PM Tech Corner: Try out the New ‘Lighter’ Project Management Tool from Microsoft

Welcome to the Technical Corner for PMI Portland chapter.  This section is designed to help Project to Portfolio managers leverage tools, technologies and best practices in your daily work activities.

My name is Tim Runcie and I have spent the last 20+ years working with technologies and methodologies supporting Project, Program and Portfolio managers globally.  You can say it is a passion at our company Advisicon, helping our customers and community achieve better ROI with the blend of both tools and technologies.

As a Gold PPM partner with Microsoft, I welcome hearing requests requests for improvements on Microsoft tools, so feel free communicate those with myself my team anytime! I personally hope you enjoy this and want to encourage people to reach out directly to me for follow up, questions around this and any other technology and methodology topic.  I can always be reached at Tim.Runcie@Advisicon.com.

In this month’s article, I wanted to introduce Microsoft’s latest Project Management tool, called O365 Planner. This tool is designed to help fill a gap for organizations or project team needs, where MS Project might be too large and there is a more of a need of a better interactive working task list than what SharePoint provides. If you liked the concept of Trello, then O365 Planner is just as good if not better, and it’s free!

Note: this blog post is not an exhaustive how-to manual, but will showcase key features for folks who are interested.

Planner vs. MS Project

Planner comes with O365 and is found right in the starting Waffle Tiles.

1 Planner Launch Tile in O365 Waffle

The concept is very simple.  Planner is NOT tracking hours or capacity.  It is designed to help you or teams quickly and efficiently manage detailed activities that in many cases could be minutes to hours of work, yet need to be coordinated and accomplished.

Think of a single Row in MS Project that says “Event Planning.”  That task can be ported over to Planner for you to break down the tasks, assignments and have collaboration, discussions and files/documents loaded to them, all without the need to have Effort Driven or Linked Activities.

This tool is designed to provide end users with a simple and efficient interface that is easy to use, yet will allow you to organize things better than an Excel sheet or a SharePoint list.

Organize Projects Quickly

O365 Planner is designed to help people manage tasks visually using Plans that utilize Task Cards and assignments.  Each plan has its own Board (a working environment), and within each Board, each task or what we refer to “work item” is represented by a Card that can have assignments, attachments, due dates, and be categorized for easy sorting, filtering and visuals in a dashboard.

What I really like is that conversations can be created and associated with it.  Essentially if you haven’t seen this new feature (called Discussions), it allows you to have a threaded conversation, and create attachments around any task, file, document, etc.  Team members receive an email notification whenever they are assigned a new Card or added to a conversation.

In this next example, you can add tabs (right side) that allow you to group and filter all tasks across all plans and color code work. You simply start typing a task, choose a start and/or due date, and then mark done or progress the status with a single drop down.

2 Organize Tasks Projects Quickly

The concept is simple for lightweight task management.  Simply drag and drop cards between lists to show progress. Add as many people as you need and drag them to cards. Add and reorder lists as you need.

A feature of Planner is that you can personalize the workspace, by creating previews for graphic visualizations. This is a visual management tool and really helps with personal or even small project planning activities and is designed to supplement use of Project or Project Online / Project Server.

Create Tasks, Assignments Effortlessly

Once you start creating tasks, you can add anyone to your team, assign them work by simply choosing their name and then manage the tasks being completed in the Board, Charts or even review them with a quick launch bar or create buckets for projects (Plans) based how you want to group them by.

3 Creating Organizing Tasks

As you create more Plans and tasks, you can easily see the status of the task in a single view and have conversations or discussions with anyone globally.

4 Dashboard of Tasks

There are many more ways to use this information, including having an API for integrating with other systems.  Microsoft’s intent is the ability to port tasks directly from MS Project (High Level) directly to Planner for active task management.

Manage Content with Collaboration of SharePoint/O365 & OneNote

What many PM tools lack is the easy combination with collaboration.  While MS Project has SharePoint, Planner capitalizes on the latest O365 real-time collaboration of Groups and Conversations that allow you to effortlessly discuss around single tasks.

Planner is integrated with other Office 365 applications and services: with Office 365 Groups, all of the conversations in Planner are available in Outlook 2016, Outlook on the Web and the Outlook Groups Mobile Apps.

It also fully integrates OneNote directly with each plan and allows you to easily organize content.  While you may not want a picture of me at the Denver Marathon, you can easily use OneNote like a 3 ring binder to organize meeting notes, files and other information.

5 Integrated OneNote with Planner

Microsoft has worked hard to ensure that Planner will meet the requirements of even the largest enterprise customers.  They have multiple redundant backups, virtually instantaneous recovery and HIPAA, FISMA, ISO27001 and EU Model compliance ensure that your data is safe, secure and always available. If you have questions around security, check out the Office 365 Trust Center to learn more.

Dashboards and Excellent Visual Tags

As a Program and Portfolio manager, I love having quick dashboards to validate and see where my personal activities or overall Project and tasks are at. Planner provides a nice set of dashboards and visuals that allows you to quickly filter, sort and drill into the status of your active tasks, remaining tasks and overall status.

Here is a Planner Dashboard of the different projects detailing the status of tasks not started, late or in progress.

6 Planner Hub Project Portfolio Dashboard

I’m so excited to see this tool rollout along with some HUGE investments coming in the Agile space by Microsoft.  If you are looking for more information on Planner, there is a great introductory blog by Microsoft at https://blogs.office.com/2015/09/22/introducing-office-365-planner/. Warmest wishes for your work and do reach out to me at Tim.Runcie@Advisicon,com for questions or other techniques/tools and blended methodology approaches.  Happy PM’ing!

runcie tim mking eff bus decTim Runcie is the president of Advisicon (a Gold PPM Company), a 20+ year project, program and portfolio expert and member of the Microsoft Advisory council.  Tim is also the author of over 36 books on technology and project management and a 12+ year nominated and awarded MVP at Microsoft. Tim and Advisicon offer webinars, classes and customized training for all your project management needs.

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