As part of its ongoing efforts to improve the business case for Office 365, Microsoft continues to build new features and add them to the suite for existing and new users. These new features come with cryptic brand names like Delve, Yammer, PowerApps and Flow. Each of them meets a particular business need, and in combination they add up to a whole ecosystem of Microsoft apps.
Today we’re looking at one of the most recent new feature additions: Microsoft Planner.
Planner is a simple tool to facilitate low-level project management. Using Planner, you create a “Plan”- effectively, a project. Within that project, you can then create tasks and assign them due dates and allocate the staff member with responsibility. Tasks can be grouped into sections – for example, planning, implementation and support. Planner gives you a simple chart view where you can track the project’s tasks by responsible person and completion status: not started, overdue, in progress or completed.
At the base level, that’s not very impressive. Planner operates like Microsoft Project after removing features such as dependencies, Gantt charts and resource allocations. It’s more comprehensive than a mobile phone task management app – but not by a long way.
Fortunately that’s not the only string to Planner’s bow. Microsoft says: “The addition of Planner to the Office 365 lineup introduces a new and improved way for businesses, schools and organizations to structure teamwork easily and get more done. With Planner, teams can create new plans; organize, assign and collaborate on tasks; set due dates; update statuses and share files, while visual dashboards and email notifications keep everyone informed on progress.”
The key is the way that Planner integrates into other Office 365 tools. Each Plan automatically generates a new Office 365 “Group” – effectively a workgroup comprising all those personnel allocated to any part of the project. The Group is used for email, which is automatically collated into a project folder in your email client. The project has an allocated OneNote page where team members can collaborate their notes, accessible through a OneNote client or via a web client. The project Group gets a dedicated Calendar (unfortunately, at present, tasks with deadlines don’t get added automatically to the calendar). The project even has an allocated store in the SharePoint document library where files can be saved for centralised access by any on the team.
Suddenly Planner is so much more than just a list of Tasks. It combines the tasks, responsibilities and deadlines with file sharing, dedicated email conversations and progress notes.
Planner still has its share of limitations. Currently you can’t allocate more than one person to a task, and Plans are only open to those within your own organisation: if your project requires input from third-party organisations, you’re going to have to work around this. Microsoft says it is working on adding these features to Planner, as well as Plan templates, customisable dashboards and apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone.
Planner is no replacement for Microsoft Project. If you’re used to managing projects using the full features Project offers, there may be little value in Planner. But for smaller-scale projects, or for ongoing management of internal teams, Planner may well be worth investigating.
Planner is available for all users on both Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium and Microsoft Office 365 Essentials plans.