Microsoft Office 365, the Software as a Services (SaaS) suite that brings together SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Lync Online, is becoming a popular and more economical solution for companies of all sizes to host their collaboration and communications. It also has some benefits for project managers. Here are some of the benefits a project manager can expect if their enterprise migrates to Office 365.

Integrate with other Microsoft services

One of the obvious benefits of Microsoft Office 365 is the potential for project team members to use their Office 365 credentials to access other Microsoft SaaS-based services, including Microsoft Project Online and Microsoft Dynamics CRM, enabling a unified experience across enterprise project portfolio management and customer relationship management (CRM).

Create a wiki

While I have a love and hate relationship with the SharePoint Wiki, there are times it is easier to document something like a policy or a product naming decision on a wiki page than in a Word document, which is then filed away in a document library. Inserting a wiki page into an Office 365 team site follows the same steps for inserting any new new page.

While the SharePoint Wiki isn’t as full featured as Confluence, it can serve quite well as a quick and dirty wiki site. You don’t even have to know Wiki Markup Language because of the wiki’s GUI editor. Figure A shows the start of a basic wiki.
Figure A

SharePoint wiki (Click the image to enlarge.)

Track project issues with the Issues Web Database

“Management by spreadsheet,” where a project manager tracks issues on a spreadsheet, is as old as the concept of spreadsheets. However, spreadsheet versioning, email inboxes, and the usual inattention that comes from overscheduling and compressed project schedules make centralizing the information online better for collaboration and maintaining issues.

With SharePoint Online, just click Site Actions, New Site, Browse All, and Issues Web Database to create an online issues database that you can use to track project issues. Figure B shows the Getting Started page of the Issues Web Database.
Figure B

Issues Web Database (Click the image to enlarge.)

The one black mark I give this feature is that the Getting Started content for the Issues Web Database overly depends on video. There is a time and place for video but not for getting started with content. This needs to be quick reference material that is easy to read, with a flow that promotes getting the database up, running, and configured.

Note: This feature requires that Access Services be turned on. This typically will be a job for the Office 365 administrator.

Create a Decision Making Workspace

One of the more underutilized site features in SharePoint has always been meeting workspaces. Click Site Actions, New Site, Browse All, and Decision Making Workspace to create a Decision Meeting Workspace that includes space for project managers to record: Meeting Objectives, Attendees, Agendas, a Document Library, Tasks, and Decisions. Figure C shows the Decision Making Workspace template ready to be populated for a meeting.
Figure C

Decision Making Workspace ready for a team to start making a decision. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Publish project plans to SharePoint Online

Publishing project plans to SharePoint Online is a great way to centralize project information and get it out of Microsoft Project 2010. You can publish project plans you create using Microsoft Project 2010 directly to SharePoint task lists on SharePoint Online in Office 365. Here is an overview of how to publish a Project to SharePoint:

  1. From Project 2010, open the Backstage view.
  2. Click Save and Send.
  3. Click Sync With Task Lists.
  4. Select the URL name of the SharePoint team site where you want to publish the Project as a task list.
  5. Click Validate URL.
  6. Type a new name for the task list.
  7. Click Sync, and now the task list will sync to the Project file.

Task lists are a communications and collaboration tool any team member can access as long as they have the appropriate role and privileges to be accessing the team site where the task list resides.

Microsoft Lync for project teams

A move to Office 365 brings with it, Lync Online, a SaaS-based version of the Microsoft Lync, an instant messaging (IM) and video messaging application. Project teams can use Lync for the following:

  • Enhanced IM offering real-time presence information, including team member status and location. Team members can also communicate via an activity stream using the Lync client application.
  • Voice calls using the Lync client application over VoIP.
  • Preplanned or ad hoc audio, video, and web meetings between project team members with the ability to bring in their customers or partners for the meeting (even if they aren’t Office 365 customers).

The good news is that there are Mac and mobile versions of the Lync IM client, so non-Windows using team members won’t be left out. I like the concept of Lync for planned and ad hoc online meetings or to leave a meeting open all day for the exchange text and code snippets amongst a project team.

My wish is for more of Yammer to show up in the Lync Client Application, because setting up Lync for writing this post showed it to be quite temperamental. However, Yammer’s upcoming integration into SharePoint is a post for sometime in the future.

Office 365 for project managers

Office 365, with the right administrative privileges, allows project managers and their teams to put these features into practice to help foster better team collaboration and communications.