Microsoft is on a roll. In 2016, it seems as if I hear about a new Microsoft product launching every week and new applications of these products are in my inbox daily. Microsoft Planner is one of their latest launches and quite few of my customers have asked me about it. Honestly, I was a bit stumped.
As a Microsoft technology professional, the emergence of yet another planning tool from Microsoft threw me for a bit of a loop. Why? Outlook tasks, Microsoft Project, SharePoint, OneNote, LCS…. I could go on all day. What is different about Microsoft Planner? Is this something our project-oriented customers in large enterprise companies could use?
Let’s take a look at the product and then explore some potential use cases.
Overview of Microsoft Planner
On first look, I can see one thing for sure. It is simple by design. It could easily be used by an individual to manage personal or work projects, but it really shines when used by teams or groups. A team will be able to collaborate on projects and share related calendars, contact lists, files and more. Interestingly enough, it utilizes all of the products I mentioned earlier. It leverages OneNote, SharePoint, Outlook and other tools in the background, but the user gets a simplified, visual experience.
Per Microsoft, the addition of Planner to the Office 365 lineup introduces a new and improved way for businesses, schools and organizations to structure teamwork easily and get more done. With Planner, teams can create new plans; organize, assign and collaborate on tasks; set due dates; update statuses and share files, while visual dashboards and email notifications keep everyone informed on progress.
As goes the Microsoft strategy, Microsoft Planner works across desktops, smartphones and other devices to enable an anywhere, anytime collaborative experience. Further development is also planned, as Microsoft explains: ‘Some of the new features we plan to introduce over the next few months include the ability to assign a task to multiple users, external user access, plan templates, customizable boards and apps for iOS, Android and Windows’.
Sounds good so far. Check out this video of Microsoft Planner published by Microsoft:
Microsoft Planner Video Demos
Below is another video from Microsoft that focuses more on the business user. Check out this “hands on demo” hosted by Jeremy Chapman, Director of Office 365 at Microsoft and Sajan Parihar, Director, Office Apps at Microsoft. They dig into the mechanics of the solution in more detail and really focus on how a business might take advantage of it.
Is Microsoft Planner Ready for Enterprise Project Management?
I’ll admit. I was surprised at how such a simple tool could provide so much value. I love the charting and hub screens as well as the option to display sub-tasks in the main view. I would like to see a few more options, like “drag and drop” from Outlook and the ability to work backwards from OneNote, but I already see a wide range of use cases inside our own company for Microsoft Planner.
What I don’t see is Microsoft Planner replacing enterprise project management solutions any time soon. Large complex projects are never as simple as good task management. Our project-oriented customers require much more, including things like:
- Integration with ERP (like Microsoft Dynamics AX)
- Management of Complex Contracts
- Revenue Recognition Management
- Integration to Billing and Expense Tracking
- Resource Allocation
- Multi-Company and Multi-Country Support
- Advanced Analytics and Power BI
- Regulatory Compliance Management
- Project Hierarchies
- Forecasting and Utilization Measurements
This is only a short-list of the functionality project-oriented companies require in an enterprise project management solution and are not in the feature line-up for Microsoft Planner. So, for non-billable projects, Microsoft Planner can be a great solution. For Billable projects or large projects that require careful asset, time and resource tracking, a true enterprise project management solution is still the right answer. SBS has extended Microsoft Dynamics AX to meet the unique needs of large project-oriented companies with our AXIO Professional Services for Dynamics AX solution. This is on an entirely different level from Microsoft Planner, but relevant to the conversation nonetheless.
My advice would be to give it a try on small internal projects. It could be a great catalyst for helping teams that don’t normally take advantage of collaboration tools to get a taste of the potential benefits. We’ll see what the coming months bring for Microsoft Planner and see if the future offers more enterprise-level functionality.
How do you get access to Microsoft Planner?
Currently, only Office 365 “First Release” customers have access to Microsoft planner. First Release customers are early adopters who then give Microsoft feedback in order to improve user experience. If you are interested in signing up to be a First Release consumer, just sign in to your Office 365 account and toggle your service settings in the admin center. Keep an eye out for customizations on these screens, so you can decide whether this applies to just you or other users as well.
Robbie Morrison VP Services, SBS Group