By Lisa Curry
Microsoft are rapidly adding new features and updates to Office 365 to further improve its offerings but they have also been adding completely new products and applications. Last year saw the introduction of Sway, Delve and Office Video to Office 365 and now Office 365 Planner has been released in Preview mode. We want to take a look at this new app to show its features, benefits, explain how you can access the preview and have a look at what it has planned for the future.
Currently Office 365 Planner is available in Preview mode for anyone who is on First Release, so if you have signed up then you should see the new Planner app through your Office 365 web portal. If you aren’t on the First release and would like to gain access to Office 365 Planner then speak to your Office 365 Admin (or Managed Service partner).
Our simplest explanation is that it’s a way to organise teamwork – similar to Asana, Slack or Wunderlust for task/ project management. (Interestingly, Microsoft acquired Wunderlist last year, so I am curious what will happen here). Office 365 Planner provides a hub for team members to create plans, organise and assign tasks to different users and to check updates on progress through dashboards. It also provides a centralised place where files can be shared and gives visibility to the whole team.
Office 365 Planner ties in very closely to Office 365 Groups (another large topic in itself; we recommend reading this great article from one of our partners, Sharegate, to find out more about Groups). Every time a new plan is created then a new Office 365 Group is automatically created and vice versa - if you have a pre-existing Group then a plan will automatically be created for this Group. All of this is all powered by Office Graph, which uses machine learning to map relationships, data and activity to create a more personalised experience. You can find out more about that here in ‘What is Office Delve and Office Graph?’
To start, you need to create your first plan. As mentioned earlier, if you have any pre-existing Groups set up then then will automatically have a plan created against them and will appear on the Planner homepage. If not, you can create a plan quickly by clicking New Plan:
To get a high level overview of your plans you can got to the ‘Planner Hub’ which shows a snapshot of how your plans are progressing (once you’ve added members and created tasks). I really like how visually simple it is yet it shows all the key information easily so you can see what is late, in progress, not started and completed.
With your new plan you can add group members – just start typing and it will automatically list contacts after you type 3 letters. If the contact isn’t listed then you can type in their email address – but only business email addresses are allowed.
Whoever is added to the Plan will also be added to the Group automatically and they will see the Group appear in their Outlook. The Outlook Web App, just shows all Groups together but if you favourite a plan in the installed Outlook, then it appears in your favourites at the top; if not, it just appears below your Inbox in a Groups section, like below:
Groups in Outlook Web App and Outlook
When anyone is added to a plan they receive an email notification into their main inbox welcoming them to the Plan and team and gives some useful starter information.
Once you have your plan you can start creating tasks or ‘cards’, which can be done before or after you add team members. Within your Plan on ‘Board’ you will see the option to add new task:
Once you’ve created task – which has very little information – you can click onto it and then add in more detail if required, such as: assigning to members, adding start and due dates, descriptions, attachments (which connect to OneDrive or you can upload a file), links, checklists and finally comments. There are also little ‘post-it’ tabs on the side, which you can use to colour co-ordinate different tasks. This is how it looks:
You can view your tasks on the Board tab or the Charts tab. The Board tab shows what stage the tasks/ cards are at and gives the detail into each task. if a task is overdue than the date is highlighted in red. If you complete a task you can either tick it (which appears when you hover over the card), or you can simply drag the card from In Progress to Completed.
The Chart view gives a high level overview of the tasks within the Plan. It breaks it down into the status of the tasks; not started, late, in progress and completed and also shows where the tasks are assigned. I think it's a great way of quickly seeing the status of a project and especially if anything is overdue.
Along the side navigation you can see you favourite plans and non-favourites and you can also go to ‘My Tasks’ to just see your tasks for all Plans and the stages they are at.
Notifications are always one of the trickiest aspect of task management. Too few and you don’t stay on top of what you need to do or miss discussions; too much it gets very annoying quickly.
At the moment any activities within the Plan are emailed into the Group inbox, which is a shared mailbox with the whole team (or ‘Group)’. If you subscribe to the Plan then you will be emailed (directly to your inbox) when tasks are completed, assigned, commented on etc. If you unsubscribe you still get email notifications in your inbox (as well as in the Group mailbox) but just around your tasks.
At this Preview stage, the notifications are too frequent and are a big concern. Luckily, Microsoft have really shown their commitment to listening to user feedback and they have already confirmed that this is their biggest priority and will be fixed soon – but definitely before general availability (GA). If you are using the Preview and want to give feedback, then we would recommend joining this Office 365 Planner Yammer Group.
I hope that there will be the ability to set your preferences on a per Plan basis and have quite a granular level of notification choices, but we will have to wait and see.
There isn’t much information around official release dates but we suspect it won’t be too long before we see Office 365 Planner generally available.
This new app will be included for anyone on the following Office 365 plans: All enterprise plans (E1, E3, E4 [which will no longer be sold after June 2016] & E5), which includes government and not-for-profit plans, Education plans, Office 365 Business Essentials and Office 365 Business Premium.
This is still only in Preview but already looks impressive and includes a number of useful features. In terms of project management, it seems like it is currently aimed at being a ‘lightweight’ task and project management app, but as it is continually updated this could change.
The true benefit of Office 365 Planner lies in its native integration across the Microsoft stack; particularly with email (Outlook) and document storage (SharePoint and OneDrive for Business) What’s even better, is that it also means that businesses can access a project management tool at no extra cost to their Office 365 subscription and potentially remove the cost of a separate tool. Office 365 truly is becoming an all-encompassing solution, which provides your business with everything it needs to work effectively – in one fixed monthly cost.
As mentioned in the concerns, Microsoft are already actively listening to feedback and plan on making a number of changes before Planner is officially released. With any new app, it can take a little while to mature but Planner Preview already has some great features in place. We can’t wait to see how Microsoft enhances the current preview and we’re already excited for whatever else Microsoft has in store for Office 365!
If you would like to find out more about Office 365 or have a demo of the solution, then please contact us.