As project managers will tell you, one of the vexing aspects of their day-to-day workload is project file management. To be clear, by project documents here we are talking about documents, drawings, reference manuals, pictures, schematic diagrams and even videos including those needed for field training and instruction. As more projects are added, project document management becomes an even bigger challenge.
To be sure cloud-based file sharing tools like Google Drive and Dropbox have helped simplify project file management. But because the fundamental file sharing model has not changed (i.e., it is still based on file folders and sub-folders) a number of major problems continue to haunt project managers. Here are just a few:
- The same folder structure doesn’t work for all projects or activities (as hard as you try to standardize these!)
- Each project manager uses a different folder structure and naming convention (lots of empty folders, abandoned files!)
- Some documents could logically be placed in more than one folder (oh where to put them or look for them?)
- A number of documents are common across a department or region (how to avoid dupes in folders?)
- Personnel need to view documents while doing specific jobs (how to bring documents to context and remind people?)
- Personnel may be required to obtain and upload a document (how to make this a mandatory part of a job?)
- The folder structure on a file system falls out of sync with the list of projects and sub-projects (how to keep these sync’d?)
These were some of the challenges that got us thinking to come up with a better approach to project file management.
Thinking ‘Outside the Folder’ for Project File Management
For those of you who may not be familiar, Scoop® Solar is a cloud-based mobile-first software solution that enables Solar and renewable energy companies to standardize and mobilize their field processes by creating their own zero-coding WorkApps™. With its range of work-sharing and communication features, Scoop is helping companies engage and manage their increasingly “liquid”, decentralized teams made up of internal employees as well as external partner, client or contractor team members. Each Scoop WorkApp basically crystallizes a template for the best-practice version of a given workflow (e.g., installation of a specific type of equipment, a particular preventative maintenance procedure, or even a pre-sales site visit, etc.) WorkApps can be executed against a given project or client account.
The outcome of running a WorkApp is a live story (record) of the given activity (we call this a ‘scoop’) that acts as not just a place to collect relevant data (using custom fields such as project address, power output rating, pass-fail information…) but to communicate, assign actions and achieve resolutions. In the system, customers organize the hierarchy of projects based on the lines of business (e.g. residential solar, commercial solar), regions (e.g. Northwest, Southeast) and ultimately specific project sites or client facilities. Having worked closely with Scoop customers over the past several years and seeing their challenges with project document management, we decided to think beyond the folder-based model. Along this path we made a number of key realizations that helped us shape a new approach to document management. Below I have summarized these and the thinking behind each that led us to an optimal design.
Think of Documents as Data Fields, Not Files
Whereas in a traditional project document management system documents are somewhat ‘unceremoniously’ dumped into folders and sub-folders, in Scoop each document is uploaded to a designated media field. This makes it much more likely that the document has a designated purpose and disciplines the thinking before another document is added. Additionally, having fields representing specific types of documents make it possible to include these inline with relevant workflows. For example a project drawing may be very useful when inspecting a solar farm.
So it is important to remind the person running the inspection and make this drawing available to them in the context of the workflow. By including this as a media field inline with the inspection app we are able to make this an integral step for every inspection-consistently.
Marry Up the Project Hierarchy with Document Hierarchy
Another realization was the challenge that results from having two disparate hierarchies: one for managing projects (e.g., in a project management system such as Scoop) and another for managing files in a file sharing system such as Dropbox, Box or Google Drive. Having two separate hierarchies naturally creates extra work for project managers. We decided that the project documents not only needed to be treated as valuable data fields (media fields) but also tied in with the project hierarchy. In this way it would be crystal clear which document belonged with each project and where the project manager needed to go to update each document. This also gave us a new capability for sub-projects to inherit certain standard documents from their parent projects or departments.
Standardize the File Structure but Allow for Project Level Flexibility
Because of the link we were able to establish between documents and the company hierarchy (of departments, regions and projects) it became possible to create standard “checklists” of documents that every project would inherit. Additionally the structure we designed allowed individual regions or projects to add to this standard checklist new media fields representing documents that were only particularly relevant to them.
Make Documents an Inline Part of Workflows
Accessing certain documents (e.g. for training, reference etc.) or uploading other documents (e.g. contracts) are essential steps in many workflows. It doesn’t serve anyone when personnel forget to review a reference document or to upload a required document when the workflow is executed. By representing a document as a field, it can benefit from a host of capabilities associated with fields including mobile access, inline viewing inside Scoop Apps and designation as required for upload.
The new Global Media Field capability of the Scoop platform provides a powerful and flexible approach for uploading, organizing, managing and distributing project documents and files. This approach aims to overcome key challenges and shortcomings faced by project managers when using traditional folder-based project document management systems and tools.
- Already a Scoop user? check out this help article on global media fields
- New to Scoop? Watch this overview video, this product demo video, take this tour or contact us to schedule a free consultation and demo
- Visit the Scoop Solar website for general information on how Scoop is helping empower today’s new liquid workforce.