How to Use Microsoft Teams for Project Management
From real-time chat to video meetings, document management, and more, Microsoft Teams is a powerful platform for project management.
This guide covers everything you need to know about using Microsoft Teams for projects and teamwork.
We’ll show you how to create your first Team, leverage chats, and run great video meetings. You’ll also see how the BrightWork Marketing Team combines Teams with a SharePoint project site for communication and collaboration.
Table of Contents
Getting Started with Microsoft Teams
Part of the Microsoft 365 suite, Microsoft Teams was launched in early 2017. The application offers:
- Real-time chat and messaging
- Video meetings for up to 250 people
- Live events for up to 10,000 people
- Cloud calling
- Document storage
- Real-time co-editing
- Integration with third-party apps and connectors
- Public or private channels
- Robust security and privacy capabilities.
Teams is built on the Office 365 Groups (Groups) framework and the Microsoft Graph, bringing various collaboration tools within the Microsoft ecosystem into one location.
The solution creates a single collaborative experience.
Each team comes with:
- A SharePoint Online site, including a document library.
- A new Office 365 Group.
- An Exchange Online mailbox and calendar.
- A OneNote notebook.
Teams will replace Skype for Business by July 31st, 2021.
Teams is made up of:
- Individual teams, a collection of people, conversations, and files, for example, a project.
- Channels within a team. These are typically focused on a particular topic within a project.
Creating your first Team
If you are accessing Teams via Microsoft 365, you can use the web app or download the software to your desktop.
Note – the desktop app includes more functionality than the web app.
Creating a new team is straightforward – simply click ‘create team’ underneath the list of available teams and complete the relevant information.
Take care with the name of your team and channels as these become the names of the associated SharePoint site, file library, and Outlook email address.
You can change the name of a team or channel if needed, but the original name is retained in SharePoint and document links.
It’s also worth checking that a team with the same name does not already exist. In the case of duplicate teams, a random number is simply added to the name of the site collection.
A team can be private or public The team owner can switch between these settings as needed.
Users must be invited to a private team by the team owner. Anyone within an organization can join a public team.
Complete your team by:
- Adding team members.
- Creating channels – explained in the next section.
- Uploading or creating new files.
- Adding tabs, including Planner and SharePoint.
- Connecting third-party and apps.
Adding a Channel
Channels are a useful way to facilitate collaboration in key areas of a project, for example, a workstream, within a team.
Think of channels as a mini team, with conversations, calls, files, and other capabilities of Teams, within the overall team.
All members in a team can access and use channels in a team, including conversations and files.
When creating a channel, update the settings so your team can see the channel!
Every team includes a General Channel, which cannot be deleted or renamed. To keep your team engaged with daily work and specific areas of a project, create channels and avoid using General.
Users can add 200 public channels and 30 private channels to a team.
To create a channel, click the settings menu within the team, and follow the on-screen steps.
The channel appears as a folder within the SharePoint document library for the team. Files stored in a channel are also stored within this folder.
Managing notifications for a channel is quite straightforward, with options to switch notifications on or off; pin a channel for quick access, or hide a channel.
Private v Public Channels
There are two types of channels in Teams:
- Public, available to everyone in the team.
- Private, available to invited members only. A private channel is indicated by a lock icon.
Private channels are a relatively new addition to Teams. The aim is to facilitate collaboration on sensitive information, for example, budget, with a small group of people within a team.
A private channel uses a separate, lightweight SharePoint site collection for additional security.
Users, including the team owner, must be invited to a private channel. Non-members will not know the channel exists!
Each private channel has its own settings, which are independent of any settings within the parent team.
Unlike a team, a private channel cannot be switched to a public channel and vice versa.
Whilst private channels do play a role in controlling important data, they also create silos within a team.
In many cases, a private Team may be more suitable.
Permissions and Privacy in Teams
Permissions within Teams are somewhat limited, particularly when compared with SharePoint.
