We use Excel now. The solution cannot be in Project! (Or can it...)

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3-12 overcome roi 2
A slick integration of SlickGrid with SharePoint

Our previous post described an inventory planning project at a global Pharma manufacturing division where we correctly created a framework for the client’s business side to estimate quantitative financial benefits in our proposal.

Now it’s time to brag about the slick technical side of the solution.

Our client used Microsoft Project to manage high-level program schedules, however lower-level tasks and milestones were managed in disconnected Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. Management was frustrated with their inability to view milestones across their portfolio of projects and a lack of standardization inherent with that approach.

We had one over-arching insistence from the client: this solution must not be in MS Project. Management predicted that regardless of their decrees or change management initiatives, the group’s project managers would never adopt MS Project as their planning tool. Thus it was made clear to UMT – before the task order was signed – that our solution needed to be independent of MS Project Professional.

In the current state, all projects managers were using Excel to manage their detailed schedules. Therefore the client wanted a management solution that was easy to learn, intuitive, and highly responsive; enabled formulas and calculations; incorporated different data types; imported data from external systems; scaled; and allowed for future customizations.

The challenge was on! How to create a controlled environment – using the Microsoft stack – that met the requirements and enabled end users to manage tasks & task attributes, and be able to effortlessly upload to a centralized platform for purposes of reporting and business intelligence.

After a brainstorming session with our fellow colleagues, the consensus answer boiled down to: convince them to use MS Project. We considered several options including configuring MS Excel to serve as a data-entry form with a custom-build “upload” add-in and leveraging SharePoint capabilities, but none of the solutions fully met our client needs.

Once the implementation team was formed, our technical consultant researched many options, and ultimately proposed an open-source, extensible JavaScript add-in, known as SlickGrid. Since SlickGrid was JavaScript based, it could quickly be integrated with SharePoint and Project Server, via a SharePoint web part. Out of the box, SlickGrid enabled Excel-like features of data entry within rows and columns using just a web browser. We were able to extend the capabilities of SlickGrid to include an array of functionality, driving real-life usage scenarios for the client. Some features were familiar to users of MS Excel: bulk copy and paste, formulas, column labels, row numbers, column freezing, and filtering. Other features were improvements to Excel: populating columns from lookup tables, importing data from external systems, color-coding column headers to illustrate whether a column is read-only, free-text, calculated, etc., and tooltips.

All the features added up to a data-entry portal that only required Internet Explorer and saved all information to a central SQL Server Environment. This technical capability established the foundation of the platform, adhered to the client’s requirements, and won the accolades of the sponsors.