Microsoft Planner is rolling out on Office 365

Microsoft Planner — the work management complement to Office 365 — was made available as a preview in December 2015, but has entered ‘general availability’, meaning it will become immediately accessible to users of eligible subscription plans. In Office 365, it will appear as another tile in the Office 365 tools (see the leftmost tile in the second row, below).
Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 3.41.04 PM
Microsoft Planner is a task-centric work management solution, despite the ‘project management’ terminology other reviewers are using. The orientation of the tools is to support teams and team members tracking tasks and coordinating task work through social communications.
Planner is one of several task-oriented solutions that Microsoft is working to integrate, including Wunderlist and Microsoft Project. Conceptually, this means that users will be able to manage personal tasks (in Wunderlist), team work (in Planner), and to manage project planning (in Microsoft Project), and for these to be integrated in sensible ways. So for example, it might be helpful if I could see my work-related tasks, perhaps created and annotated in Planner, in a mobile Wunderlist app. Or to analyze the cost implications for a shift in personnel in a Planner project within the portfolio of company projects managed in Microsoft Project. That’s one part of the company’s long-range vision for Planner and the other tools manipulating task information. But it is going to be a long time before all the kinks and use cases are worked out for that grand vision. And at any rate, ultimately Planner will have to stand on its own, based on how good of a work management tool it is.
And that assessment poses another issue. If Planner requires Office 365 in order to use it — or even experiment with it — many prospective users will simply never jump through the hoops to try it out. I have raised that very issue with Microsoft representatives this year, as I was being briefed on the product. My suggestion is that Microsoft should create a standalone version of planner — at least a web app, if not mobile apps — so that an individual, team, or company could do an apples-to-apples comparison with Asana, Trello, or Wrike, and not the apples-to-oranges comparison with the umpty-ump boxes in that Office image, above. Also, that is the best way for Planner’s functionality to improve — in head-to-head competition — and not as a captive work management ‘capability’ locked into Office 365, relying on its integration with Office email, Outlook, Groups, and other tools.
The following is a condensation of the review of Planner from the in-process 2016 Work Management Narrative (much delayed), that I am authoring.
Planner is based on the well-known kanban-style, ‘board’ architectural model, and three modes of boards are supported at present: user-defined ‘buckets’, task assignment to members, and progress. As shown in the screenshot below, there is a left hand column where I have selected a plan, in this case Work Management Narrative, and I chose to display that plan as Buckets, not by Progress or Assigned to. In the ‘research tools’ bucket there is a single task, ‘research Microsoft Planner’, which shows icons indicating 0 of 2 subtasks have been completed, that there are comments, and the task has been assigned to Stowe Boyd. The half moon icon indicates that the task is in progress, a third state for tasks: unstarted, in progress, and completed.
Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 5.27.27 PM
Clicking on ‘write method section’ expands that task (or, in the usual terminology, turns over the ‘card’), as we see in the screenshot below. At the foot we see a stream of comments — the one with a white background was entered in an associated discussion, about which more later. There are a variety of other attributes, showing a rich task model, however, lacking support for some common social communications like ‘@mentions’.
Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 4.03.56 PM
What’s not clear from this zoom into Planner is that the ‘work management narrative’ plan corresponds to a Office 365 group of the same name. Groups support group-oriented communications, but those are not accessed in the Planner section of Office 365.
I believe that Planner users will find the need to return to Outlook to conduct conversations about their projects annoying, as opposed to the more normal model of an in-context — or best, in-project — activity stream. I bet that Microsoft will hear this as a frequent suggestion for additional Planner functionality. However, I often operate in multiple windows on the same project workspace, and so, having a conversation window and a Planner board view open at the same time is really not very different, and may be workable for many. Note also that if Microsoft builds a standalone version of Planner there will be no Outlook to lean upon, so an in-context activity stream or chat model would be best.
Office 365 users are likely using the spectrum of features — Outlook, OneDrive, Office apps, Groups, OneNote, and Planner — and therefore will rapidly habituate to transiting the many loosely integrated components, and will likely adapt to a model of use involving a lot of moving around. 
By itself, Planner would only be considered a team task management tool, not a true work management tool, since it lacks activity streams, @mentions, and other baseline social communications. However, that’s a red herring, since Planner — at present — is never without Groups and Outlook, and can’t be separated from them.

At present, I think the initial implementation of charts is a better indicator of where Planner is headed. In the screenshot below I’ve pulled an example from the Microsoft website (since my examples aren’t rich enough), and this shows the ease of quickly grasping the status of a Planner ‘document’ through a dashboard view.
charts planner
I also want to give a nod to the designers of Planner for including the three state model for task status: not started, in progress, and completed. The in-progress state is incredibly powerful, and after using it in some tools, I now chafe whenever confronted with a solution that lacks it.
Planner is an obvious choice for those already committed to Office 365 as a baseline for work productivity. However its current level of integration with Office 365 services — like Outlook, OneDrive, and OneNote — falls short of work management nirvana. Still, it’s early days, and when I reviewed it the product was only in a ‘First Use’ release phase.
I can imagine that within a very short time frame the myriad hooks that could make Planner a first-class member of the Office 365 suite will begin to emerge. I wager that creating tasks from email, or in the comments of a Groups or OneDrive comments — as just some of the most obvious examples — will be implemented within the next few releases, or sooner.
 

Planning Tool Ganttic Gets Streamlined, Now Easier to Use

When I last looked at online planning tool Ganttic last year, I was pleased with its functionality, but less impressed with the app’s user interface, which made it tricky to get to grips with. Since then, however, Ganttic has been redesigned with a greatly streamlined interface

Evaluating the Costs of Collaboration

At first glance, web-based collaboration tools can seem cheap: Basecamp’s price of $49/month sounds good in comparison with $599.95 for Microsoft Project 2010. However, 12 months on Basecamp is $588. You need to dig a little deeper in order to consider all of the costs.

