Tuesday, April 26, 2011

SharePoint Task and Discussion List Integration

Plenty of statistics abound highlighting the importance of communication within projects. So much so that in addition to tasks, SharePoint also includes a Discussion List with which to share thoughts and ideas. However, because tasks and discussions are in two different lists it's not immediately obvious how best to discuss a specific task, or to find discussions about tasks 3, 4 and 5. On top of that, there is a significant transition required to move from a task you just scrolled into view, to a topic somewhere in the discussion list and back to the same position in the task list.

Naturally we couldn't let another day go by without addressing this situation so we've enhanced our IntelliGantt Web Part to integrate with SharePoint's out-of-the-box Discussion List. The goal was to provide an easily found anchor point to a topic (a task), eliminate the need for a dreaded context switch and encourage more participation in general. Here's what we came up with.

In the 'tool window' to the left of the task list, when you move the mouse into it a set of actionable icons appear for the current row. If you have one or more Discussion Lists in your SharePoint site, IntelliGantt will find it and present the 'Discuss' icon. Single click on it to create a new topic:

A popup dialog appears with the title of the task as the new topic name and a text box to type your message in:

This creates the new topic within the Discussion List. To solve the context switch issue, we also created a new column in our Task List called 'Discussions'. This is a standard Lookup Column that links to the Discussion List. The IntelliGantt Web Part will add a link for you into this task field so that the discussion is linked with the task.

Now that this information is available, when you view the Discussions column in the task list and mouse over an entry, the IntelliGantt Web Part will show you the entire discussion thread:

Of course, there's only the initial message in this discussion. So we made it really easy to respond to messages right inline by providing a 'Reply' button.

This both solves the context switch problem and encourages participation by making it easy to view and respond.

The actual data is stored within a Discussion List of course, which makes it available for searching and for backup procedures.

We have a more detailed walkthrough on our website and additional information to help set up the option lookup columns for cross-linking tasks and discussions.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

SharePoint Task and Calendar List Integration

SharePoint is a great way to share task and calendar information online with your colleagues, has the capability to richly integrate task and calendar lists but out of the box it's lists are basically rooms of information under the same roof-- a SharePoint site. Showing folks how to view a task list in calendar format is one of our most popular blog posts. However, this option shows everything in a Calendar and you lose the inherent goodness of a task list the the specificity of important events.

The IntelliGantt Web Part integrates your task list and calendar list so that they can work together. It provides two important capabilities:

1) The ability to selectively choose which tasks to 'surface' in a SharePoint calendar.
2) The ability to see this relationship in context with the task.

For example, in a project of several hundred tasks not everything requires an event-- even if you're an event planner. Only a subset requires placement on a calendar, and it should be dynamic enough that as things change events linked with tasks can be removed and new ones easily added.

With the IntelliGantt Web Part you can use our new tool window to quickly identify the task information you'd like to link an event with by using your mouse:

The information from the task is then applied to the new event. Task start and due dates become event start and end dates. The task comments become the event comments.

Furthermore, if you provide a lookup column in the task and calendar list IntelliGantt will use them to cross-link the task and calendar event. The result is you can swiftly move from event to task and back again. Or, within IntelliGantt, you can view a task and hover over it's linked events to quickly see the very latest important information without leaving the context of your project:

Less clicking means fewer context changes which means you can stay focused on the task at hand.

We have a page dedicated to this feature showing more detail. Better yet, you can try out the IntelliGantt Web Part and start working in tasks and calendars today.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

iPad Using SharePoint Web Services

If you searched for 'iPad SharePoint lists.asmx", 'iPad SharePoint UpdateList' or something of that ilk chances are you arrived at this blog. This is interesting if for no other reason than there is no help available for consuming SharePoint web services from an iPad that I can find as of this blog's posting.

Anyone from Microsoft willing to help me connect an iPad to SharePoint via web services?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Grouping Items by their Modified Date and Time

A quick post to let you know of a new feature we recently added to the IntelliGantt Web Part- a built-in view to group items by their modified value.

You can sort of achieve this by editing a SharePoint view so that the sort is performed on the Modified field. However, that just changes the display order of the items. We went a step further and created a series of 'temporal folders' to contain items modifed within the last 15 minutes, within the last hour, within the last day and so on. Here's what it looks like:

You can also combine this with the filters, of course, to see who has changed what recently as well. For instance, if you're waiting for a colleague to finish an important task, you can filter on their name and see if they've changed anything in the last 15 minutes.

