Improvements to Planner integration with Microsoft Teams

One of the bugbears for users of Microsoft Teams is the challenges of Planner integration – or lack thereof.

In the early days of Teams, the Planner integration was very limited – it had no ability to see existing Plans that had been created, only those that it created.

As of present Teams production builds the frustration is that users need to keep navigating across to tabs within channels within teams in order to see their tasks – as any Plan created inside a channel would not show up under My Tasks inside of Planner and similarly users could not access My Tasks from within Teams.

There are two key improvements in this area, though not 100% feature complete.

Accessing My Tasks in Teams

To see My Tasks inside of Microsoft Teams you will need to switch to the developer preview mode. This can be done by clicking on your picture in the bottom left corner, navigating to About, and then selecting Developer preview.

You will then see the following warning:

Continuing will restart the Teams application and get you to sign in again. Not much will appear different except that the navigation on the left will now show three dots underneath the Files button.

Clicking this will now show the Planner app button.

And clicking this will now bring up the My Tasks from Planner inside the Teams interface, allowing you to group by progress or by plan.

Accessing Planner tasks from Teams in Planner

It seems like a no-brainer, but it is currently in progress.

At the moment the functionality is limited where I can see tasks from a Plan in a Teams channel, but not the Plan itself.

Notice in the screenshot below the names of the three Plans: Paradigm Solutions, Teams eBook, and Teams-Planner test. Now take a look under the My Tasks heading and you’ll see that there are tasks from a Plan called “Plan”, but then looking back at the Plans listing it’s not there.

Over at the Office 365 Roadmap you can see that some of these bits are in development and should be released to production early in 2018.

Hopefully the Planner team can keep up with the pace set by the Teams team for integration and development!

Using Microsoft Planner every day

Some time ago the Office 365 MVP community was made aware of something called “Project Highlander” which we were told was a team-based task management solution. This product became known as Microsoft Planner (aka Office 365 Planner).

Microsoft has for a long time had available Project Server and Project Online to provide organisations with enterprise-grade project management solutions, however they have been very costly solutions – even with the cloud model. The big issue with the Project suite is that unless users get trained on the product they generally craft relatively basic project plans and don’t utilise anything more than 5% of the feature set.

Beneath that the best that we could use in the Microsoft stack was Outlook tasks. And while Outlook tasks can be categorised, filtered, and even assigned to others – they are very basic in nature. Also who here doesn’t often head towards the “Dismiss All” button or keep snoozing their reminders.

Many organisations started to move towards other solutions that filled the void quite well, such as Trello. These offered a more agile way of working and were very team-driven, not just project-based.

This is where Microsoft Planner comes in – to ultimately bring back those customers that have implemented Trello or may be tempted to. And what’s great about Planner is that it doesn’t cost anything extra if you are already licensed for Office 365.

There are a number of frustrations I have with Planner that will be addressed on the roadmap (such as it’s mandatory connection to Groups – sometimes I don’t want a group, and the fact that tasks can’t be assigned to multiple people), so like with any Microsoft cloud product I simply put my hands out and eventually get what I want without having to do anything myself.

So let’s think about where Planner fits in to our working day…

The kind of people who generally use Office 365 are productivity workers and in this today’s workplace people are members of multiple teams, groups and projects. So we have a variety of things we’re working on at any one time.

There are also people who wear multiple hats (such as myself) and effectively are doing multiple jobs at the same time. So how do I use Planner to manage my tasks?

Let me put it this way: anyone who knows me also knows that I’m both highly disciplined and also frantic – I do not really have a middle ground. I’ve previously used Outlook tasks to manage my workload, but that didn’t help when it came to time allocation & management. I then switched to blocking out time within my calendar but that didn’t help with prioritisation. I’ve also tried using tasks lists in OneNote – but again this is a very me-centric solution and not ideal for team work management or visibility. I found it challenging to assign tasks to others, but also to provide visibility on what I was working on. Also within a team one of the most important things is accountability – and Planner brings that.

While there is no mobile or desktop app at this point I keep Planner open by browsing to https://tasks.office.com. This renders equally well on all mobile and desktop browsers.

What I see is my favourite plans as well as others that I am a member of:

To give you some context as to how these plans fit to gether:

Plan Description
My Work My individual tasks that don’t fit anywhere else. I am the only member of this plan.
CTO Any CTO level tasks that fall under me as the CTO-Cloud, or my colleague Nathan who is our CTO-UC. We are the only two members of this plan.
Management Where the senior managers of our business keep track of tasks and hold each other accountable. (We’ve only just started using it a week ago.)
Cloud Practice Team This is where I manage the primarily R&D tasks of the staff that report to me. Most of their scheduling is done in our service management platform so this is for anything else.
Sales Team Set up by our sales manager only a day ago so I’m yet to see how this turns out.
Pre-Sales For the pre-sales team that is managed by myself and my colleague Nathan (the CTO-UC). We actually set up a Group but got a Planner with it – so we’re yet to use the latter functionality.
Base Working Group Where those involved in the development of our intranet collaborate.

What I do love about using Planner is that whenever I’m in a meeting and we’re assigning tasks and actions to each other – instead of having to wait for the minutes to be circulated someone just had to put them straight in to Planner. This is very powerful when you don’t bring a notebook to a meeting (I’m firmly against bringing or having a notebook open unless you’re actually taking notes – I’m sick of looking at the tops of people’s heads when I’m talking to them) so you can just keep it open on a mobile and assign tasks from there:

Where a task belongs to me I assign it to myself so that it shows up in the “My tasks” view which I can then group my progress or plan (the screenshots are blurred to protect my super-secret content):

One thing to be wary of when looking at this yourself is that when you mark a Plan or Group as a favourite that will be reflected in Outlook with no way to remove it there:

I envisage that over time I will be a member of more Plans and Groups as they are a simpler way to collaborate and communicate without the overhead of a SharePoint team or project site. While those are still incredibly valuable and beneficial and ultimately the different toolsets (including Yammer Groups) will also come together over the next 6 months – at this point before going down one path or the other you do need to consider what is best for your team/group, what features they need, and how adaptable they will be to potentially changing down the track.

What I can tell you though is that Planner has changed the way I work dramatically. Using Delve Analytics to look at the patterns and usage of my email and calendar I quickly identified that a simpler way for me to work was to block out “focus time” in my calendar and then refer to my tasks in Planner for what I need to do there.

People around me are starting to get the Planner “bug” and starting to use it heavily as well. All it took was a few minutes to read up on how to use it (or watch a video), have a quick test – and BAM they were power users.

If you already use Office 365 – I urge you to look at Planner as I’m sure it will change how you manage your day.