We absolutely love Microsoft Teams. While it's important to understand its capabilities and deploy it in the correct circumstance, once that's taken care of, it's a fantastic (not so) little tool.
Teams integrates with a lot. And more integrations are coming online every day. But one of the most powerful core integrations is with Microsoft Planner.
Personally, I've been looking for a team-based, engaging productivity tool for a long time. During my time with a U.S. technology house, we had a nice little proprietary app that we'd built for handling team collaboration and task management.
I've tried a lot of different solutions over the years, probably way too many to count, but nothing quite came up to the good ole system our devs knocked together over a weekend to stop us sales & admin folks from killing each other, and them.
Fast forward 10 years and enter Teams coupled with Planner. While not perfect, Teams brings some serious power to the table while Planner gives everyone from the top down the information they need to do their jobs.
Planner is a visual task management tool specifically designed for individuals and small teams to share tasks and manage work utilising several different visual representations of the data they are working on.
Teams expands this with real-time chat and collaboration functionality and serves as the central hub for everything your team needs, tightly integrated with Office 365.Your team can communicate in the moment with HD video calls, screen sharing, real-time whiteboards, real-time document collaboration and much, much more.
It seems a no-brainer to stick these two together, and that's exactly what Microsoft did.
In this blog post, I'll explore how these two handy apps work together, and walk you through the steps necessary to implement Teams and Planner for your organisation.
Before you start
Before you start, you'll need to make sure your entire team has the correct licenses installed.
While there are a few Office 365 plans which include Teams, our recommendation for growing organisations is to license it through an Office 365 Business plan, either Essentials or Premium.
This gives you access to all the entire Office range of tools, including the Old Venerables, Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Premium gives you downloadable, installable desktop versions while Essentials is online-only, but both give you access to Teams and Planner, so choose whichever best suits your organisation.
Off to the races – A plan to add a tab
This brings up a modal window where you can choose to create a new plan or attach this channel to an existing plan, depending on your workflow.
I chose to create a new plan using the naming convention established for CloudPlanet, being the associated domain name following by entity name, in this case 'Tasks'.
I also chose to post to the channel about this, so everyone knows that there has been a new Tasks tab added for them to start using. Clicking 'Save' sets things in motion and brings you into your new tab to begin adding buckets and tasks.
Add a task and chuck it in a bucket
Inside each plan, there are two further levels of sub division, being Buckets and Tasks. Buckets act as loose groupings for tasks, allowing team members to keep organised.
When you add a plan, a default 'To do' bucket is added for you. You can either keep this for your general tasks, or rename it to fit your naming conventions and project structure. To add a new bucket, click the 'Add new bucket' button and type in a bucket name.
Adding a task then is as easy as clicking the plus icon underneath the corresponding bucket, entering a task name and clicking 'Add task'.
Tasks can then be simply drug to another bucket as needed.
And unfortunately, here enters our one criticism of the Teams/Planner integration. While it is to be expected that Teams wouldn't include full Planner functionality, there are a few things missing that would make life so much easier, such as the ability to sort the tab view the way you can in Planner or even just see a list of all 'My Tasks' across all channels in one place.
For that, you have to actually use the Planner app itself. Not so bad I guess, just a slight annoyance.Launching Planner sees the new plan, buckets and tasks that you just created in Teams all loaded up and ready for you to start working with. And (yay!) the 'My Tasks' view will show you only your tasks, filtered just the way you like them.
Collaborate, communicate, dominate
So far so good, but the real power comes in the detail (metadata) you can add for each task. All the standard stuff, like start date / due date, etc., but each task can also have its own set of attachments, a sub-checklist to keep track of the specific steps necessary to complete the task and a full real-time discussion thread so your team can get the information they need, when they need it, using a medium that keeps everyone in the loop.
Tasks can be endlessly reassigned, so bouncing tasks back and forth between team members is a snap and completed tasks are kept out of sight but within easy reach for cloning, incident analysis or performance review.
Once a task has been created, clicking on the task brings up an edit modal. Assigning the task is done at the top of the modal window, directly underneath the title. Below that, you can choose the bucket, progress status, start and due dates and add a description.
To add a checklist item, simply click on the words 'Add an item' to the right of the tick box, pressing the enter key on your keyboard to save that checklist item and create a new line ready for the next item.
Attachments are added directly below this, and can consist of both files and links to other Internet websites.
You can also choose to reveal any of this information on the Kanban card.
Ok cool, but what's that mean for me?
Using all of these features together makes your team more efficient, ensures positive project outcomes, keeps geographically diverse team members in the loop and ensures that everyone is on the same page, working on the same versions of the same documents and getting their work done on time and on budget.
Sounds pretty good, but let's take a minute and put this into a real-world scenario.
Let's take Sally, an imaginary small business owner with a growing mobile accountancy practice. Sally has one administrative assistant taking care of all her office work and four mobile accountants under her who are providing on-site accountancy services.
A new client comes on board, so Sally creates a task for her administrative assistant to begin the account setup process. This task has several predefined checklist items, some of which spawn further tasks for other members of the team.
One such task is 'Discovery', which is assigned to a junior team member, who sets the task status to 'in progress' and begins to work through that task's checklist.
A week later, Sally is utilising the powerful visual data analysis included with Teams and notices that the afore-mentioned Discovery task is still 'in progress' but is coming up to its due date, and so is able to immediately follow up, proactively solving a problem before it becomes a problem.
That's just one small example, but works well to illustrate the power of Teams and Planner combined. Not only does the increased task visibility and management empower teams to effectively manage their projects, but the powerful interactive chat and collaboration features have a well-known downstream impact on morale and performance.
Happy staff get more done, and providing the tools they need to do their job and have fun doing it are going to go a long way towards keeping staff happy.