Unlike SharePoint, you cannot assign a ‘read-only’ role to team members; everyone in the team is a content creator and editor.
However, files are subject to the sharing and permission rules of SharePoint.
There are two main end-user roles in Teams: owners and members.
A team owner:
- Creates the team and has control over settings.
- Can add new members, including external guests.
- Can delete or restore a team.
- Can restore deleted files.
- Has the ability to connect third-party apps to a team.
- Can add tabs to a channel.
Although one individual creates the team, it is advisable to ‘promote’ a team member to owner. This way, an owner is always available to help team members, for example, add a new user.
To assign a role, select the team name and click More Options → Manage team. Use the drop-down menu beside the relevant individual’s name to change their role.
- Cannot access or change the team settings, or add new team members.
- Can upload and edit files and libraries.
- Can add – but not delete – channels.
- Have the ability to connect third-party apps to a team.
- Can add tabs to a channel.
For full details on the capabilities of each role and external guests, see this summary table from Microsoft.
It’s worth noting files shared in a private chat are stored in OneDrive for Business, rather than SharePoint, and are only accessible to participants in that chat.
For this reason, it’s best to add files to the main Files tab in a channel and share a link in a chat.
If you do need to manage posts in a channel carefully, switch on the moderation option under settings.
Moderators can start new posts in a channel and decide whether team members can reply to messages.
Governance in Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams has a low learning curve and will quickly become part of your project management process. Depending on administration settings, Teams is easy to get up and running.
This ease-of-use can also cause problems. Without agreed guidelines on creating teams, you’ll quickly find yourself in multiple ‘ghost’ teams and too many conversations.
Like any communication tool, document protocols for using Microsoft Teams in the project communication plan. These protocols should be defined within existing IT governance policies within your organization.
- Who can create a new team for a project or a new channel within a team?
- Who can add third-party apps to a team or channel?
- Who can create private channels and why?
- Naming conventions for teams, channels, and files.
- When to archive a team, for example, during project closure.
It’s important to balance flexibility with governance. If policies are too strict, your team will use other apps to collaborate – the opposite of what you are trying to achieve!
In the next section, you’ll read more about how the BrightWork Marketing Team uses Teams. In terms of roll-out and governance, we initially encountered problems such as inactive teams, files in different places, and overlapping chats.
Confusion was growing so we took the time to review our teams, move files as needed, and archived unused sites.
Now, we use one team for Marketing with multiple channels for daily work, projects, and workstreams.
We also agreed to store documents in Teams and use BrightWork for project management, task tracking, and reporting. This way, we always know where to find important files or project information.
These simple steps to improve Teams will save time and accelerate collaboration, particularly when working across different locations or time zones.
Managing Projects with Microsoft Teams and BrightWork
For the Marketing team at BrightWork, Microsoft Teams has been part of our toolkit since 2017. We use Teams for everything from chat to video calls and file sharing.
The solution allows us to work together as a team and on a one-to-one basis as needed.
That said, we continue to manage projects and track tasks with BrightWork, a project portfolio management solution for SharePoint.
If you’d like to take a closer look at our team site in BrightWork, you can read a detailed article here.
As a summary, we configured an out-of-the-box template to match our marketing strategy, project processes, and reporting requirements. We use BrightWork to:
- Manage all marketing campaigns and work in one place.
- Assign, manage, and track tasks.
- Email weekly work reports and reminders to task owners using workflows.
- Get visibility into bottlenecks with SharePoint Kanban Boards.
- Identify blockers and issues.
- Report on key metrics that are relevant to the team.
- Track progress on a weekly basis using a Project Status Report.
As much as we use – and love – Teams, the solution lacks the key functionality we need to keep projects on track and ensure senior management has visibility into our efforts.
Microsoft Teams is not designed for project management. Whilst you can add various apps to a site, there is no way to track tasks, identity risks, manage resources, or report across projects.
It’s also impossible to configure Teams to match the needs of a particular team or project – something that is easily delivered with BrightWork templates.
