It’s been about five months since Microsoft introduced Office 365 Planner. Until that time, Trello was my tool of choice when it came to managing unstructured tasks. Since before its release, I often heard of Planner as being a serious contender for Trello. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to use it for a few months since it was rolled out to First Release tenants, I thought it would be a good time to do a little head-to-head comparison of the two solutions and let you decide whether Planner is living up to the hype.
My goal with this article is not to convince you to switch or to stay with either of the tools but rather to give you an unbiased overview, which should help you make an educated decision on what is best for your needs. I’ve broken this comparison into the following three categories:
- Task Management – what features are available to manage a task
- User Experience – how well is task-related information presented and manipulated
- Search – once you add tasks, how easy is it to find them
Before diving into the details, it’s important to explain the different nomenclature utilized by the two tools (figure 1). Each one presents you with a Kanban-like interface where you can create place items into some logical groups. Trello groups cards into lists which, in turn, are managed on boards. Office 365 Planner groups tasks into buckets which are organized in plans. Throughout this article, I’ll use the terms board/plan, list/bucket and card/task interchangeably.
Figure 1: The different nomenclature used by Trello and Office 365 Planner.
In Trello, each board is a container that houses all the information. Planner works a little different. When creating a plan, an Office 365 Group gets created with the same name and is associated with the Plan. While the Plan manages the tasks information, the Group is responsible for managing other content related to the Plan such as Conversations (email distribution list), shared Calendar, a list of users, OneDrive, and a OneNote.
Trello and Office 365 Planner are great for managing unstructured tasks where it is not required to sequence project management-related information. At first glance, the two products look strikingly similar. Each tool allows you to name a task, assign it to someone and provide more details about it such as description, attachments, checklists, and due dates. Both tools also let you track conversations around the tasks. There are, however, some subtle differences in the task-related information between the tools that I’m describing below.
Kanban boards such as Trello and Planner are useful for sharing tasks amongst peers. Participants of a board/plan are often within the same group or organization, but there are some cases in which you need to have outsiders participate as well. Trello provides a simple mechanism that allows a user of Trello to invite others by sharing a link to a board with them. Planner, on the other hand, is currently a closed ecosystem, which only allows users of your Office 365 network to participate. So if you’re using Office 365 to manage tasks and you need to track tasks for individuals outside the organization, you or someone else who is part of the plan will need to do the updates on behalf of the external users.
By default, when you create a task (card), it is not assigned to anyone. When you are using Kanban board to track your work or collaborate on tasks with others, it’s a good idea to assign tasks to users for two main reasons. First, having tasks assigned to an individual allows them to view all of their tasks in a consolidated view. Second, to notify them via email of their tasks and changes to the tasks by other members they are collaborating with.
Trello lets you assign multiple individuals to a card (figure 2). Multiple assignments work great in that the individuals are collaborating on the card’s activities. Everyone assigned to a card gets email updates as the card changes.
Figure 2: Trello tasks can have more than one member of a team assigned to cards.
In Planner, you can assign a task to only one person (figure 3) within your Office 365 network. Having only one person per task adds a level of overhead for you to keep track of everyone’s tasks. Imagine someone in your group has some time-critical tasks assigned that are not getting done. Unless you search the plan and look at the specific tasks assigned to a team member, you wouldn’t know of their progress in completing assigned tasks.
Figure 3: Office 365 Planner only allows one person per task and they must be part of your organization.
Both Trello and Office 365 Planner send email notifications to team members to inform assigned task/card owners of any changes made to the boards or plans. The emails that are sent out are very concise, typically containing the name and link to the task or board and a short description of the changes.
Trello tracks updates via the Activity pane (figure 4) for each board. Each team member who is assigned to a card or board receives updates of changes via email.
Figure 4: Trello lets you see recent activity for cards and boards in an Activity pane.
In Planner, all task activity is captured in the Conversation feed within the associated Office 365 Group (figure 5). If you’re an Outlook 2016 user, you also benefit from having the group showing up where you can view all updates to the Plan.
Figure 5: Office 365 Planner tracks your activity in conversations, which you can see in Outlook under Groups.
Checklists allow you to break down tasks into more granular entities. Both Trello and Planner let you take these entities and promote them as its own card/task, which eliminates copying-and-pasting the title and then removing the subtask from the checklist.
When you create a checklist in Trello (figure 6), you can copy an existing checklist from another card on the same board. Copying a checklist is great when you need to perform the subtasks repeatedly. Trello also lets you create multiple checklists per card. There may exist some scenarios where this makes sense, although in my experience if you need to group subtasks into separate checklists then you may as well split them up into different cards.
Figure 6: A checklist on a card.
Planner provides you with a single checklist per task that you can preview (figure 7) right on top of the task. The advantage that Planner has here is that it lets you mark subtasks as complete without having to open the task.
Figure 7: You can complete items on a checklist in an Office 365 Planner task without having to open it.
Due dates let you track when tasks are due. In both Planner and Trello, no notification is sent to the assignee(s) to let them know the task is due. Due dates only provide visual feedback (the task’s date turns red—figure 8) that a card/task is due when you are within Trello or Planner.
Figure 8: Due dates in Trello cards and Planner tasks.
In Trello, you can switch to a calendar view (figure 9) that will display all the board’s tasks on their due date. However, once you assign a due date to a task, Trello will not notify you whether the task is due or late. The due date will eventually become red (late). The only way to avoid this is by deleting the due date once the task is complete.
Figure 9: Calendar view in Trello shows the day that cards are due.
Planner lets you pick a start and due dates for tasks. Although there is a calendar associated with every Plan (in its Office Group), the tasks currently don’t appear in it. Ideally, Planner should display the start and due dates of each task in the Group calendar. To eliminate the need from changing or removing due dates, Planner lets you mark Tasks as Complete.
As a project manager, knowing task progress is important. Kanban boards typically have different groups to indicate progression. You can easily track progress of your team’s cards/tasks in both Trello and Planner by using the lists or buckets. What you will find, however, is that things become more difficult when you group tasks based on other criteria (e.g., project phase) and you want to track the progress of tasks. What you would need is another piece of data to indicate either the phase or the progress state. Of course, you can be creative and use some sophisticated naming convention, but this now requires additional management of the tasks. What happens if you need to move a task to another group? Will you rename a task? Duplicate it? You should consider these situations when using the lists or naming conventions.
As I’ve mentioned above, Trello lets you create checklists for each progress state and move the cards between the lists as you work on them. This method works well to provide a detailed overview on which tasks are in which state. However, it does not provide a quantitative overview of the number of tasks in the various states or how many are late. Nor does it let you group the cards by different criteria quickly. When you do complete a card, Trello lets you archive it.
Planner has a progress indicator that you can set to Not Started, In Progress, or Completed for each task. Once a task is marked as Complete, it collapses and gets hidden, so it takes up less real-estate on the screen. Progress indicators are especially valuable when you’re tracking many tasks in each bucket. Also, Planner lets you view tasks by their progress status (figure 10).
Figure 10: In Planner you can see tasks that are not started, are in progress or are completed.
Both Trello and Planner come up short when it comes to governance features. Once you add a person to a board or plan, they can manipulate all the content within it. There also is no versioning, approvals, or undo capabilities to help in managing the content. So it is ultimately up to the team to self-manage how they will use these boards/plans for everyone’s mutual benefit.
You can read the rest of this article that compares managing tasks in Trello versus Office 365 Planner here. The end of this article on the 2toLead website finishes with a chart that summarizes features of the two task management products.