the latest data from Web Services hosted around the world (see reference 4 for a discussion of Web Services architecture). Since Web Part Pages allow for Web Part personalization, each user sees only the most relevant information.

All team members, including executives and managers, who want to view project or resource data stored in Project Server or document management and issues and risk tracking information saved by SharePoint Services need to have permissions to do so. These products can run as stand-alone servers, each with its own independent security system. However, when they’re integrated through a Project Server Workspace (with or without Web Parts), the Project Server account doesn’t automatically have access to the Workspace. Figure 3 shows how the SharePoint administrator can assign permissions to a particular object – shared documents, in this case - to both specific SharePoint users and groups (top check boxes) and specific Project Server users or groups (bottom check boxes).


Figure 3   Access permissions for Project Workspace granted to specific SharePoint and Project Server users and groups.

Finally, Web Parts can potentiate the synergy that’s created when you integrate Project Server and SharePoint. But, there can be tradeoffs when using Web Parts. While the majority of organizations can do everything they want to do using only Web Parts that are free, right out of the box or downloaded, some organizations might want functionality that such Web Parts can’t deliver. In that case, they have two choices: either purchase a Web Part that does exactly what you need - this can sometimes cost as much as thousands of dollars per server – or use in-house software developer(s) to create the sought after functionality. See reference 5 for further details on the development of custom Web Parts.

2005 © Marcia Gulesian

October, 2005


References:

1. Chen et al (2003) A Collaborative Project Management Architecture:  Proceedings of the 36th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences

2. Peshkova, G., Kennermer, B. (2005) Microsoft Office Project Server 2003:  Sams Publishing

3. Bates, S., Smith, T. (2005) SharePoint 2003 User’s Guide: Apress

4. Weerawarana, S. et al (2005) Web Services Platform Architecture: Prentice Hall

5. Lee, W. (2005) ASP.NET 2.0 A Developer’s Notebook: O’Reilly Media

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