Alexander Vanwynsberghe

"There is nothing impossible to him who will try"

Basic ideation with SharePoint and Project Online

One of the exciting things I saw in the “Get Started with Project Online” video of Christophe Fiessinger was the possibility to use a custom ideation list to capture ideas and ‘convert’ this into a project in Project Online. Managing your companies innovation and ideation solutions with SharePoint and Project Online/Server is really an interesting approach. Both products are well-proven and it can give your company a boost to get the most creative ideas out of your employees. In this post, I will show you how to get started and how to create/design a custom list to capture ideas.

1. Create a SharePoint site

First step is to create a SharePoint site. This will be your ‘community’ site, where ideas will be gathered. One thing to note is that the site needs to be a ‘subsite’ of your PWA (Project Web Access). (see additional information at the bottom of this post) To create a new site, go to the Projects section of Office 365. On the left side, click ‘Site Contents’ and then the ‘new subsite‘ button.

On this new screen, provide a title of your subsite, add a description and the URL. Notice that the URL is a child of your PWA (and that’s what we need for our integration later on). As the template of my site, I used a ‘Community site‘, just because I like the way you can use it for discussions etc. But you can select whatever template you want.

When your site has been created, your browser will automatically redirect you to this new site. You will see a new, empty site based on the template that you selected. In my case, it looks like this:

What you can do now is customize your site, make it attractive, change the colors, do whatever you want (although it looks quite sexy already with the out-of-the-box template).

2. Create an ideation list

What we want to do now is create a new ‘Custom list‘ to capture our ideas. On the left side, click on ‘Site Contents’. This will now list you all ‘apps’ that are available on your site. Click on the ‘Add an item‘ button, and select ‘Custom List‘. Enter a new, and click ‘Create‘:

The list has now been created, time to add some ‘columns‘ where our users can add ideas. Basically, we just want a title field, a description field and a date field where users can add a date of when the idea could possibly be integrated. On your list-page, click the ‘Edit‘ link. You’re now working in the SharePoint editing mode. What you can do is adding columns by clicking on the ‘plus‘ sign. This will give you the option to create a new column based on a the type of information that you want to enter:

3. Rating

Now we have a list with some columns. Off course, we need a way to get our ‘best’ ideas. The easiest way to get the top ideas is by using a voting mechanism. We will let users vote for the best ideas. We will not take voting limits into consideration, and will not use any other advanced techniques, just simple voting.

By default, SharePoint has this possibility built-in. We only have to ‘activate’ this in our custom list. To do this, click on the ‘List‘ item in the ribbon. There you have an option ‘List Settings‘ on the right side.

In the ‘General Settings‘ of your list, you have the option ‘Rating Settings‘. Click this link to show the current Rating Settings. We want to enable Rating, so just select ‘Allow items to be rated?: Yes’.  We will also use ‘Star Ratings‘ because it looks nice.

What this will do is automatically add a column to our custom list. Now let’s add an entry in our list, give it a title, a description, a date and give it a rating. It should look like this:

4. Create a project

Now we have the interesting part: ‘upgrading‘ an idea to a Project in Project Online. Assuming that you are still editing the custom list, click on ‘Stop‘ editing this list. Now you have your list with your one idea. Select this idea by clicking on the first column. This will mark your idea as ‘selected’.

When you click on the ‘Items‘ ribbon item on top, you will see all the possible actions that you can perform on your selected item. And look what we see there: an option to ‘Create Projects‘.

You will now see a dialog with 2 options: The field mappings and the Enterprise Project Type. In the field mappings, you can easily map your list ‘column’ with a ‘Project Web App Field’. Like our title is equal to the Project name, the description equals the Project Description and so on. Do this form each column. Because we’re using a really basic custom list, we can map everything to the ‘standard‘ fields from the Project Web App. But off course, it’s also possible to create Enterprise Custom Fields in PWA, and those fields will automatically become available in this dialog.

The second part of the dialog is where you can select which Enterprise Project Type you want to use. You can select (by default) either an Enterprise Project, or use a SharePoint task list. I’ve already made a comparison between the two in a previous post.

All you have to do now is click on ‘Create Project’. This will do all the necessary things in the background. In my case, it will automatically create a new Enterprise Project containing the mapped information (like the title and description). It will also create a SharePoint Project site. Once everything is setup, you will get the following message:

 Great, so my project has been created. Let’s take a look at it. Go back to the PWA Project Center, and you should see your idea in the list of Projects:

Now to be sure that my field mappings were correct, click on the Project Name. On the left side, click on ‘Project Details‘. There you have a basic overview of your Project information. As you can see, everything is mapped correctly. My title, description, date,.. everything is perfectly mapped. Perfect!

Well, that’s it for today. We’ve created a subsite, added a custom SharePoint list, enabled rating and created a project from an idea. That’s an extremely simplified scenario, but it shows you how easy it is to use the built-in component and capture ideas from your employees. Further extensions could be using Infopath forms, adding some kind of a workflow, treat your ideas in different stages/phases, use collaborative intelligence,… Use your creativity!

Thanks for reading.

A note from John Thoni, part of the engineering team: “One thing to note is that the site needs to be a ‘subsite’ of your PWA (Project Web Access).” This is not entirely correct. The list from which you want to promote items to projects can exist anywhere in the Site Collection where the Project Server Service is enabled. If your PWA, http://myserver/pwa, is not also the Site Collection root, but rather the root ishttp://myserver, then the list could be in the parent, sibling or subweb of PWA (or even PWA itself).