What is Microsoft Planner?

Microsoft Planner is a task management tool offered within the Office 365 suite of solutions.  The Microsoft website lists it as “easy for your team to create new plans, organize and assign tasks, share files, chat about what you’re working on, and get updates on progress.” For those of you familiar with it, Microsoft Planner is very similar to Trello and reminded me a lot of Trello during my first month with it.

Figure 1- New email with the Options tab selected

Microsoft Planner as a Kanban Tool

Kanban is a lean manufacturing scheduling system that originated with Tailichi Ohno at Toyota. It originally was meant as a means to limit overproduction at the Toyota plant and create just-in-time manufacturing. It was also adopted by the Imperial Palace Gardens in Japan as a means to limit the number of visitors entering the park. A ticket was given to each individual entering the park and had to be returned when exiting the park. Once all the tickets were in circulation, individuals were not allowed to enter the park until other patrons left the park and returned their ticket. How does this relate to Microsoft Planner? We tried to setup our Microsoft Planner as a traditional Kanban system where one task couldn’t be started until another task was completed. The Kanban can work very well when using Microsoft Visual Studio, but didn’t work as well as we would’ve liked in Microsoft Planner. The main issue became too many categories to keep track of and how to rank each category by importance. A non-started website task may have been more important than an in-progress advertising task but couldn’t be started unless an in-progress task was moved to completed. It just caused too many headaches and led to our team not following the Kanban best practices.

Figure 2 - Bullet List dropdown with Define New Bullet... highlighted

Microsoft Planner by Marketing Category

We eventually reached a happy medium of setting up categories or “buckets” for each marketing category we were working on. We had to limit the number of categories by combining some of them, such as SEO/SEM/Advertising. Of course, a “Misc” category was necessary for all of those random one-off marketing tasks. Here is an example screenshot of the current Planner setup for our Marketing Team.

Figure 3 - Define New Bullet and Font popup windows

We were able to use the “label” feature to create “Tiers” of task importance based off category color. Even though this setup was better for our team success, it is still a lot of information to sort through to find exactly what you are looking for sometimes. Microsoft Planner has a great “filter” function that allows you to sort by;

  • Task due date

  • Task category label

  • Assigned to an individual

With the “filter” feature, I am able to filter only tasks assigned to me within Microsoft Planner.

Figure 4 - Change Styles menu expanded to select Custom Paragraph Spacing

Microsoft Planner does provide another great feature that allows you to see the workload from a higher viewpoint. This feature comes in handy when you have alot of individuals working on many different tasks.  This makes it easier for us to focus on areas that still have many open tasks, such as our website and can show us where tasks are behind schedule.

Figure 5 - Manage Styles pop-up window with preferred settings

One of our favorite features is the “schedule” feature. This allows you to break down all of your tasks by due date. This is very beneficial when you are making a content production schedule and scheduling newsletter emails to go out in three different countries.


Final Thoughts on Microsoft Planner (Review)

So far, our team has really enjoyed using the Planner application and will continue to make use of it as we plan out our marketing efforts. It makes it very easy to collaborate and assign tasks to individuals. We also enjoy making use of the checklist feature when you have multiple items to complete with one task. Some of the features we have not found effective so far;

  • Email notification every time someone submits a comment on a ticket – this has just led to unnecessary inbox clutter

  • No easy flow connection between Microsoft To-Do and Microsoft Planner (that we know of yet) – I personally like to keep my daily tasks in a checklist on Microsoft To-Do as well

  • Only 6 category labels – which hasn’t been nearly enough for our team

Overall, I highly recommend you try out this very impressive tool from Microsoft. This article only scratches the surface of capabilities we have seen so far and are still learning about. If you can get user buy-in from your team, I believe it will be a tool you use daily moving forward, such as Microsoft Excel or PowerPoint.