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Microsoft Planner – it’s here!

By Ross Smith – Solutions Specialist, Data#3

[Reading time: 3:30 mins]

Microsoft’s Azure Cloud Platform is a game changer in terms of innovation and velocity for new features. The previous release cycle for products and patches of months or years has been thrown out the door to make way for a model that focuses on constant, iterative change on a nearly daily basis.

This month is no different and we find a raft of changes to Azure and Office 365, however the one that will be of interest to existing Office 365 customers, is the addition of Microsoft Planner. This tool is available now – having come out of preview on the 6th of June 2016 – and promises to be very useful.

Microsoft already has a history of productivity tools, from the ones we know and love like Word and Excel, to the lesser known, like OneNote and newer offerings like Delve and Sway. The addition of Planner to this lineup is a nice complement to the existing Delve and Groups that have proven popular over the last 12 months, while building on Microsoft’s collaborative and information driven feature set. Like its counterparts, Planner is only available with an Office 365 license in the Cloud, with no on-premises version available.

Overall there has been surprisingly little press on Planner to date, so what exactly is it and where do I find it?

Let’s start with the ‘where’ of Planner.

This is the simplest one to answer, as it will appear in the same place all new Office 365 applications appear; the Office 365 dashboard.

image-1-high-res-dashboard

Figure 1: Office 365 Dashboard

 

Can you see it there? It’s well hidden in the forest of applications.

Planner will appear for all eligible Office 365 users who have Enterprise, Business and some of the Educational plans over the coming weeks as it is rolled out through the Microsoft data centres. This does mean that Australian users might not see it immediately, but like Delve, we will get it in time.

What is Planner?

Planner is a tool that uses the Kanban paradigm to manage projects. The Kanban methodology, which literally means ‘signboard’ in Japanese was popularised by Toyota in the ’80’s, and widely adopted by many manufacturing teams during the last 30 years. However, over the last 10 years this process has bled into other business areas with popular tools like Trello, Wunderlist and even Evernote, adopting it as the core of their product.

Kanban relies on boards to organise tasks into three main categories, which are then assigned to users or departments to complete. Planner achieves this via the Office 365 portal and has nice visualisations to show how the tasks are progressing, which project they are for and who they are assigned to.

dashboard

Figure 2: The familiar dashboard makes Planner feel like it has been around for years.

 Once a project is selected and drilled into, the individual tasks become apparent and each state, or bucket is clear to see. The screenshot below shows the marketing tab from above and the tasks that are outstanding. These tasks can be dragged and dropped, assigned to users, archived or even have pictures/documents attached for reference.

dashboard-2

Figure 3: Marketing Tab.

Is it Awesome?

It seems that Microsoft have looked around the market and gauged what was popular and what would integrate well with the Office 365 way of thinking. This was a no brainer when you look at the downloads for similar apps like TrelloWunderlist and Evernote – and these are just the ones that I have personally used in the last 12 months – on Android only.

Although this market is huge, there is a heavy overlap with Microsoft’s own OneNote, however I don’t believe it will take any market share away, as Planner is purely task-based. Rolling it into an Office 365 license with the extra task management features will make this a sure winner for some business models in particular; startups, entrepreneur small teams and simple projects.

Available across all platforms including all mobile operating systems, with reporting and visualisations that enable a team lead or project manager to manage simple projects, this could be a winner. But is it a game changer? Probably not. That being said, it is free, very easy to use and has a good range of standard features.

Head over to Microsoft’s Blog for more information and as usual, a perky modern presentation about living a better life with Planner. In this case, they might not be wrong.

Tags: Cloud, Collaboration, Microsoft, Microsoft Office Delve, Microsoft Planner

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