The introduction of Office 365 Groups brings a new way of working with and managing project records, including emails, documents and other types of records. But controls need to be in place to prevent uncontrolled growth.
A typical project team is likely to create two main types of record – documents and emails. More often than not in the digital world these are kept separate and unconnected to with the main project records, unless the user saves emails to where the documents are stored, or all documents remain attached to emails.
The introduction of Office 365 Groups brings an innovative way to work in projects and keep all project-related records together.
What are Office 365 Groups?
Groups are similar in some respects to a both (a) Distribution List (DL) in that they allow a group of people with a common interest to communicate with each – albeit on a point-to-point basis without new users being able to access earlier emails, and (b) a (public or private) Yammer group in that they allow the members of the group to discuss issues together ‘out loud’ instead of in one-to-one emails.
In addition to ‘conversations’ that take place in Groups, Groups also have an associated SharePoint site, a shared calendar, a plan in Planner, and a notebook in OneNote. These options are visible from the Group view in Outlook:
A (private) Group can be linked directly to a Team (in Microsoft Teams), allowing further types of exchange, including in multiple channels.
Office 365 Groups allow all types of project records – emails, conversations, documents, plans, chats, notes – to be accessed in the one place linked by the unique name given to the Group when it was created. External guests may also be invited a Group.
But, to be clear, this does not mean that these records are all stored in the one location; the records remain in Exchange, SharePoint, OneNote, Planner, or Teams. What connects them together is the unique name or identifier.
The default settings in Office 365 allow Office 365 Groups (and SharePoint sites and Teams) to be created by anyone in the organisation. The danger in allowing these default settings is uncontrolled growth; when a Group or Team is created it also creates an associated SharePoint site (that is not yet visible in the SharePoint Admin portal).
To minimise uncontrolled growth, it is recommended that these default options be disabled, and that the creation of Office 365 Groups, SharePoint sites and Teams, be limited to the Office 365 Administrators, based on requests from users.
Groups should, ideally, be assigned a prefix to distinguish them from each other and from DLs and Security Groups (SGs) that are also used in Outlook. It will be interesting to see to what extent DLs are replaced over time by Office 365 Groups, as the latter are more functionally useful.
A suggest prefix for name of a project Group could be ‘PRJ’ as shown below. The same name is then used on the SharePoint site, in Planner, in OneNote and, if the Group is private, on the associated Team in Microsoft Teams making the connection between them clear.
- It is not possible to associate a public Group with a new Team; if a new Team is created with the same name as a public Group, it will create a Group with the same name).
- Creating a new Modern Team Site from the ‘New Site’ option (if enabled) on the user’s SharePoint portal also creates a Group. If controls do not exist (and the options are not disabled), users will quickly start to create multiple SharePoint sites that have associated Groups, and things could get out of hand very quickly).
Managing Project Records More Effectively
Office 365 Groups, and their associated elements – SharePoint, Planner, Teams etc – allow project records to be accessed from a single point – Outlook (on a browser or mobile device app).
Each of these elements can also be accessed from both iOS and Android apps, allowing all members of the team to communicate and share information more effectively.
Instead of sending project documents attached to emails, documents can be sent as links in email, conversations and team chats. Documents can also be proactively and jointly edited by multiple people at the same time, including using both apps-based and online versions of Office applications.
These options, via Office 365 Groups, should improve the way project records are managed.