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.

Microsoft Teams: Group chat or a solution to SharePoint collaboration UX?


I’ve been refreshing myself on the Microsoft collaboration stack for some upcoming work projects. While at first, I didn’t find much original in Microsoft Teams in group chat world dominated by Slack, I find myself changing my mind about it and here’s why.

Microsoft Teams could be the new collaboration layer

Mention SharePoint in any mixed tech and business company, and you’re bound to hear a litany of complaints ranging from poor user experience, to performance, to poor search tools. Now with Microsoft Teams you can add tabs that enable access to SharePoint data directly from the app. As if it can’t get any better, you can add tabs to access Microsoft Office file types, Microsoft Planner, and even a range of third-party tools such as Wrike, Smartsheet, and even GitHub. Giving knowledge workers access to multiple tools from such a clean UI can make users forget about their previous problems with SharePoint and other platforms

Wiki

I wasn’t a fan with the wiki in SharePoint 2013. It was slow and hard to use for the average user. The wiki in Microsoft Teams is clean and easy to use. While it’s not exactly Atlassian Confluence, it’s good enough for team to use it to centralize light content development such as capturing decisions. It certainly is a way better option than emailing Word documents around.

Bots

Microsoft Teams includes T-Bot, an AI bot that helps you learn more about how your team can use Microsoft Teams to your full advantage. You can also create bots for Microsoft Teams using the Microsoft Bot Framework. If your company runs off the Office 365 stack, the ability to develop bots can be another tool to help turn user attitudes around about SharePoint and collaboration if done right.

Conversations around Work

Creating conversation around work has been a promise I’ve been hearing for years. Microsoft Teams and the Office 365 stack do a commendable job of giving users the tools to create online conversations around documents and data residing in Office 365. With so many enterprises dependent on email, such a feature may seem appealing to those in management but ultimately it means culture change.

Files Access

Out of the box, Microsoft Teams enables users to access files across Office 365 whether it’s on SharePoint or OneDrive. You can also add access to the following:

  • Dropbox
  • Box
  • Sharefile
  • Google Drive

Skype for Business in going away

While the Microsoft acquisition of Skype made sense, the application hasn’t exactly flourished as part of the Office 365 platform. Skype as a group chat solution has always felt like it was more of a “me too” versus anything new and dynamic. Making video calls directly from Microsoft Teams isn’t anything new. It does keep Microsoft Teams competitive in the market though.

Final thoughts

I’m not about to compare Microsoft Teams to Slack because I think that’s not the right thing to do because to me Teams is more about Microsoft Office 365 not just Group chat. Being able to access files and data across Office 365 and other third-party cloud platforms is testimony to the changing Microsoft.

The power of the collaboration platform API

Image by rawpixel.com via Unspash.com

No collaboration platform should be a silo in the age of the application programming interface (API). Much like the API is adding power to project management platforms, we can expect to see the same transformation take place with cloud cloud collaboration platforms.

Here’s how some collaboration platform vendors are meeting the API needs of their customers.

Slack

Case in point is Slack , the collaboration startup turned juggernaut, defines the power of the API in the collaboration. So much so, they launched a Slack App Directory in 2015. It works on the same app store model that users already know from their mobile devices.

I’ve been following Slack since the beginning. They pitched me back when I was just pulled off the collaboration beat at TechRepublic. It was still very much a SharePoint and instant messaging (IM) world at that point. To me, part of Slack’s charm at launch was that it was a startup poised to challenge the vendor lock in that had beset enterprise collaboration at that time.

Their APIs will undoubtedly help Slack Enterprise Grid grab a major foothold in larger enterprises as well. Their APIs combined with out of the box integrations mean that enterprise will be able to tap into all sorts of data from other cloud systems like Salesforce or SAP directly from a Slack channel. Pulling data into Slack channels can rack up benefits across a large business as business units and project teams get improved access to actionable data.

Some are calling Slack an operating system. On many levels, that’s very true because of APIs.

Microsoft SharePoint & Office 365

Office 365 APIs break away from the traditional Microsoft that people think they know . The Office 365 API Reference puts it best:

You can access the Office 365 APIs from solutions across all mobile, web, and desktop platforms. No matter your development platform or tools. So whether you’re building web applications using .NET, PHP, Java, Python, or Ruby on Rails, or creating apps for Windows Universal Apps, iOS, Android, or on another device platform, it’s your choice.

It’s 2017. Microsoft offering open APIs is a testimony to the leadership of Satya Nadella. Open APIs are also necessary to the future of Office 365 and SharePoint in my opinion because their customers no longer live in a Microsoft-only world no matter Microsoft wants them to be in one. Data trumps platform choices and Microsoft is now enlightened enough to realize that and chang accordingly.