This doesn’t mean using BrightWork and Teams in isolation; we simply added a link to our BrightWork site to our Team using the website tab. This way, we can collaborate in one place with chat, calls, and documents.
The above example illustrates a way to incorporate your SharePoint project management site or application into Microsoft Teams using out-of-the-box capabilities of Microsoft Teams.
The BrightWork site is located in the ‘Daily Processes and tasks’ channel. The site is updated on a regular basis and is used in various meetings throughout the week.
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Chat in Microsoft Teams
Chat is the lynchpin of collaboration within Teams. The chat is persistent, that is, messages are always available.
Think of chat as an informal communication tool for the team with email serving as a formal channel for stakeholders, vendors, and so on.
For the Marketing team at BrightWork, chat has almost replaced emails within the team.
There are three main types of chat within Teams: small groups and one-to-one, a post in a channel, and a conversation about a file.
Each type of chat has particular capabilities and use-cases.
3 Types of Chat in Teams
1. Small-Group and One-to-One Chats
Chat is located on the left-hand menu of the Teams application. Use chat to discuss any aspect of your project, daily tasks, ask a question, or to check-in with an individual.
To start a chat with a group or individual:
- Click the New Chat icon.
- Assign a name to the group, an easy way to track multiple conversations about projects and tasks.
- Add the relevant team members by entering a name, email address, or group tag. We’ll cover tags later on.
Chats are grouped as Pinned or Recent in your chat pane.
A chat is very similar to a channel. You can:
- Add documents to the file tab. Note – this action adds the file to OneDrive for Business rather than SharePoint.
- Add tabs for files, website links, apps, and so on.
- Start a video or audio call with the participants.
- Add or remove people.
- Leave the chat. A chat doesn’t need an owner so you can leave chats you no longer need to be in.
- Pin a chat to the top of your chats for quick access.
- Mute a chat. You’ll still be part of the group; you just won’t receive any notifications.
- Temporarily pause incoming notifications by setting your status to ‘Do Not Disturb’.
Group and one-to-one chats are not threaded, that is, you cannot reply directly to a specific message.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to create smaller groups to discuss details about the project with relevant individuals.
2. Channel Posts
A post is a chat within a channel. Unlike a group or one-to-one chat, the message is accessible to all members of the channel.
There are two main types of posts: new conversation and announcement. Both formats have the same functionality.
However, with the option to add a large heading, background color, and an image, announcements are more prominent in the channel feed.
Posts are threaded. Replies to a conversation are grouped together and individuals can reply to any message at any time. However, maintaining a thread only works if participants use the reply button when posting a message.
Channels can get busy quickly. To draw attention to your post, use @mention to tag the channel or team members.
Projects and documents go hand-in-hand. To collaborate in real-time on a file, use conversations.
Navigate to the required document and open in Teams. Select ‘Conversation’ and start chatting.
The conversation also appears as a post in the relevant channel.
6 Ways to Improve Teams Chat
Make any chat, post, or conversation engaging and easier to read with formatting.
Click the ‘A’ icon, beneath the message, to access a range of formatting options:
- Bold, italicize, underline, or strikethrough text.
- Add highlighting or change the color of the font.
- Format heading sizes, useful for long messages.
- Create bullet or number lists.
- Add quotes, tables, and links.
Attach a file using the paperclip icon.
Don’t forget to add a gif or emoji if you can!
Spotted a typo or forgot to include a point in your message? Click the three dots in the top right-hand corner of your message and select ‘Edit’ to amend your content.
2. Delivery Options
When sending a chat to an individual or small group, you can avail of three delivery options by clicking the ‘!’ icon underneath the message. The options are:
- Standard: The message will be sent as usual.
- Important: The message will contain ‘Important’ as the headline, along with an exclamation icon.
- Urgent: In addition to adding ‘Urgent’ as the headline, the recipient will be notified every 2 minutes for 20 minutes.
Delivery options for posts in a channel are limited to ‘Important’ with the same formatting as per chats.
