Update team members with an Internet project portal

Consistent and effective communication is an essential part of any successful project. When project participants span a large geographical area and many cities, communication becomes more difficult and time-consuming.
Written by Michael Sisco, Contributor

Consistent and effective communication is an essential part of any successful project. When project participants span a large geographical area and many cities, communication becomes more difficult and time-consuming.

Before the Internet, updating documents and distributing them so everyone had the same material was tedious and very time-consuming. Last-minute changes meant reworking the material and redistributing it. It wasn't always a huge deal if you had the help of an administrative assistant, but how many times have you held a status meeting in which people had different versions of the status report because they didn’t get your last-minute updates? A project portal and the Internet can change all of that and give you the ability to distribute last-minute changes to all participants in record time without the hassle.

Create a project portal
It's an easy matter to create a project portal on the Internet to maintain vital information for each of your projects. Developing Web sites and using file transfer protocol (FTP) software to upload newly revised project documents allow you to make status changes for a project and place them on the Internet where anyone with appropriate security clearance may have full access to the information as needed. Establish ground rules on deadlines for posting the latest information before a project status conference call, and you can ensure that the entire project team has the latest information and is “on the same page” at meeting time.

Have a special update that is posted between meetings? Simply update or add the documents in the project portal, send out an e-mail notifying your project participant list of the update, and you're finished. Need to confirm that all participants read your e-mail? Set the e-mail message to send you a reply when the e-mail has been read, and inventory the reply e-mails you receive. No more copying and sending overnight packages to everyone or faxing 12 copies to the team to get the word out. You just saved valuable time and created a much higher probability that everyone gets the news.

A simple example of a project portal
Setting up a project portal can be a simple process that even an executive with little technical expertise can use. Have your Webmaster or support technician set up a file folder in an Internet domain so you can upload files to it. At the simplest level, this is essentially all that they'll need to do. Now, you just need to inform your project participants of the URLs to view, update, or download project information. For example, let’s say you plan to maintain four project documents:

- Project Plan with tasks, due dates, responsibility, and status of each task
- Project Summary for a weekly status summary insight for the project
- Project Issues List that identifies all known issues, responsibilities, and status
- Project Notes that allow participants to log issues and comments concerning the project for others to see

In our example, I've shown you the link to access each document from a sample portal created in a file folder named TRSample within my company domain, www.mde.net. I've included no security restriction; your technician can set up whatever level of security you choose. Another way to provide security is to set up a password for each individual Word or Excel document you create and upload to the portal. When users access the file, they'll be asked to enter the proper security code before the file will open.

Once the domain file folder is set up, you (or the project manager, if you'll have another person performing these duties) just need to know the filename for each document used in the project, the URL path to access and upload the files to the Internet, and how to use the FTP software to actually do the file upload. Every time a change is made and the new file document is uploaded to replace the former version, everyone will have access to the latest and greatest set of information.

I recommend that you maintain tight control over who can update each document. I generally have the project manager control the changes to all the documents shown in the example, except the Notes document. This way, you know who is controlling the project status information that others see.

You may take the portal setup to any level of the user interface. A large company's project management office (PMO) might use extensive Web sites to categorize and provide access to hundreds of projects, or you may provide a simple Web site with links like the ones in our example.

By adding a Web site, you simplify the task of gaining access to your project material even more. You also provide the ability to highlight key information, as I’ve done, to notify project members of the next status call date, time, and call-in number. Again, in our example I've created no security, but this is easily accomplished by your technical resource.

Team benefits
The benefits of using the project portal to update your client or project team include:

  • Project team members are kept up to date.
  • Status changes are easier to make and less time-consuming to distribute.
  • A professional image is established.
  • The cost of managing a project is reduced.
  • Project information can be accessed from any location that has Internet access.
I’ve taken advantage of an Internet project portal to help me keep project members, employees, and executives of the company informed on the status of new projects. Establishing a clear, concise method of communicating to all involved makes a big difference in your work and creates a professional image.

TechRepublic originally published this article on 21 April 2003

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