[Ideation] Build an Idea Hub using modern SharePoint, Project Online and Flow

Most organizations know that innovation is about capturing ideas from everyone regardless of their position. In large organizations, this process is typically controlled in a format, where public “business challenges” are available for all to submit their ideas to. Typically, these challenges also have a start and finish date ensuring that ideas are submitted, when needed by the business. In Project Online you can obviously create projects using a stage/gate approach thereby capturing ideas early in the life cycle. On the other hand, if you want a quick approach to submitting an idea (imagine receiving hundreds every month), then you probably don’t want all¬†ideas to hit your PPM system.

Some years ago, Microsoft had an Innovation Hub, which was a SharePoint solution that used Yammer, SharePoint 2013 and Project Online. I blogged and reviewed this solution, but soon after the solution was withdrawn without any explanation.

Since then, many have been using SharePoint lists, within the Project Online Site Collection, to capture ideas. Out of the box, portfolio managers could quickly select ideas (list items), and convert them into projects in Project Online. Today, we now have Microsoft SharePoint in the “modern” edition, which looks much cooler, allows for “Microsoft Teams” integration, and a better mobile experience. In the following post I will describe how to build a basic “modern” SharePoint site, and connect this to Project Online using Flow. This could serve as a new way for organizations to build simple Idea Hubs/Portals, which look awesome and connects to a Project Online PPM solution.

Step 1: Launch SharePoint “Modern”

If your Office365 administrator has allowed SharePoint “modern”, simply navigate to your launch pane, and select “SharePoint”

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Step 2: Create a new Sharepoint “Modern” site

Select a style such as “communication site” and give it a name and description

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Step 3: Create a list to capture ideas

From you newly created SharePoint site, simply click the “new” icon and select “List”. We will use this list as a container for the ideas users will submit

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Give the site a name and a description

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Step 4: Idea list configuration

Once the list is created, you should now add the columns that you will need for capturing ideas. Think of each column as a question to the user such as “Business Unit”, “Benefit Description”, “Proposed Start Date” and so on. This would also be where some organization would connect to another list holding the current “Business Challenges” allowing for better grouping of the ideas. Below are some examples of how to create¬† columns

Creating a “multi line” text field

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Creating a “priority” column that will serve as the value, which will later be used for project creation is Project Online

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Step 5: Copy the “new idea” link

I will know pretend to create a new idea from our list simply to capture the direct link for creating new ideas. I do this so I can make a “create idea” button directly from the front page of our new Idea Hub.

Simply select “copy link” from the buttons in the top of the form as shown below

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Step 6: Edit the front page

Navigate back to the home page of our Idea site. Click on the “edit” button in the top right corner, select one of the image boxes and rename it e.g. to “Create new idea”

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Now choose what should happen when users click on the image. Select the “from a link” option, and paste in the link from “Step 5” in this post

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Once done, users can simply click on the image box from the front page, and directly arrive at the idea submission form

 

Step 7: Building the integration to Project Online

We will now build an integration allowing ideas to automatically be created as projects in Project Online. To do achieve this, we will use Microsoft Flow, which can be launched directly from the list we created.

First step is to click on “create a flow”

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Step 8: Select a Flow template

In Microsoft Flow you can find tons of predefined templates. For this kind of connection to Project Online, I recommend using either the “When a new item is added in SharePoint, complete a custom action” or “When an existing list item is modified, complete a custom action“. Obviously the main difference is what triggers the Flow to run.

For this blog post, we will use the “new item” option, which means that every time a new idea arrives in the list, where a certain criteria is met, a project will be created in Project Online

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Step 9: Configure the Flow template

Validate the you are connected and click “continue”

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You now arrive in the Flow configuration area. Typically the list references are already in place. If they are not, simply add the “Idea” site address and select the “Idea” list. Now click on “new step” and select the “add a condition” option

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Find the column from the “idea” list, that defines if something should trigger a project creation in Project Online. In my case I use our “Priority” column

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Now define the “Condition”. In my case, any priority number above 1 will start the creation of a project in Project Online. Imagine that the priority number could be set by another process based on management input or user evaluations. For this post, the number is set manually

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In the “If Yes” pane, you now have to choose an action. Write “Project Online” and find the “Creates new project” template

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Add the URL to your Project Online/PWA site, and match your idea column fields to the “Project Name” and “Project Description” settings. This way, new projects in Project Online will get the name and description automatically from the idea description

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As this is a very basic Flow, we are now done with the configuration. Give the Flow a name and save it, then click “done”

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You will now arrive at the Flow landing page, where you should see the two working connections to SharePoint and Project Online.

From here, you can also see the history of the Flow once it starts to run. Remember to use a Service Account as the connection unless you want all projects to be created with yourself as the project owner

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Step 10: Try the Flow

Navigate back to you Idea Hub and create a new item/idea. In this case, we will give the idea a priority value of “3” as this will trigger the project creation (anything above the value 1)

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Once the idea is created you should be able to see it in the idea list. Now try to click on “Flow”, and go to the “See Flows” area

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From the “Flow” overview you can now see a “run history” with one successful event

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Opening up the event in the history log shows exactly which project was created. This view will also show if something fails, and exactly what step in the Flow was the cause (and why)

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Step 11: Find the project in Project Online

Within 10-20 seconds from submitting the idea, you should be able to find the project in Project Online. If you Project Online configuration triggers a workflows (stage-gate approach) this will now be active as well as the Project Site and Project Schedule Template

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Notice that the “project description” field also has values transferred from the idea list

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Summary

With a few steps, and no code, you can easily set up an Idea Hub using the modern SharePoint site template. From here, your ideas can be rated, approved and later transferred to Project Online using Flow. You should obviously configure your Idea Hub much more, and perhaps also add direct links to various areas of Project Online such as Project Center.

Using PowerBI you can connect all items from the SharePoint list to the running projects in Project Online. Using this approach, a full overview of unapproved ideas, approved ideas, running projects and closed project can be shown in one great report or dashboard.

To improve the user experience for those submitting ideas, I would recommend using Microsoft PowerApps to ensure a full mobile experience for the end users. Another great trick to improve the ability to innovate, is to allow for voice and camera from the idea submission form – this is possible out of the box using PowerApps.

Have fun trying it out yourself and feel free to reach out if you run into issues.

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