3. Post in multiple channels
Need to share important news with several project teams? Save time by posting the same message in multiple channels.
Simply select ‘post in multiple channels’, pick your channels, and post.
4. Group Tags
A recently introduced feature allows team owners to create custom tags within a team.
Imagine you need to collaborate frequently with a small group of testers on a website project. Create a custom tag for this group in the settings of the channel.
Once a tag is added, just @mention it in a channel. Everyone who has been assigned to that tag will receive a notification just as they would if they were @mentioned individually.
5. Manage Chat and Post Notifications
Just like a channel, you can pin, hide, or mute a chat.
If you don’t have time to reply to a message immediately, mark the item as unread.
Posts are slightly different. You can mark the message as unread, turn off notifications, or save a message.
Saved messages are stored in your profile.
There are a few ways to search through chats for important content.
Firstly, search for the relevant team member into the search bar to view one-to-one messages.
Next, use the filter options in the Chat pane to search by:
- Keywords used in the message.
- Unread messages.
- Meeting chats.
- Muted chats and posts.
Video Meetings in Teams
Video meetings are a powerful way to collaborate with your project team, stakeholders, and vendors.
There are a few ways to create video meetings in Microsoft Teams:
- Schedule meetings for up to 250 people.
- Create a recurring meeting series.
- Use ‘meet now’ to quickly start a meeting.
- Meet one-to-one with individual team members.
Teams meetings use audio and video with options to switch your camera and microphone off as needed. Microsoft Teams also includes a cloud-based telephone system, Microsoft 365 Business Voice.
How to schedule a meeting in Team
Navigate to ‘Calendar’ in the left-hand menu of the app. There are two meeting options in the right-hand corner: Meet now and New Meeting.
You can also start a call using the video icon in a chat or within the ‘Call’ tab on the left-hand menu.
In this instance, I’ll select ‘New Meeting’ in my calendar.
Next, complete the meeting invitation, which is similar to Outlook. You can also create a recurring series using the invitation.
Use ‘Scheduling Assistant’ to check the availability of team members.
That’s it! Your meeting is scheduled and will appear in your calendar in both Teams and Outlook.
To add more context, such as an agenda, to your meeting, click on the session in your Teams calendar. As you can see from the below image, each meeting has options for chat, files, meetings notes, and a whiteboard.
This information is accessible before, during, and after a meeting.
Need to invite someone who is outside of your organization? You can schedule a meeting with anyone who has a valid email address.
The individual will receive a link via email and can attend the meeting using the web app. To maintain privacy, you can decide if external guests need to wait in a virtual lobby before the meeting starts.
If you have installed the Teams desktop client, you can also schedule a meeting in Outlook using the Teams add-on.
When scheduling a new meeting, select ‘Join Teams Meeting’ in the ribbon. A link will be inserted into the meeting request.
There are three ways to start or join a meeting:
- If using Outlook, click the link in the meeting request.
- If using Teams, open your calendar and find the relevant meeting. The ‘join’ button will appear on the meeting block about five minutes before the start time.
- A notification will also flash on your screen when another attendee starts the meeting. Click ‘join’ to attend the meeting.
When joining a meeting, you can opt to:
- Switch your camera on or off.
- Blur your background.
- Turn your microphone on or off.
An in-call menu, accessible by moving your mouse anywhere on the screen, offers various ways to manage your video calls.
- Check the length of a meeting.
- Toggle your camera on or off.
- Turn your camera on or off.
- Share your screen. You can share your desktop, the contents of an app, or a document by selecting the relevant screen. Users can request control to share content as needed.
- Access ‘more actions’, such as recording the meeting.
- Raise your hand to ask a question.
- Use the ‘show conversation’ panel to ask questions and so on. This is especially useful for larger groups.
- Check the participant list.
- Leave the meeting. If you have scheduled the meeting, you can choose to end the meeting for all attendees.
