Microsoft Planner – The task tracker we deserve

For years, I have been a dedicated user of Trello as you may have seen in some blog posts. Recently, however, my team has been using O365 and Microsoft Teams in an effort to push Teams to its limit and get the most out of the integrations Microsoft has put together between all their tools.

In this case, I needed the ability to get some planning put together for a content calendar, so in came Microsoft Planner. Built right into O365, I was able to get started quickly and start assigning tasks. However, I quickly learned that this tool was the hero we deserve, not the hero we need.

A good start

There are some strengths in Planner that can help teams using O365:

  1. You can easily add a new planner to any given Teams channel as a new tab.
  2. It is really easy to add multiple buckets so that tasks can be grouped, similar to the lists you find in Trello.
  3. Tasks can be marked as complete within any given bucket and they are collapsed out of view in that bucket.
  4. Task can be updated through multiple progress states to support reporting.
  5. O365 integration means your team already has access right away and you can start assigning tasks to your team right away without having to invite anybody.
  6. Tasks can have labels, due dates, and multiple team members assigned.
  7. Task description can be shown or hidden on a per-task basis.
  8. Attachments can show as a preview on the card. Similar to Trello card covers.
  9. Activity on cards automatically triggers messages to the group which you can see in your Outlook group inbox.
  10. Users can toggle viewing the board from grouping by buckets to grouping by progress state, or by assigned user. This is helpful when trying to track down “To Do” items or items assigned to a specific user.
  11. The ‘Charts’ link allows a quick dashboard of task status and basic capacity tracking by showing a split of task assignment by team member.

Close, but just short

For all the strengths, most of the features fall just short of meeting the business needs of an organization.

  1. There is no ability to export the board or tasks. This means there is no way to share with other teams without adding them directly to your Team. Sometimes there may be an element of the Team’s work that needs to be able to be shared but the entirety of the Team’s content should not be accessible to other groups.
  2. The reporting lets you drill in to see a breakdown per user, but you can’t drill-in on progress status. Worse yet, the status in the dashboard graphic are hyperlinked to make you feel as if you could do this. While the Charts dashboard will tell you that 4 tasks are overdue, there is no way to see which 4 tasks are overdue. This seems like a pretty obvious “next step” you would expect a user to take if you are surfacing up status-based reporting.
  3. Due dates are able to be assigned, but there is no way to sort by due dates or view as a timeline in order to see what is coming up.
  4. You can assign coloured labels to cards, but there is no way to filter by these labels so not sure what this is for yet?
  5. Description and comment fields do not support the level of formatting available in Teams.
  6. There seems to be no way to add new progress states.
  7. Adding a new task automatically goes to the top of a bucket, and you can’t quickly move to the bottom. You need to manually drag down past all other tasks. There is also no way to click at the bottom of the list to add a new item.
  8. Accessing the Planner Hub lists the teams you belong to, but accessing the board from here will only access the default Planner board for the Team. If you have added a new Board as part of a channel, there is no way to access it. This despite the fact that clicking ‘My Tasks’ from the Planner tool will show you tasks from those other boards. This forces you to only access it from your Teams channel.

Why do we deserve this?

As with any product company, tools are invested in based on adoption and strategic importance. Low adoption of fringe tooling means little investment being made and strategic priority going elsewhere. If we want this tool to be good, we need to be vocal that it is important and get a lot of people using it.

However, this will be a tough hill to climb. There are already better tools out there which you can already integrate into Teams so Microsoft would have to invest a lot to catch up and pass best of breed tools.

The Microsoft O365 roadmap does indicate that investment is still being made here and some of the weaknesses identified will be solved eventually. For example, guest user access coming to Planner will solve the issue of sharing the plan with members outside the team. The timeline view was also very recently added into the development roadmap, indicating this shortcoming may be solved in a coming update.

The winning scenario

From what I can tell, this tool will work for you if what you need is to be able to share a digital sticky-note board among your close team and don’t want to invest the time or budget in other tools. For example, in my case, I needed the ability to have a list of things that I could order in priority and then put some flexible dates on it to get an idea of what happened when. It was annoying not to have a timeline or be able to export, but these were not high priorities for me right now. It works for now, but in just a few weeks with light tooling requirements I have already slammed against the limits multiple times.

This tool gets a plus from me for ease of integration to Teams, but overall it needs some love to take it to the next level for the Enterprise.

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