Posey's Tips & Tricks

Microsoft To Add Planning Capabilities to Office 365

Office 365 Planner looks to ease the complications of project management.

Sometimes it feels as though every time I blink, Microsoft is adding something new to Office 365. That's not exactly a bad thing for companies that are looking to get a lot of bang for the bucks that they invested in Microsoft Office 365, but sometimes the pace of innovation can be almost overwhelming. Recently for example, Microsoft announced Office 365 Planner, an online collaboration tool for Office 365 customers.

Office 365 Planner differs from the other collaboration tools that exist in Office 365 in that it is geared toward project management. Microsoft has not yet released Office 365 Planner, but it has provided enough information to allow IT pros to get a good feel for some of its features and capabilities.

The one thing that really struck me about Office 365 Planner is that it seems to have been designed to provide project management capabilities for the masses. Let me explain what I mean by that.  

Although I'm sure that some of you already know this, project management is more involved than simply delegating tasks to team members, project management can actually be ridiculously complicated. There are entire certification programs for those who aspire to do project management.

Given this information, it should really come as no surprise that some of the project management applications on the market come with a really steep learning curve. Microsoft however, seems as though they are trying to keep things relatively simple for those who do not do project management for a living. It remains to be seen whether or not Office 365 Planner will be robust enough to take on some of the more advanced aspects of project management. But based on early reviews it seems that Microsoft has done a good job of making Office 365 Planner intuitive enough that the average user should be able to use it to coordinate simple projects.

Anything could potentially change by the time that Microsoft makes Office 365 Planner available, but for right now Microsoft has indicated that they will be using a concept called Boards and Cards.

Boards represent individual projects. In any large organization there are always multiple projects being worked on simultaneously. Therefore, each board is essentially a project workspace. It has been said that the concept of a board came from organizations that use whiteboards to organize projects.

The concept of a card is a bit more abstract. If a board is an object, then a card is an attribute of that object. Realistically, a card can be almost anything that is related to a project. In many cases, a card will represent a task, although it could also represent project related resources.

In the real world, there are certain attributes associated with tasks. For example, a task consists of a description of what needs to be done, who the task is assigned to, and when the task needs to be completed. These same attributes can be assigned to cards (there are a number of other attributes that are also available). It is even going to be possible to attach documents to cards.

Admittedly, some organizations that do not want to fully delve into hard core project management use Microsoft OneNote to keep track of projects. Interestingly enough, each plan has a corresponding OneNote notebook that can be used to collaborate on projects.

Of course this raises the question of whether Office 365 Planner offers any advantages beyond just using OneNote for project collaboration. There actually are a couple of advantages.

For starters, because Office 365 Planner is integrated into Office 365, it means that it will presumably be tied into things like Yammer and Exchange online. This integration lays the ground work for project related discussions, e-mail notifications, etc.

The other advantage provided by Office 365 Planner (besides having been specifically designed for project management) is that Office 365 Planner will feature a dashboard view called Hub View. Hub View will allow those who are involved in a project to monitor the project's progress through a series of charts and graphics.

As of right now, Office 365 Planner has not yet been released and there is a limited amount of information available regarding its features and capabilities. Even so, the screen captures and the various details that have been released so far make it apparent that Office 365 Planner is going to be very helpful to those who are tasked with managing a project.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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