‘More Actions’ provides additional ways to enhance your meeting, for example, click ‘show meeting notes’ to open and use the agenda.
To change your background, select an option from ‘Show background effects’. This option is currently available on the desktop application only.
‘Enter full screen’ hides the left-hand menu and the desktop toolbar, an easy way to remove distractions.
Privacy and Control for Meeting Hosts
Just like an in-person meeting, meeting hosts need to facilitate virtual meetings to create an enjoyable environment for attendees. Virtual sessions also require additional privacy and control settings.
When using Microsoft Teams for meetings, you can:
- Mute all attendees.
- Invite external users and use a virtual waiting lobby to check who wants to join your meeting.
- Remove participants during a meeting.
- Designate presenters and attendees to control who can and cannot share content.
Meeting recordings are available only to those who were invited to or attended the meeting. Likewise, meeting notes are only available to internal users.
Now you know how to schedule and run a meeting in Teams, let’s take a closer look at using video meetings for your projects.
Project Meetings with Teams
Before you start scheduling video meetings, consider if you need to update your project communication plan.
Make sure your team and stakeholders are aware of:
- The use of video meetings.
- Software and hardware requirements, for example, Microsoft Teams and headphones.
- Where to find training videos and support if needed, for example, free Microsoft resources.
- The back-up plan in case of technical difficulties, for example, issues connecting to your broadband network.
With a little tweaking, you can replace any face-to-face meeting with a video call in Teams. The key is preparation.
- Creating and sharing an agenda in advance using Meeting Notes as explained above.
- Assigning times to agenda items – and sticking to those times!
- Sharing required reading, such as presentations or reports, beforehand.
- Asking members of your team to prepare contributions or updates.
- Starting and ending meetings on time.
- Circulating action items afterward. The BrightWork Marketing Team adds tasks to our project site during meetings so nothing falls between the cracks.
Meeting etiquette is also important.
Try these ideas for adapting in-person meetings to virtual video calls.
- If possible, switch on cameras during the meeting. Just like a face-to-face meeting, the ability to see your team and gauge their reactions is key.
- That said, video can reduce call quality on occasion. In the place of video, ask team members to say their name before speaking so everyone knows who is talking.
- Some microphones can pick up background noise. It may be a good idea to place yourself on mute when you are not talking.
- Make time for ‘small talk’ at the start of the meeting. Give people a chance to catch-up and share what’s happening.
- At the start of a meeting, ask if anyone needs to leave early and if so, allow them to share any updates early on.
- As the meeting host, ask questions during the session to ensure everyone has a chance to speak up and is paying attention!
- Stay focused on the meeting – that means no emails or browsing online.
- Turn off other applications and notifications.
- Share a summary of actions and follow-ups, with owners and due dates, after the meeting. Not only will this keep your project on track – it increases accountability within the team.
Add these tips to your communication plan, share with the team, and store in an easy-to-access place.
As you become more familiar with video meetings, ask your team and stakeholders for feedback to improve these sessions.
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6 Tips and Tricks for Microsoft Teams
1. Managing Notifications
The stream of notifications in Teams can feel a little overwhelming, especially when you need to focus on an important task.
There are a few simple ways to reduce interruptions.
Start by updating your Teams-wide notifications in Settings, accessed by clicking your profile picture. I recommend turning off emails for ‘missed activity’ to reduce email volume – and pressure to check what is happening in Teams!
As mentioned above, you can also turn notifications off for a particular channel or chat.
Looking for a quicker way to block incoming calls and notifications? Change your availability to ‘Do Not Disturb’ under your profile picture or by typing /dnd into the search bar.
You can grant priority access to your team or stakeholders under Privacy (Settings). This means you’ll still receive notifications from these individuals when your status is set to ‘Do Not Disturb’.
If you want to receive notifications without the pressure to reply instantly, try setting your status to ‘Appear Away’.
2. Finding People and Information Quickly
As user adoption grows, you may suddenly find yourself creating or participating in multiple teams! Try these quick tips to track key conversations and find information.
