Organize Tasks And Coordinate Your Team With Microsoft Planner

This week we will be taking a brief look at Microsoft Planner, a task management tool included in most Office 365 plans that’s comparable to other project management tools such as Trello and Asana. To access Microsoft Planner, sign in to Office 365, and go to the app launcher by clicking on the Rubik’s cube-esque menu in the top left corner. There you’ll see this friendly Planner logo:

Microsoft Planner Menu button

Once signed into the application you’ll quickly see one of the best features of Microsoft Planner, its user-friendly interface. With a simplified Kanban-based layout it’s easy for nearly every level of user to hop on, and in a couple of minutes, understand the basic nuances of the program. This will allow you to quickly acclimate new team members without the need of a hefty training process that some task management applications can necessitate.

Before you begin using Microsoft Planner, it’s helpful to understand the 3 basic units you’ll be working with.

The Plan

A Plan would be what some Kanban-style applications such as Trello call a “board.” This is the top-level area is where buckets and tasks will reside. There are a couple of ways of leveraging a Plan, some users prefer to create a new Plan for each project and archive the Plan when the project is finished. Other teams, like the software development department here at Louisville Geek, leverage the Plan in multiple ways. Some Plans might focus on a specific client, while other Plans focus on one large project or a cluster of tasks associated with a subsection of the department (i.e. software development, website development, SEO planning, etc.).

If you choose the “New Plan” option from the side menu, you’ll be able to name your Plan, provide a brief description, and choose to make it private or public (share with selected team members) and it will even provide you with an email address for the Plan.

The Bucket

The Bucket in Microsoft Planner is the next step in organizing your Tasks. This feature creates new columns inside the Plan which can be used to organize different Tasks associated with the project. Like the Plan, there are several ways you could use a bucket. If the Plan you are working in focuses on one specific project, your buckets could be organized based on Task types, project stages, or a simple “To-Do/In Progress/Completed” layout.

Once organized in your preferred format, Microsoft Planner allows then allows users to drag and drop Task cards to different buckets to organize them into groups as their status or category changes.

The Task

The Task in Microsoft Planner is essentially a To-do, which you can assign to yourself or another user in the group. When creating a Task a card is generated on your Plan and placed in a Bucket. On this card, you can add a title, set a due date, specify the urgency of the task by using labels, make checklists, and publish notes related to each Task. These cards handle a majority of the communication within Microsoft Planner.

When leveraged properly, team members can work separately on the same Task at different times and communicate progress, issues, and needs through the notes that they add to the Task card. From our experience, it’s critical to emphasize the importance of adding progress notes as your team members work on each Task. Not only will this allow your other team members to pick up where you left off or provide assistance when they have free time, as a project manager you can quickly get status updates and communicate them to clients or other stakeholders without disrupting your team’s workflow.

How does Louisville Geek use Microsoft Planner?

While we’ve been using Microsoft Planner for the past couple of years, it became an essential tool once our organization implemented EOS in 2019. In EOS, your organization is divided amongst various teams, all of whom have weekly 90-minute meetings where the topics include Issues, To-Do’s, Rocks, Customer or Employee Headlines and Cascading Messages. Each team has it’s own Planner Board, and each of the topics is divided into Buckets, making it easy for team members to add new issues they want to speak about during the next meeting, provide status updates on their individual To-Do’s, or celebrate a new employee or customer.

Another nice out-of-the-box feature Louisville Geek team members leverage is the Reminder. If one of your Tasks is approaching a deadline, you’ll automatically receive an email notifying you that you have Tasks approaching the deadline. Combine the Reminder with the Outlook Calendar integration and you’ll experience a whole new level of organization that centralizes your due dates in an area where a majority of us already expect to find them, without any added steps.

The mobile application for Microsoft Planner is also a nice tool, particularly for those who conduct a fair amount of business from their mobile device and would like an optimized access portal while they are on the go.

Limitations of Microsoft Planner

As is the case with most applications, there are some limitations to Microsoft Planner. For example, not everyone likes the card-based Kanban interface, but if you utilize Microsoft Planner you’re stuck with that view.

The label options are also somewhat limited (e.g. you can’t sort them based on urgency levels) and the comments lack functionality that other programs sometimes include(e.g. you can only add text, no photos or videos).

These obstacles can be overcome with some slight workarounds though. For example, urgency levels could be organized with different buckets and photos, videos, and files can be uploaded to Microsoft Teams or OneDrive and referenced with the file URL in your Task comment, but it’s clear applications like Trello are one step ahead in those areas.

Would You Like To Learn More?

If you’re looking for a tool that will help your team stay on the same page, we’d recommend giving Microsoft Planner a shot, especially if you’re already a Microsoft Office 365 subscriber. Microsoft is committed to improving the application, as evidenced by a variety of updates in 2019, many of which addressed issues reported by active users of the application.

If you have questions about Microsoft Planner or if you would like a free consultation on how to utilize it within your business, please fill out the form on the contact page linked below and a Louisville Geek representative will be in touch with you as soon as possible.