Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Presenting Office 365 Planner

So, what is Office 365 Planner?

Announced by Office 365 Team, on September 22, 2015, Office 365 Planner (originally codenamed Highlander) is presented as a tool which:
“offers people a simple and highly visual way to organize teamwork. Planner makes it easy for your team to create new plans, organize and assign tasks, share files (using Office 365 Groups), chat about what you’re working on, and get updates on progress.”
Office 365 Planner is available for the following O365 plans:
  • Office 365 Enterprise E1, E3, E4, E5,
  • Office 365 Education E3, E4,
  • Office 365 Business Essentials
  • Office 365 Business Premium
Microsoft positioned Planner between applications such as Wunderlist (acquired on June 2, 2015) for task management and PPM applications (Project Server or Project Online).

Illustration from Microsoft Mechanics YouTube channel

Walking through Office 365 Planner

Once logged into your Office 365 tenant, you can access Planner by clicking on the icon on the home page or by using the app launcher (left menu).

The home page, the Planner hub, gives you a high level dashboard of on-going plans, some of them can be set as favourite.

Let’s start and create a New plan.

One important mention when you create a plan, you have the ability to select the plan's access type (using toggle button Make this plan public):
  • Private: Only members you add can see the plan
  • Public: Everyone in your organization can see the plan

Click on Create Plan. Your plan is created and you are redirected to the Plan Board. By default, the plan board contains one bucket (vertical group of tasks) called “To do”.

Each Bucket can be renamed, and new ones can be added.

To create a new task, simply type the name of your task into Type a task name textbox, press enter to add a new one and so on. You can drag and drop tasks from a bucket to another,
The first surprise when using Planner, there is no Save button!!! Great point, I think, but you will search it during your first time using the application.
Now, click on a task to display the Task Detail pop up and check the options.

You can:
  • Update the task name
  • Assign the task to someone
  • Move the task to any existing buckets
  • Change the Progress status (Not started, In progress, Completed)
  • Define a Start date and a Due date
  • Add a checklist (very useful to track actions)
    • Then from one item of your check list, promote it as a task
  • Type a description, which can be displayed on the Plan Board card (via the check box)
  • Attach or link documents (you can browse the related Groups site or upload a new file)
  • Put comments into a discussion feed
  • Finally, you can assign the task to one or more categories (you define your category names)
Close (auto save J); your Plan Board is updated with the information, and displays document preview, list, status, assignment…

You may have noticed on the print screen above, the task “Install mvpsummit2016 mobile application” is late, the pink highlighted date represents the original due date.
In order for tasks to be executed, someone is required to carry them out J. Each task can be assigned to one (AND ONLY ONE) member of the plan. We saw that on the task detail page, the assignment can be defined. A funnier way consists in dragging and dropping the member from the top right corner over the task card.

When tasks have been assigned, you can click on team members to highlight their assignments.

Nieve's tasks

Jeremy's tasks

Continuing on some of the great features of Planner, let’s play with the Plan Board Group By views. By default, tasks are displayed inside their bucket.
You can also choose to group tasks by Assigned to (1 bucket per member):

Or by Progress status (Not started, In progress, Completed):

After the Plan Board, let’s discover the other pages. The next one we will see is the Charts view. This view gives a graphical representation of your tasks by Status (colour coded) and by Assignment. The list of tasks still opened is on the right pane.

Knowing that the save is automatic, if you check a task on the right list and mark it as Completed, the charts are automatically refreshed.
Planner been linked to Office 365 Groups, interesting collaboration features are available (accessible from the ellipsis on the top menu), among which:
  • Conversations: to discuss some topics with other team members and add comments to tasks
  • Notebook: to work with a shared OneNote notebook for each plan
  • A shared calendar: to share various events date (project related or not)
  • A repository of members (contacts): who work on this plan, and their contact information
  • And a document library: to share any documents using Groups features (document metadata, versioning, check in/out, workflow…)

You can discover Office 365 groups in this introduction video:
In addition to the Office 365 Groups Conversations feature, Planner log all discussions around tasks and generates a comment when someone create a task or mark it as complete. Discussions and de facto tasks comments can be followed up or updated in Outlook also.

Conversations in Outlook

Conversations in the task detail pop up

Next item, you may also have noticed the link to My tasks on the left menu.

Click on this link to access My tasks page, where tasks assigned to you are displayed grouped by Progress status. You can change this view to a plan view, which for me is less interesting.
Last but not least, how can you be sure to stay updated with the latest information? Planner comes with a Notifications feature, you can access from the top right icon, where you will have updates like Tasks assignment, new discussion, likes, emails… Of course you can also receive an email for each notification.

Going further

2 information to complete this article:
  1. For the developers, Planner is also part of the Office 365 Graph API, you might check this msdn page for information.
  2. What’s next with Planner? What is officially communicated for the time being is the following:
    • The possibility for user external to your company to access your plans
    • Being able to assign a task to several members (great one)
    • And the mobile applications, Windows, and native Android and iOS.

My final thoughts

When I saw Planner last year for the first time, I did not find the interest of using it to manage projects. As a seasoned PM, I need to be able to track resources, baseline, costs… which is not possible with Planner. Moving ahead (not to say getting older), I finally found places where this product makes sense. Not all your team members are well trained or certified in PM and they just need to follow up on their tasks and share progress status. This tool is perfect for this. Yet another Trello some might say, probably yes, but the integration with Office 365, and Groups is just amazing and bring a huge value.
As a PMO I would love to be able to manage those projects tracked in Planner within my Project Online instance; approaching Christmas, this will be on my wish list together with the possibility to create reports from my Planner’s plans from PowerBI J

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