3 Microsoft Project 2010 Productivity Enhancements

As a longtime user, I’ve seen that one of the biggest obstacles to users adopting Microsoft Project (s msft) is the app itself. It’s quite a complex application, and so it’s due for a productivity makeover to help it become more accessible to users who aren’t PMI certified.

The launch of the Microsoft Office 2010 Beta brings with it a number of changes. Here are some of its productivity enhancements:

Visually Enhanced Timeline View. Because the Gantt chart can be a miss with some audiences, the multiple and enhanced view options in Project 2010 should help project leads communicate project scheduling and status data to stakeholders and clients. Read More about 3 Microsoft Project 2010 Productivity Enhancements

Project Management Tools: Beyond Gantt Charts

In my career as a contract technical writer, a project management pain point I’ve seen time and time again is in the communications of project schedules and status. The venerable Gantt chart is a project management staple, but stakeholders without formal project management training may find them difficult to understand.

When I’ve run up against clients and project stakeholders who didn’t understand (or want to understand) a Gantt chart, I take a consultative approach and work with them to see how they want to receive project scheduling and related status information. I believe that as a remote worker, any project scheduling and status data I communicate back to my employer or client has to stand on its own, without the need for further explanation by me.

In this post I am going to round up some alternatives to Gantt charts that I’ve used to communicate project scheduling and related information. Read More about Project Management Tools: Beyond Gantt Charts

6 Considerations When Moving to a Web-based Project Management Tool

Like many web workers, I cut my project management teeth on applications like Microsoft Project (s msft) and OmniGroup OmniPlan — I respect the role of the Gantt chart. However, project management is no longer just the domain of the project manager — it should involve everyone on the team. Web-based project management tools like Basecamp, LiquidPlanner (reviewed by Mike), Team Effect (reviewed by Charles) and Teambox (reviewed by Meryl) democratize project management data and make it available for everyone.

If you’re moving to a web-based project management tool from MS Project, which one of the many available do you choose? Here are some considerations to take into account: Read More about 6 Considerations When Moving to a Web-based Project Management Tool

Microsoft Project 2010 Promises Significant Improvement

Picture 19 Microsoft Project (s msft) is frustrating. Although it’s still a very good planning and project management tool, it’s tricky for non-PM professionals to get the hang of, and it hasn’t seen any significant updates in a very long time — while its (mainly online) competitors have been improving apace. Hopefully, that frustration should be eased next year, when Project 2010 is launched. Project 2010, officially announced today at the Microsoft Project Conference in Phoenix, looks like it will include significant improvements to the user experience, coupled with better integration with other Microsoft products.
I had a chance to speak to Senior Director of Product Marketing for Project, Seth Patton, prior to the announcement to get the lowdown on the new version. Patton says that it will be significantly easier for non-PM professionals to use, with an interface that includes the Office ribbon and a wizard-like Task Inspector that will make it easier to discover Project features without overwhelming the user, while at the same time retaining (and building on) the functionality that seasoned Project pros need. Simple collaboration will be available via SharePoint (so companies won’t necessarily need to shell out  for Project Server), and Project now integrates tightly with Visual Studio and Dynamics. The Project product range will also be streamlined, with a clear pathway to more advanced project and portfolio management capabilities as business needs change.
If you’re growing tired of the lack of updates to Project and are considering switching to one of its online competitors, you might want to hang tight until you can give this new version a run for its money. Somewhat annoyingly, Microsoft hasn’t made a beta available with the announcement, so you can’t try it out just yet; according to Patton, the public beta (which you can sign up for here) is due to land “before the end of the calendar year.” The final release should happen early next year, to coincide with the main Office 2010 launch.
Are you looking forward to Project 2010? Or have the lack of updates to the product forced you to jump ship?

Quick Tip: Increase iPhone Typing Speed & Accuracy

One day while walking and texting I had a revelation: I discovered an entirely new way to type on the iPhone (s aapl) and cannot believe that it had not occurred to me earlier. My old method of typing, which I am guessing is how most people type on the iPhone, involved me looking at the letters that I was typing, not at what I was actually writing.

Now, I “touch type” when I’m typing. Instead of looking at the letters when I type, I look at where I am typing (exactly like I do on my computer). This method has drastically improved both my typing speed and accuracy. Before I switched to my touch-typing method, I would send SMS messages riddled with mistakes because the iPhone would auto-correct words and often times change the entire meaning of the message. You should definitely give it a whirl; it sounds more difficult than it actually is, your hands just know where the keys are though, and it takes no time to adjust! Read More about Quick Tip: Increase iPhone Typing Speed & Accuracy

Discovery: Full-Episode Streaming Over Our Dead Bodies

While paying lip service to Hulu is something even its non-partners like CBS (s CBS) do on a regular basis, long-form distribution of TV shows is still a surprisingly controversial idea for some. Discovery Communications (s DISCA) in particular advocates a strategy that could be described as the opposite of Hulu.
Discovery CEO and President David Zaslav said in an on-stage interview at the NAB Show in Las Vegas today that he didn’t see an economic model for free web distribution of long-form content. He said he’d only distribute episodes online if circumstances forced him to, and so far the numbers aren’t significant enough. “If people start watching content on mobile phones and on the web in droves, we will have to go there or we will lose market share.”
I asked him off-stage when that day might be, and his response was an emphatic “Hopefully never!” He described a la carte online content consumption, where fans identify more with shows than the channels they run on, as the antithesis of Discovery’s niche brand strategy.
Read More about Discovery: Full-Episode Streaming Over Our Dead Bodies