Using Google Sites for Team Projects

Updated 8/30/2011.  See also this new post: Quick start to team projects I’ve been getting questions from students about quick and easy ways to run their team projects. They correctly believe that they could do better than Yahoo Groups and/or Google Groups. In August I wrote a basic post about designing communication and workflow infrastructure for multi-organizational project teams. More recently I created a short “audit” to help people think about their requirements and options.

Today my research assistant said she’d be interested in a “how to” about how I created the Google Sites project site she and I are using to work together.  This approach combines a useful technology tool (Google Sites) with basic ideas of team and project management - including some implementation tips.  Here it is: Disclaimer – Limited QA here – I may have left out a click or two – be sure to save your work at each stage. Simple (using a student project as an example) -- See bottom for a more sophisticated version. Three basic components – To Do list, Discussion Tool, and a File Repository. Here's the demo site.

  • Create a Google Site for your project (you do need a Google account – free):
  • Go to http://sites.google.com
  • Click on Create New Site
  • Give it a Name and a URL (they don’t have to be the same, e.g., Primo Project for Name and http://sites.google.com/site/primoprojectsite for the URL)
  • Click appropriately for adult content
  • Click on whether sharing is with the world, or just with people you will specify
  • Pick a theme
  • Enter the funny text that proves you’re human

Presto! Now you have a site. Explore the options: The pencil on the top right will let you edit pages, the window on the top right creates a new page, more gives you ... you guessed it, more options.

  • Create another new page. Choose the “List” format. Call the page “To Dos” and have it put underneath the Dashboard page in the site structure (this is an option you have to pick). I like the “Action Item” style, though you are given other choices.
  • Create another new page. Choose the “File Cabinet” format. Call the page “Files and Documents.” Put it under the Dashboard in the site structure.
  • Create yet another page. Choose the “Announcements” format. Call the page “Comments and Questions” and put it also under the Dashboard in the site structure.

Now for the fun. We need to link these pages to the Dashboard.

  • Go to the Dashboard page.
  • Click Layout and decide how you want your Dashboard to look.
  • Click on Edit Side Bar insert the “Recent List Items”  option (helps you see changes quickly)
  • Click on the next place-holder and link to “Recent Files.”
  • Click on Save.
  • Click on Edit Page and then insert a subpage listing of the Dashboard. This gives you a nice dashboard view of the site's material - though there seem to have been updating issues (noted on Google Help pages)
  • Click on Save.
  • Go crazy. Use the fourth place-holder to add a link to an existing shared Google calendar (you’ll need the URL from the calendar’s site. For more info click here).

Take on the hard but critical task of deciding as a group how to do the work. If possible, do this over a beer or coffee in a place with wireless.

  • Bring a laptop and do some group design on the site.
  • Ask people to bring their resumes so you can get to know their strengths.
  • Convince everyone to “subscribe” to changes to the site – this means that they will get an email each time a change is made (under the “more actions” tab, click on “subscribe to site changes”.
  • Add any other gadgets to your dashboard that the team thinks will help you get the work done. (I added the Santa Clara logo by using the “Insert” tab and then uploading the image from my desktop.)

Dylan Salisbury (SCU http://www.Scu.edu MBA student and author of a thoughtful blog) http://blog.dylansalisbury.com/ had some additional suggestions after he read a draft of this post (he’s also suggested a post on team roles, I’ll do that next):

For an actual MBA class project, I think that e-mails directly to the project mailing list is the best format for all group discussion -- announcements and discussion boards are not as useful (but you knew I was going to say that!). It's very common to see an e-mail from somebody that comments on all the three current open issues and expresses an opinion about what to do next, which is good. The quarter moves so quickly that I *want* multiple discussion threads to be consolidated whenever it's appropriate, and I want a linear view of all the communications at the potential expense of not seeing the threads so clearly. I don't want any chance that I update a discussion but only 3 of the 5 team members sees it right away. Also, each of us has our own e-mail client that we can use to create a threaded view -- we own our tools! {TG asks: Dylan (or anyone else), do you still feel this way if you are getting email announcements of changes to the page?} Announcements and Q&A pages are really helpful for some of my real-world projects where we have a team of 4-5 people but 20 or 30 possible stakeholders who occasionally want to browse the web site to understand what's going on. But it may be good to start some wiki pages for various ideas and things that need to be collected during the project, outside of the discussion format (List of URLs of relevant articles, list of open questions, ideas for the paper, etc). {TG notes: To create a basic wiki page in your team’s Google Site, create a new page and choose the “web page” as the format. This format has the ability to “see earlier versions” and then the possibility of reverting to an earlier form if you need to}

Get an “A” on the project because you have an excellent collaboration process. More sophisticated version (includes project status, background on project, background on team members – site example provided by www.enterprise-dashboard.com)

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