Other collaboration platforms

I followed Huddle and Wrike quite closely when I was a freelance writer. Both platforms have their own well documented APIs available for their customers. Huddle focuses on the financial services industry along with federal government sectors that are full of legacy applications from which users need to access data.

Extending collaboration via APIs

Collaboration platforms got their start as a repository for project documents. More enlightened project teams also began to use these platforms for centralizing communications. An entire industry grew up around SharePoint and later Office 365 of third party developers building add-ins (for customers to do more with the platform. Much of the market focused on Web Parts for SharePoint.

Fast forward to today, the role of collaboration platform has to support an evolving workforce that’s increasingly data driven. There’s also more teams working remotely than ever before. Not to mention, there’s now open standards and the REST API that customers come to expect in their platforms. It’s no longer enough to just support the Microsoft ecosystem. Customers now demand support for the latest cloud standards.

Hi! My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content creator based in the Washington, DC area. I’ve worked with clients like NetApp, Dell, and Neustar to develop technical, training, and thought leadership content. My articles have been published by TechBeacon, Projects@Work, CNET TechRepublic, Network World, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com, and others. Follow me on Twitter:@willkelly.

How Microsoft’s LinkedIn acquisition will influence the future of collaboration

Image courtesy of the LinkedIn Press Room

I‘ve been reading all the coverage and analysis of Microsoft’s recent acquisition of LinkedIn, and I fall squarely into the camp of the whole deal being a data play that will help Microsoft build out their Office graph. While the LinkedIn acquisition will have a direct impact on their Dynamics CRM platform but my interest is in how LinkedIn will influence the future of Office 365 and online collaboration.

Collaboration and communications with context

I’m rounding four years working from home more or less and see the need for collaboration with more context. It’s one thing to know things about colleagues in the cubicles around you; it’s another thing to have a level of context about co-workers, contractors, and partners that might be working on the same project.
 
 For example, I just finished up a large contract and while I’ve enjoyed working part-time for the past few weeks I’m also pitching new projects, talking to recruiters, and having calls with prospective clients. I like to do my homework about people I meet with for the first time. I’m using LinkedIn even more than usual to prepare for calls and meetings. Now, if I could do this research within Office 365 or an Office application that would be something very useful to me and a key differentiator for the Office 365 platform. I was a fan of the late great Mynd Calendar because they gave me that level of access prior to meetings.
 
 The LinkedIn acquisition could also give Microsoft an edge on analytics giving Office 365 administrators even more granular insights into how their users collaborate and communicate with each other.
 
 I once wondered if there was ever such a thing as a corporate LinkedIn culture and haven’t thought about it again until I heard news of the Microsoft acquisition.There’s a dark side to all of this integration in my opinion because it’s hard enough to get workers to use a personal space on a collaboration platform and now you are asking them to maintain a robust and up to date LinkedIn profile to get the full benefit from LinkedIn data.

Changes to the document model

I got my start in the word processor and print document world to later transition into online help and PDFs finally to today’s world of wikis and content management systems. Recently, I read an article about Microsoft’s future is in decomposable documents, content based on component parts. Microsoft GigJam is an early example of Microsoft’s work in this emerging area.
 
 Access to the full spigot of LinkedIn data combined with document components could enable a reimagining of documents and collaboration that could lead to another evolution of content. Could we see the next generation of content that’s personalized based on the data from your LinkedIn profile? Such a technology could have implications for online knowledge bases, technical documentation, and a range of other online content. 
 
 The addition of LinkedIn data raises some questions with me about how it may or may not influence document and site metadata if at all.
 
 I also wonder how the Microsoft acquisition will affect the LinkedIn Publishing Platform. I had high hopes for the platform but like a lot of contributors to the platform, my posts seem to come out short in their algorithmic and content dance. While I still publish to the platform, it is more for fun these days. Would the LinkedIn Publishing Platform become more collaborative with Microsoft in charge?

Security and identity management

What nobody is speaking about yet is what influence could LinkedIn data have on the security of Office 365. Could their new found trove of professional data ever find itself as part of a security or identity management feature? Would that prove a challenge to Okta and other identity management solutions?

Final thoughts

Like a lot of you, I have a love/hate relationship with LinkedIn since its launch. Looking past that, I’ve watched analytics and big data entering cloud security and project management for the past few years. Microsoft owning and integrating the full spigot of LinkedIn data into Office 365 could mean a richer collaboration experience.
 
 LinkedIn augmenting Office 365 and other Microsoft cloud applications is also going to be a game of execution for Microsoft.


Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. He has worked with commercial, federal, higher education, and publishing clients to develop technical and thought leadership content. His technology articles have been published by TechBeacon, Network World, CNET TechRepublic, Government Computer News, Federal Computer Week, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com, and others. Follow Will on Twitter:@willkelly.