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Flexible Project Management with SharePoint Lists and the Power Platform

When Microsoft’s Planner is insufficient and Project is too complex, this post outlines how to use SharePoint lists for task management. SharePoint offers flexibility with custom fields, quick setup, and integration with the Power Platform. The guide details creating task lists, assigning responsibilities, and improving task views, providing a middle ground between Planner and Project.

What if MS Planner’s options aren’t enough for your team, and making the leap to MS Project is a sledgehammer too far? This post explains how to use a SharePoint list to hit the sweet spot between the two.

Microsoft Planner

Planner is a fantastic app for easily updating and tracking tasks on a small project – with an intuitive interface, rich permissions management, checklists for each task, attachments (that’s where you bang any links), tagging, grouping, out of the box analytics, and email notifications it’s a great place to start off on your project management journey; if it works for you then great, crack on, until you hit limitations; some of which are:

  • Dependencies – there’s no automated way to kick a task off once another has been completed
  • Resource management – there’s no way to see any peaks or lows in available hours to plan for them
  • Custom fields – most everything has to go into the ‘description’ field
  • Analytics – with no Power BI connectors, you’re stuck with what is supplied out of the box

Microsoft Project

Microsoft’s solution for large programmes and projects, MS Project is more than just the next level up from Planner offering the ability to organise projects into phases, easily manage resources, track earned value, enable task dependencies, and so on. And that comes at a price:

  • Hefty licensing cost per user (though there’s a free ‘viewer’ and integration with Planner which can help reduce the licenses required)
  • It is complex – in order to get value from the licensing cost, it’s best to have a dedicated and qualified project manager; training to a competent level in this software takes at around two days.

A more flexible and cheaper alternative to Planner and Project for managing projects can be achieved using Sharepoint lists, which can be built upon using the Power Platform. It’s quick to hit the ground running with a single list, and you’ll learn a great deal about the potential of the Power Platform as you iterate according to your team’s needs. The first step is to create a…:

Task List

If you’re migrating from Planner, export the current list of tasks to Excel then create a new list by importing that spreadsheet. Alternatively if you’re wanting to start from scratch, create a list with at least the following columns as mandatory:

  • Title – use this out-of-the-boc text based column to give each task a name. You could rename it ‘Task’
  • Responsible – a ‘person’ column to assign responsibility for completing the task to
  • Task start – date field
  • Task due – date field
  • Status – a choice column with values of perhaps ‘Not started’, ‘In progress’, ‘On hold’, ‘Completed’, and ‘Relinquished’

You may also want to add any of the following or more; careful though, as the more fields you add, the greater the burden on the team:

  • Priority – a choice column with values of perhaps ‘Critical’, ‘High’, ‘Medium’, and ‘Low’
  • Accountable – person column to assign accountability for the task. This might be the project sponsor
  • Informed – list the people or groups who might need to be kept abreast of progress on this task
  • Business value – text based field to highlight the expected benefit of delivering on the task
  • Description – text based column to flesh out the title of the task
  • Category fields – choice column to allow grouping of the tasks within the project – as you might have for Planner buckets
  • Resource link – a hyperlink field to an external location to find further information about the task
  • Value | Urgency | Complexity – Choice columns containing Fibonacci scales to help calculate a weighted shortest job first priority on the tasks, as well as generating burn down charts on work completed
  • Hours’ effort – In order to effectively schedule resources, an understanding of the effort involved in delivering each task will be needed and is an alternative to a ‘Complexity’ column. Estimates are fine, so long as the team are aligned on the purpose of the column.
  • % Complete – a number field; this can be useful in generating analytics

Once you’re happy the list will be capturing all the necessary information go ahead and format the columns – giving choices colours and icons; adding conditional formatting on the due date column; and displaying thumbnails on Person columns for instance.

Create a couple of views of the list by clicking on the plus beside ‘All items’ at top right:

  • Team meeting – From the modal that pops up, choose ‘Board’ and group your tasks by say ‘Priority’. If you want to group them by the ‘Responsible’ column it will need to only accept one value. Save, then filter out completed tasks and save as the default.
    Use this to go through any outstanding tasks in team meetings and work through any impediments people might be having.
  • My Tasks – Filter the ‘Team Meeting’ view to tasks where ‘Responsibility’ equals @Me, then save it as ‘My tasks’. This will allow team members to review and update any tasks they’re responsible for before any team meetings

Finally, you easily can improve on the default, single column ‘Add/Edit item’ form by clicking ‘Add item’ then:

  • Edit columns at top right to hide or reorder them
  • To enable a multi-column layout, click ‘Configure layout’, choose ‘Body’ from the drop down, and assuming you’re just using the minimum fields listed above paste the following into the JSON field:
{
  "sections": [
    {
      "displayname": "",
      "fields": [
        "Title",
        "Status",
        "Responsible",
        "Task Start",
        "Task Due"
      ]
    }
  ]
}

You’re now ready for your first team meeting \o/

This article is part one of the Flexible Project Management Information Handyman series:

  1. Flexible Project Management with SharePoint Lists and the Power Platform
  2. Issuing a weekly digest to each responsible person listing their upcoming and overdue tasks
  3. Adding sub-tasks, or actions, to your project tasks using another list and a Power Apps form
  4. Building a custom Power BI report to gain insights on team activities and report on progress

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