What is Microsoft Planner and how do I use it?
Updated: Sep 22, 2019
Back in March when I started blogging, I made a list over all things I wanted to write about, Microsoft Planner was on that list. This week I had two different unrelated discussion about Microsoft Planner, and I thought now is the time to write that blog post. From now on I will only write Planner as this is what it’s usually called.
What is Microsoft Planner?
Microsoft describes Planner as “A simple, visual way to organize teamwork” and I think this is quite speaking for what it is and what it isn’t. One of the discussions this week was about how much functionality do we actually get in Planner and the answer is limited. We can’t forget that Microsoft has other tools for more detailed project work such as Microsoft Project and Azure DevOps boards (former TFS or VSTS). If Planner is included in your Office 365 subscription it is on by default.
In this blog post I will write about how to create a plan in Planner and what you can do with it, I will end the post with some pros and cons compared to other project tools I’ve worked with.
As this blog is about Microsoft Teams, I will mostly write about how you work with Planner together with Microsoft Teams, but I will mention the planner hub which is the full Planner experience reached from https://tasks.office.com/ .
How do I create a new plan?
To be able to use Planner you need to create an Office 365 group, I don’t want to go to deep in the details but an O365 group is basically the permission container for a bunch of things in Office 365. When you create a team in Microsoft Teams you will get a O365 group managing the permission in the background and when you create a plan in Planner you will also get an O365 group. Hence when you have a team you can easily create a plan with the same permissions.
As this is for teamwork, I think we can assume that you already have a team in Microsoft Teams 😊.
To create a new plan (or start working with the one that’s already there) I believe you should start with adding a new tab in your team, see my old blog post about Tabs in Microsoft Teams.
When you click Planner, you will get the option to create a new plan or add an already existing plan. If it the first time you create a plan for the team you need to create it.
Once you have created a plan for a team you can also reach it under existing plans.
And voilà, a plan!
If you create a new plan from the planner hub you can create it for your team if you click Add to an existing Office 365 Group and then pick your team (the group name is the same as the team name).
Simple overview of what you can do with a plan?
So, what can we do with a plan? Below I will show you the features. I will show everything from Microsoft Teams, but my experience is that what you can do with a plan is pretty much the same experience in Microsoft Teams as in the planner hub.
Let’s start looking at what interactions we have available in the right corner when we open a plan in a tab, starting from left.
Show tab conversation: Here you can see the conversation for the tab, this is like a chat - but the tab started it 😊. Here’s a good place to tag someone if you want them to have a look at the plan (before you start assigning tasks to people). You can see the same conversation under the conversation tab in the team channel.
Expand: This is the first thing I do when I work with a plan inside Microsoft Teams, this will make the plan sort of full screen.
Reload: To reload, good if you are more than one person working with the same plan simultaneously.
Go to website: Clicking this will open the plan in the planner hub, this is great if you want to see all your plans from different teams or all tasks assigned to you in one place.
…: Here you can get the link to the plan if you want to for example send it to someone or see more information about the tab.
Add a new bucket
The standard bucket is “To do” – but that's not very helpful when planning in my opinion. Here I’ve added some more buckets to understand what we are doing now.
To add a new bucket, click Add new bucket (this will be to the right of the last bucket).
Add a new task
After you have the buckets it’s time to actually start adding tasks! You click the +, enter a task name and click Add task (or enter).
To add more information to a task you need to open it, I prefer opening the full task by clicking the title of it. You can also click … of the task for more quick options.
These are the settings for a task:
Assign: You can assign tasks to people; you can only assign tasks to members in the team and if you assign the task to a non-member, they will become a member.
Bucket: You can drag and drop a task, but you can also change bucket here.
Progress: This isn’t very granular but at least we have some options; Not started, in progress and completed.
Start date: What it sounds like 😊.
Due date: Is there a due date for the task? Having a due date in the past will make the task stand out by making the date red.
Description: Here is where you add what the task is actually for, more details than the title. Possible to show this or checklist on the task.
Checklist: To add items to be checked off before the task is done. Microsoft thought this is the way of adding more options for a task, like a hierarchy for things to complete in a task. People I have talked with don’t really agree that this is a proper hierarchy. Possible to show this or description on the task.
Attachments: If you need to attach something to the task, you can attach links or from that specific team. Possible to show this on the task.
Comments: If you want to add a comment in the task, it's not possible to tag people here.
Labels (colours to the right): If you want to add a label to the task, you can name the labels. This is the way we can organize different kinds of task in more detail than a bucket.
Here’s a plan after adding a few more tasks which have more detailed info.
Organize the plan
The standard view for the plan is as a board, but you could also change it into charts or a schedule.
Charts will show you more details about the status, both for team members and progress on all tasks. If you have added start and due dates to your tasks the schedule view will show it all very nicely in a calendar view.
On filter and group by bucket you can change how you order the tasks.
How do I reach all my plans?
Either you reach your plans from the team channel where the tab has been added, click planner in the app launcher in Office 365 or you open https://tasks.office.com/. The last two option will open the planner hub and here you will get the full Planner experience 😊.
I will not go into detail about everything you can do in the planner hub but there you can add favourite plans, see the most recent plans you worked with and also see all the plans even if they don’t have a tab in Microsoft Teams.
What I like about the planner hub is that it’s easy to see if a plan belongs to team or not – as the plan Communication plan belongs to the team Amanda’s corp.
Under My tasks you can see all tasks assigned to you, which makes it easy to have one consolidated page of all tasks you should do.
An easy way to keep track of the tasks assigned to you
Earlier this year Microsoft made an integration between To-Do (which is an application for keeping track of personal tasks) and Planner. It is now possible to see both personal tasks from To-Do and tasks assigned to you from Planner inside To-Do! The first time you open To-Do you should get the option to also show tasks from Planner, I clicked yes!
Here’s how my To-Do app looks like, an overview of everything I need to do both personal and from my team, you can actually show flagged emails as well in Microsoft To-Do but that’s another story 😊.
There are pros and cons for Microsoft Planner just as with all apps, here some I find important.
+ Integration with my team in Microsoft Teams
+ Integration with Microsoft To-Do makes it easy to take control over my workday
+ Quick and simple to understand as there isn’t too much functionality to learn
- No hierarchy between tasks, I can’t create a master one with sub-tasks
- There is actually no garbage bin (I recently accidently deleted 15 tasks…)
- Not very granular when it comes to status of a task, it’s either 0%, 50% or 100%
- You can’t tag people in tasks
As long as we don’t forget that this isn’t a replacement for more advanced project tools, I really like Planner!