IBM Connections as a Project Management Tool

This is a blog post I have wanted to write for a while and the arrival of Connections 6 has spurred me into writing it at last.  I want to demonstrate how a community in Connections 6 can be used as a hub for project management in a way which brings all the relevant people, processes and content together in one place.

Other solutions you can make work for project management have different silos of information brought together which make it difficult, if not impossible, to integrate and connect so you can be sure you have the latest copy of the right file.

I also want to demonstrate that for many people working on a project, perhaps on a construction site or other industrial location, Microsoft Office is not needed to perform the day-to-day work.  I include in that editing and sharing spreadsheets, word processor documents and creating and presenting presentations.

When you consider that the standard per user per month price of Connections is around $10 compared to a significantly larger amount for competitors, and that everything I am demonstrating works without any client software installed, you can see that the concept of having a truly standardised, flexible, secure and manageable solution on a computer which runs, perhaps, Ubuntu Linux (which is free) is a reality and your business can save a lot of money taking this approach.

Anyway, lets get started.  I have used as the basis of my definition of Project Management, that displayed by the Association of Project Management:

A project is a unique, transient endeavour, undertaken to achieve planned objectives, which could be defined in terms of outputs, outcomes or benefits. A project is usually deemed to be a success if it achieves the objectives according to their acceptance criteria, within an agreed timescale and budget.

A key factor that distinguishes project management from just ‘management’ is that it has this final deliverable and a finite timespan, unlike management which is an ongoing process. Because of this a project professional needs a wide range of skills; often technical skills, and certainly people management skills and good business awareness.

They go on to define the key components of Project Management:

  • defining the reason why a project is necessary;
  • capturing project requirements, specifying quality of the deliverables, estimating resources and timescales;
  • preparing a business case to justify the investment;
  • securing corporate agreement and funding;
  • developing and implementing a management plan for the project;
  • leading and motivating the project delivery team;
  • managing the risks, issues and changes on the project;
  • monitoring progress against plan;
  • managing the project budget;
  • maintaining communications with stakeholders and the project organisation;
  • provider management;
  • closing the project in a controlled fashion when appropriate.

So if we can all agree that these are a fair set of key components, lets look at how we could set up IBM Connections 6 to do this for us.

Defining the Reason why a Project is Necessary

I think its a good idea to set out the goals and intentions of the project right at the beginning, so that everyone is clear what’s happening, why and when it needs to be done.  Taking our base IBM Connections 6 Community, shown below, let’s get some project definition done:

Basic Community Setup

Let’s use the Rich Content contained at the top to put the project mission and definition in:

Rich Text Editing

A nice graphic and some text gives us the definition:

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Capturing project requirements, specifying quality of the deliverables, estimating resources and timescales

The next step is to document some principles for the project, like requirements, quality, etc.  This is probably a combination of static information and calculations.  With Connections there is a number of ways you can do this:

  • Using Connections Docs documents like word processing files and spreadsheets
  • Using Wiki pages.

Both of these tools have their advantages and for the purposes of reality I will propose that we use both – wikis for the standard documentation and a spreadsheet to handle some calculations.  Both tools manage the versioning of the information so it’s easy to back-track.  Both tools store their information in the same place too, and all I will need to do to share the information is send a link to my colleagues, but more on that a little later.

Let’s add a wiki to our community:

Add a Wiki

The wiki gets added to the centre column of the community, so let’s move it over to the left to make it easier to find:

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All I need to do is drag and drop it to where I want to put it:

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Now I click on the Welcome to Project Management Community document in the Wiki, then I click Edit to edit the page:

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I enter my project requirements and set up headings using the paragraph settings in the Rich Text Editor.  Looks nice.

While I am working I can use the Tone Analyser to check how my text reads according to our cognitive engine:

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OK – so I need now to work on some calculations.  Let’s open a spreadsheet.  To do that, I go up to the top menu, select Apps, Files:

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Right now I don’t have any files, so I can get going.  Did you notice the dark box in the centre?  Connections includes file and folder synchronisation with your computer and mobile device, just like the many different file synchronisation solutions out there.  The difference here is that they are part of the one big system so we can easily share the files elsewhere without moving them around, and still keep only one copy of that file.

For now, however, I want to create a spreadsheet, and since I don’t want to use a legacy on-computer application, I’ll use Connections Documents instead.  To do that, I click on the blue New button and select Spreadsheet:

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I build up my requirements traceability matrix using the built-in Connections Docs spreadsheet functionality – no software installed, no plugins needed. When I am finished I can just close the window, or if I am ready to share I can

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Do you see over on the right the version information for my spreadsheet?  Every time I save it I get a new version.  I can easily go back a version if I make a mistake.

Now that I have my spreadsheet ready I want to add it to the Wiki page we were working on earlier, but I don’t want to make a copy of it.  I want to make sure that if I update my spreadsheet that the copy I can access from my wiki page is right up to date – in other words there is one copy of the truth!.  I don’t mind if someone else in the project community updates the file, but I want to keep one file, so I go to the sharing tab, shown above:

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Click on the plus sign next to Editors, and select Community:

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I start typing the name of the community I want to share my file with, and the Project Management Community comes up.  I select it, and press Share:

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OK, lets head back to the community to see what we have:

You can see that my file is now in the community, or rather it is shared with the community:

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If I click on it, it opens in the Connections Docs viewer ready for me to read or to edit, like you saw earlier.  However, I want to get it into the wiki, so that someone reading it can access the key files they might need.  So let’s go to the wiki page again:

I’ve opened the wiki page in edit mode:

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Now I click on the Plus sign on the black menu bar and select Link to Connections Files:

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The file dialog window comes up, and I click on This Community in the header to show the files in this community:

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There’s our file, so I click on the check box and select Insert Link

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What I’ve done here is put a link into my document to a file which I have shared from my own documents into the community. I still own the file but I am allowing others to edit it and to access it from the place it makes most sense to do so.  If I wanted to disconnect the file in the community from the file in my own files I can choose to Give a Copy to the Community which essentially duplicates the file and makes the community the owner.

If I click on the link it adds it either downloads the file to my computer or lets me edit it online like you saw earlier.

The other aspect of all of this I wanted to share with you is the automatic audit trail and version control of the wiki.  If I scroll down to the bottom of the page you will see:

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You can see here that there are six versions of this document now stored in the wiki.  I can view and or restore any of them.  I can also compare one version against another:

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The wiki highlights in green the text I added (which when I saved it became version 6).

Can you imagine the volume of email I have saved in this process.  I have not saved or created a single file on my computer. I have not duplicated any file and have brought the content to the context of project where it makes sense.  I’ve even performed tone analysis on my writing to make sure that it matches the kind of language the context requires.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog article on using Connections for Project Management.  Next time we’ll work through the next set of characteristics of project management to show how you can accomplish those too.


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