IBM Connections as a Project Management Tool – Part 2

Last time we looked at setting up an IBM Connections community for project management and doing some initial set up. If you recall we’re working through the key components of project management, as defined by the Association of Project Management.

This time we’re going to look at a couple more aspects of Project Management.

Preparing a Business Case to Justify the Investment

The business case is developed during the early stages of a project and outlines the why, what, how and who necessary to decide if it is worthwhile continuing a project.  The Business Case reviewed by the Project Sponsor and the Key Stakeholders before being accepted, rejected, cancelled, deferred or revised.

The document itself should be brief and only give the bare essential information.  It should also be clear and concise, minimise jargon but most importantly demonstrate the value and benefits the project brings to the business.

In order to do this, however, the input from many different sources needs to be brought together.  Its this scenario that can cause a great deal of duplication, emails, revisions and so on.  People come to rely on their inboxes for the filing and for searching for the latest version.  How often have you found yourself searching your own email for an email with a file attachment, and then finding two?  You need to decide what the latest version is.  What if someone else has edited the document since you received the last copy?  What if you have been left off the distribution list by mistake?  How can you be sure you have the latest version of the file?

This problem was solved long ago by having a central file server.  Everyone agrees that the documents for the Business Case should be stored in a set folder of a specific area of the file server.  Each edit overwrites the previous (very dangerous) or you needlessly duplicate the document, each person adding their initials to the end.  You’ve then got to go through the different versions and merge them.  Even with revision tracking switched on there is still a big risk associated with directly editing the same file.

One more problem in this area is what happens if you need to work jointly on the document to develop the Business Case?  What if that person is on the other side of an ocean?  Do you incur expense travelling to be in the same room to work together?  Does one of you do a web conference and do the edits while the other dictates the changes?

IBM Connections Docs solves all of these problems by providing online, web-based, multi-editor real-time editing.  It automatically manages the versioning, publishing of changes, tracking of changes and permits multiple users to edit the document at the same time without needing to merge the changes later.

Let’s start in the files area of our community.  As you can see below I have created a folder for our Business Case to live in:

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Clicking on Add, Document:

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Brings up the IBM Connections Docs Word Processor….

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I start writing my document, using the familiar headings and paragraph formatting you get in any word processor.  Note, though, on the right we have a comments area.  When multiple authors start working on the document at the same time, their initials will appear next to “FA” and in a different colour.  Their changes appear in the colour of their little circle.

As I am doing the initial set up of the document, I want to mark my thoughts for each section.

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When I enter my comment and press Post, the text I’ve selected turns yellow to indicate that there is a comment.  The comment also appears on the right hand side:

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Let’s imagine that I decide that I will do it myself, so I go back to the commented text and click the comment button again…

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Using this approach I can build up a useful dialog with my co-editors (or just me in this case) to highlight how we got to a particular situation, or text.

Let’s say I put my table in:

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And we agree that it is right.  I want to clear the comment so we know that we have done the work we want to do for this section…

I check the box next to the comment, on the right hand side:

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When I do this, the yellow highlighting is removed from the originally selected text.

As I save the document, my changes are automatically published, but not versioned.  It’s only when I close the document then the editor asks me if I want to publish my document.  When I do, it creates a new version of the document, automatically numbered, with date and time…

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Notice a couple of additional things about the above screenshot:

  1. The system highlights that Frank Adams is currently editing the document;
  2. The system also presents an Edit button to allow me to enter the editing session;
  3. I am able to move through the document in preview mode without making any changes.
Of course for people on legacy systems, you might need to create a PDF or a wordprocessor document to share with them. That’s easy:
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The PDF even contains the comments and text so that someone who does not have access to the live document can see the discussion:
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There are many more functions and features in Connections Docs which makes it a very compelling alternative to the corporate bloatware probably sitting on your computer today.  I find that 97% or so of the documents I need to work on – spreadsheets and presentations too – are catered for quite happily using Connections Docs.  That together with the fact that I can synchronise these to my iPad and continue working on them – even simultaneously with others working on their desktop computer.
Before we move on, I want to highlight one other aspect of Connections, being used in this model, where we have captured the comments of people working on the document.  The in-document commenting is a really useful way of working together, either synchronously or asynchronously.  However, everything in Connections also permits commenting.  So people who are not editors have the opportunity to provide their feedback.  This is a very useful feature to avoid the “too many cooks” scenario where everyone needs to edit the document to have their changes made.
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The example above shows the document in preview mode, but I have added a comment which reflects how I feel about the document overall.  Connections lets you attach comments like this without editing the document so people in your extended team can put their comments in, while you focus on working on the document.
Notice too that no emails were sent, no file attachments fire out to get co-operation.  All held in once place, one version of the truth.

Why not a Wiki?

A question which often comes up when preparing documents is when to use a wiki, and when to use something like Connections Docs to prepare a document.  There are no hard and fast rules about this but if you have any of the following requirements:

  • Work on the same document at the same time with someone else
  • Prepare PDF or DOCX versions of the document easily
Then I would recommend using a Connections Doc file.  If these don’t apply, then a wiki page is perfectly good and provides a similar level of control and manageability as the Connections Doc document.

Securing Corporate Agreement & Funding

Next in our duties in project management is the securing of corporate agreement and funding.  I am not proposing that you abandon the need for having a meeting or an in-person discussion about the project but I am encouraging you to consider having an open discussion about it using your community.

Let’s go to IBM Verse to send them a message to ask them to take a look at the document.  I do this by clicking on the Mail link at the top of the screen.

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I press the Compose button to start writing an email.  Notice that there is no-one show in the “Important to Me” bar at the top (to the right of the dotted circle)

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I create my email and address it to Natalie and Lucille.  Now I am ready to give them a link to the file I want to ask them to review:

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Verse shows me my files, so I select Business Case.  When I click Add and Close, a link is added to the document in the email:

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I finish off my email and am nearly ready to send.  I have a lot of other stuff to do in the next couple of days, so I decide to set a reminder on this email.  To do this I click on the little clock icon on the toolbar:

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I choose Tomorrow, and write myself a short note to remind me about my next actions on this file:

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OK, so now I am ready to ask for their help.  I press Send.  When I do this I am returned to my Verse inbox:

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Notice that a couple of things have changed.  Firstly Natalie and Lucille have appeared in the Important to Me bar, as I am working with them.  To the left of them, and to the left of the dotted circle I also now have a red exclamation mark with a 1 below it.  This is the “Waiting For” list, which shows the things I am waiting for from others:

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I can see that it is due tomorrow and my short note about what I had asked them to do.  Handy!

One other thing has gone on behind the scenes.  While I was sending that email, Verse has automatically added Natalie and Lucille to the readership list of my Business Requirements document, so they can actually read the document I have asked for their help with:

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They can now read the document (without downloading it if they don’t want to) and provide comments in the comments tab in the document information, like we saw before.  Hopefully they’ll love my document and give me the approval I need.

Next time, let’s look at Developing and Implementing a Management Plan for the Project!



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