Or a project manager could use this to see if anyone has updated any of their assigned tasks before a big team meeting.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Using Drag and Drop to Create Task Templates

We're very proud of the fact that the same IntelliGantt Web Part UI can work with both SharePoint and Basecamp. One of the best tests of any product is how well it works with multiple data sources. It forces us to examine and implement features that are valuable for project management in general. One such feature is the ability to create templates.

As you know, the IntelliGantt Web Part, whether running as a desktop application or as a Web Part embedded within a SharePoint page, supports file drag and drop. By default these files are saved as attachments to the task item you dropped them on. Now we've taken things a step futher-- we've implemented the ability for the IntelliGantt Web Part to serialize tasks to an 'igantt' so they can be used as a template. (OK, it's really an XML file, but we use the igantt extension to identify these templates).

You can then drag one or more of these igantt files onto a project or summary task and it will create the tasks stored in the igantt file as children of your drop target. If that description didn't grab you, here is a walkthrough with screen captures.

Here we see the IntelliGantt Web Part within a SharePoint page. We've already expanded the task manipulation pane by clicking on the little blue button in the upper left corner.

When we move the mouse into the 'empty' manipulation pane, icons appear in the row under the mouse. These icons show what you can do with this task item.

For example, we see the 'Summary' row as the following:

1) Write to File (the pencil)
2) Make Discussion (the caption -- creates a topic in a Discussion List)
3) Make Event (the calendar -- creates an event in a Calendar list)
4) Add a Sub Task or Sub Summary (the plus)
5) Remove the item (the minus)

Since we're focusing on task templates this post, imaging you just clicked the pencil. What you'll see is a 'Save As' dialog:

Here you will name the file that will store the task information. We really wanted to seed the filename with the name of the task, but we have to wait for Silverlight 5 to come out. After the file name 'Summary1' has been typed, the Summary task and its children are then saved to file 'Summary1.igantt'.

Now you can view this file with Windows Explorer and, better yet, drag it over any project or summary task in the IntelliGantt Web Part:

Notice the helpful blue 'upload' arrow that shows which row this igantt file will be applied to. Here we are targetting the 'Tasks' project with a drop of our Summary1.igantt file.

Once we drop the file, you will see the task group we had saved magically reappear in the new list:

If your igantt'd tasks have assignements, then IntelliGantt will try to match the user from the old source with the same user in the new source and make the assignment. Also, if the group of tasks in the igantt file have self-contained dependencies, these will be reproduced as well.

Finally, if you happen to be one of those folks using both SharePoint and Basecamp, you can copy from one and drag/drop to the other.

We did tie this feature to a privilege that can be turned on or off. By default it actually is off in the IntelliGantt Web Part (unless you are running on the desktop or are an administrator).

Here is a link showing how to enable the 'Writing Task Blocks' privilege in SharePoint.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Big Kahuna of SharePoint Gantt Charts

Navigation is a good thing when you're trying to find something. The common structure for burrowing into sites and lists within SharePoint is often called the 'chrome'. This may consist of the site links across the top of a page, or the quicklinks to the side. But how useful are they once you've arrived at your destination?

For example, you may have heard we make a really great gantt chart for SharePoint lists. You probably also have a really great monitor (or two) with lots and lots of available pixels. One of the things our Silverlight gantt chart can do is make use of 'full screen' mode, whereby every inch of real-estate can be devoted to your project plan. We thought this to be so useful, we made it a single click away.

Here's a shot of the IntelliGantt Web Part running within Internet Explorer sited within a SharePoint 2010 page.

Notice two things:

1) There's an abundant amount of blue desktop we can fill with our SharePoint view.
2) The IntelliGantt Web Part resides within the SharePoint navigation chrome-- even in IE9, which made a point of maximizing the viewing experience.

We decided to maxmize it all the way. As of the 1.0.83 release you will see an orange-ish 'expander' arrow pointing to the upper left.

When you click it, the IntelliGantt Web Part will go into full screen mode and devote every available pixel to showing your task list and timeline.

Now you can see the really big picture of your project-- and have good reason to get an absolutely gigantic monitor.