Microsoft Planner: A lightweight project management application for the Office 365 enterprise

Image from Microsoft Image Gallery

I had to learn Microsoft Project years ago because I was the only one on the team who had the time and inclination to learn it. The software developers on the team would have nothing to do with the application. Good news is that the same thing can’t be said for Microsoft Planner, lightweight project management application that comes with Office 365.

Microsoft Planner joins Asana and Trello in what I like to call the lightweight project management tools category. These tools are simple yet powerful enough for team leads and individual contributors to update their progress during the project. Gantt charts were a common complaint I would hear about the application back in the day. Developers didn’t understand them. Stakeholders claimed to understand them. Since that Microsoft Project experience, I’ve been a proponent of the democratization of project management data. Microsoft Planner includes:

To-dos

The heart of any lightweight project management application such as Microsoft Planner is the To-do. Microsoft Planner uses the concept of a “bucket” to organize To-dos. You can assign To-dos to team members. There are also the other usual fields you’d expect behind a task in a to-do application.

There’s not much new here, but that’s OK. I was hoping to see some provision for custom fields but didn’t see anything about that in the application.

Charts

Going back to my history with Gantt charts and MS Project, it was a first attempt at visualizing project data that never met the needs of the growing audience that needed to view the progress of a project. Microsoft Planner includes a Charts view that offers the following information:

  • Status
  • Members
  • Tasks
  • To do
  • Completed

Planner Hub

One of the areas where Microsoft Project and the previous generation of desktop project management applications went wrong was it was hard to organize different projects in a central location. Microsoft Planner includes the Planner Hub which provides one-click access to all the plans you create in Microsoft Planner.

It’s a simple yet elegant organizational tool that prevents you from hearing “where’s the plan for our project” and hopefully does its small part for encouraging team updates to your projects. It just so happened to generate plans for each of the SharePoint sites I setup while brushing up on Office 365.

Planner mobile app

There’s a mobile client app available for iOS and Android. While I use a mobile client app extensively with Trello, I can see where getting a mobile client app and the required access rolled out in some organizations could run into some bureaucracy.

I’d like to see more organizations make project management apps part of their standard devices for employees. At the least, the Microsoft Planner should be available in an enterprise app store for download to corporate owned and BYOD devices.

Office 365 Integration

While Asana and Trello both offer new integrations all the time, Microsoft Planner is rooted deep in the Office 365 platform. While the move makes sense, it’s not without its downsides. Too often, lousy SharePoint experiences haunt users well into new jobs and contracts. Microsoft Planner as part of Office 365 could be lost on some users who don’t want to use the platform.

Part of me wonders if Microsoft will ever offer Microsoft Planner as a separate option outside of Office 365. It could be an appealing option for SMBs and freelancers who may not need SharePoint in all of its glory.

Final thoughts

We live in an era where lightweight project management tools are growing in importance and popularity. Microsoft Planner includes a lot of the right things, but it’s for the Office 365 ecosystem only. Whether that makes it more competitive against Asana and Trello, I really can’t say. What I can say is that Office 365 implementation plans will need to account for Microsoft Planner or teams may miss out on this useful application.


My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content strategist living and working in the Washington, DC area. My current focus is thought leadership and technical marketing content. I got my start writing user guides, administrator documentation, online help, and later moved into SDLC documentation. My articles about enterprise mobility, BYOD, and other technology topics have been published by IBM Mobile Business Insights, Samsung Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, and others. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.

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