The menu located on the left-hand side of Teams has a feed for activity, teams, and chat.
The Activity Feed displays your interactions on Teams and how people interact with you, for example, if someone replies to your chat.
Use the filter option to narrow results to:
- Unread chats or messages.
- @mentions, i.e. if a team member has tagged you in a chat.
- Reactions to your messages.
- Missed calls.
To focus on important teams, such as a busy project, pin the relevant channel to the top of the list of teams.
Click the three-dots beside the channel and select ‘Pin’.
You can also hide a team using the same menu. You’ll still be a member of the team but the team will be removed from view.
Likewise, it’s possible to pin or hide a chat. You can also opt to leave a chat using the same menu.
As explained in an earlier chapter, there are multiple ways to manage chats such as:
- Marking an item as unread.
- Renaming a group chat.
- Saving a message to your bookmarks.
3. Document Management
A file library is created in the underlying SharePoint site for a new team, with a folder created for each channel.
Microsoft is working towards bringing the full power and experience of document management in SharePoint into Teams. This means your project team can work seamlessly in either platform.
As such, the Files Tab in a Team site is increasingly similar to the documents view in SharePoint Online.
With Teams, you can:
- Upload existing files and folders.
- Create a new folder or file (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote).
- Sync files to your desktop for quick access.
- Open and work with files in SharePoint.
- Move or copy files between folders, channels, or Teams.
- Copy and share documents links for Teams or SharePoint.
- Open, edit, and save a file in Teams, in your browser, or on your desktop.
- Co-edit documents in real-time.
- Start a conversation about a document.
- Add comments to a document.
- Bookmark important files within a library with the ‘Pin to Top’ option.
- List documents as a tab within a channel so they are easier to find.
- Add existing SharePoint document libraries to a team.
There are a few ways to find files in Teams:
- Click ‘Files’ in the left-hand navigation for recently accessed files.
- Filter search results by file. Refine results further by team, file type, and modified by.
Commands are shortcuts for performing tasks in Microsoft Teams more efficiently. Simply type the below commands into the search bar to find what you need!
- /Files: Find files shared with you on Teams.
- /GoTo: Go straight to a channel
- /Call: Starts a call with someone else on Teams
- /Help: Access the Teams Bot, T-bot, for help.
- /Saved: View your saved messages
- /Join: Join a team.
- /Mentions: See all your @mentions.
- /Whatsnew: See what’s new in Teams.
For a full list of commands, type / into the search bar or see this list from Microsoft.
5. Bots and Apps
Bots and apps are an easy way to add extra functionality to Teams.
Select ‘Apps’ in the left-hand menu for a full list of options, including solutions from Microsoft and third-party vendors.
Before installing an app, check the pricing options. Some apps offer a short free trial or a limited free tier.
Bots and apps can be added to a particular team or channel or used just within your own Teams environment. This way, you can customize your experience to match your needs.
Here are a few ideas to help you get started:
- Who: Search for anyone in your organization based on what they’re working on and who they work with.
- Polly: Useful for creating simple polls.
- Forms: Another option for surveys, quizzes, and polls.
- Praise: Share your appreciation with a team member!
- How-to: A series of training videos for Teams. Add as a tab in a channel to improve user adoption.
- RememberThis: Use to create time-based reminders to reply to a conversation.
6. The Fun Stuff
Like any messaging tool, Teams makes it easy to add some lighthearted fun or share your thoughts with emojis, gifs, polls, photos, and so on!
The various options are located on the editing bar underneath a message.
Add some personality to individual teams and channels by uploading a team profile picture or adding emojis to channels.
- To add a team picture, click ‘manage team’ and settings. Select ‘team picture’ and upload the new image.
- To add an emoji to a channel, find and copy the relevant Unicode. Select ‘Edit this channel’ and paste the code into the title.
Using an app such as Polly or Forms, you can create fun (or serious) polls, surveys, or quizzes about any topic.