Office 365 has a new family member: Planner. Microsoft announced Planner in September 2015 and now customers in First Release will see it show up in their Office 365 tenants. Personally, I was really looking forward to a new and modern task management module for Office 365. I really like Office 365 Groups but to enable the “working in a project team with groups” scenario, we did need a task module. Is Planner the answer? Let’s take a look.
Project scenario with Office 365 Groups & Planner
Imagine you are going to work in a project to build a new portal for Contoso and you’ll create a group called Contoso Intranet to manage the conversation, files and calendar events. You create the group (figure 1) and you want to start assigning tasks.
Figure 1: After you start a new Office 365 Group, where do you start using Planner?
Err, were can I find Planner? I don’t see anything in the navigation bar of the group. Let’s take a further look, the app launcher (figure 2) maybe?
Figure 2: You can see Planner on the 4th row of the app launcher.
There you are! Do you feel the excitement? Let’s quickly click on the tile to see the list of plans (figure 3)!
Figure 3: Starting Planner brings up Planner hub, which shows a list of plans or lets you create a new plan.
The Planner hub appears and shows you all your plans. These will look very familiar because every group automatically gets a dedicated plan. This also means that by creating a new plan, you basically create a new group. Things are going to get very crowded for sure! Hopefully Microsoft releases some administration controls soon to control an overflow of groups.
Working with tasks in Planner
Let’s open the plan of our Contoso Intranet group (figure 4). It looks like we need to add a task.
Figure 4: Add a task to the Contoso Intranet group.
Buckets and tasks
The great thing about Planner is the ease of using the service, it’s all very self-explanatory and user friendly. You can easily add a task; enter a name, set a due date and assign to a project member (only one at the moment—assigning a task to multiple people is on the roadmap) but what about buckets? I found the official explanation of a bucket on the Microsoft support site.
“After adding tasks, you can sort them into buckets to help break things up into phases, types of work, departments, or whatever makes the most sense for your plan.”
By default, Planner displays tasks by progress but you can change this to buckets and assigned to. Let’s take a look at the buckets view (figure 5).
Figure 5: Organizing your tasks in buckets.
This is great because you are now able to apply Agile / Scrum working methods or work with your own custom phases, and shown in figure 6.
Figure 6: Moving tasks between buckets.
This is just ordering tasks, nothing is changed around the status of the task. You need to go to the progress view or edit the task. If I edit the Project Site Provisioning App task (figure 7) I can provide more details:
- Apply attachment from the Groups OneDrive or upload a new document
- Add a link
- Leave a comment
- Modify start date and end date
- Move task to another bucket
- Change the status
Figure 7: Editing a task to provide more details or change status.
Organizing tasks with colored labels
Do you notice those colored labels at the top right side of the screen in figure 7? Microsoft offers this official description of those task labels:
“Labels can help you quickly see certain things that several tasks have in common, like requirements, locations, dependencies, or important time constraints.”
This is another nice feature to organize your tasks. You can also change the status of your task, or your project members, by dragging and dropping these from the progress view:
Figure 8: Drag and drop tasks between project statuses.
The only downside of your moving around other people’s tasks it that, for example the news web part, the display says that you moved the task. Ideally you want some sort of approval for this to maintain accurate statistics.
Overview of tasks with the Chart view
If you move from the Board view of the tasks to the Charts view (figure 9), you’ll see that Planner gives you a nice overview of all the project’s tasks:
Figure 9: The same tasks viewed in Planner’s Charts view.
This is definitely the menu a project manager is going to love and use all the time.
Once we have released a lot of activities in Planner, how does this impact the rest of the group? Let’s take a look at the Conversations menu by going to the Group through to Mail tile, as shown in figure 10:
Figure 10: Planner activities appear in the group conversations.
All the activities are sent to the group as conversations. Also, the only way to navigate from the Group to Planner is by using the hyperlinks in the notifications.
My thoughts about Planner
Well, we are at the end of my first Planner experience. What are my thoughts? I really dig the user friendly experience and interface. Is Planner perfect? No. I do miss the integration with the Groups navigation and assigning tasks to multiple people. Remember, this is just the first release of the new service and many improvements are on the way. Compare it with the first experiences using Delve, Office 365 Groups and the Video Portal.
My advice? Check your customers or your own requirements and decide if Planner is the right fit for you! Otherwise just wait until it does. Nobody is forcing you to use it, right?
Do you have any feedback related to Planner? Definitely take a look at the User Voice channel for Planner. Microsoft does read these items so don’t hesitate to vote or add your own feedback.