The tools you get when you subscribe to Microsoft Office 365 are great, and you get a lot of useful apps in one central place. Sometimes the number of apps can be confusing to joiners because they might seem redundant at first but if you work in a collaborative team (or if you’re a highly organized lone warrior), you might find working with Microsoft Planner useful.
What are Kanban boards used for?
Now, you might have heard about Kanban boards if you worked in Lean, Agile, DevOps or Scrum operations before and with this article, I quickly want to show you how you could transform your Microsoft Planner board to follow Kanban practices. The literal translation of the Japanese word kanban is “message board” or “billboard,” but nowadays it’s heavily leveraged as a virtual space for teams to assign tasks and track the status of same in a sticky-note fashion.
Coming back to Microsoft Planner, when you create a new “plan” you have to enter the name of the space and set up its privacy options. When you’re happy with the settings, you just need to confirm it all, and your new board is in front of you now.
Creating an efficient layout in Microsoft Planner
The default view for new boards is just one lane (called “bucket” in Microsoft Planner), but you can add more by clicking on “Add new bucket.” Of course, you can set up your board the way you need it to look like, but I usually go with a layout of four lanes.
This is the space where you keep track of ideas and everything that should be done sometime in the future without a clear priority and no due date for delivery. If someone happened to have nothing to do, they could proactively pick a task from this lane, and not idle around until a manager assigns them with a task.
This lane is for clearly defined deliverables with a due date and more information on how the product of the activity should look like. When people come in to work, they usually grab an item from the top of this lane and pull it to the “Doing” lane.
This lane is used to have a better overview of what is currently being worked on and by whom. Usage varies from team to team, but I’d say that a single person should not have more than two items in the “Doing” lane at the same time. If they need to re-prioritize their work, team members can push “neglected” tasks back to the “To-Do” lane and update the metadata to reflect their progress on this task.
After people have completed a task, they don’t need to call or send emails around, they just drag their item to the “Done” lane and check it to be completed. If a document had to be produced, they can easily attach it to the item and then set the item’s state to be “completed.” If it makes sense for workflow, you could also add another “In Review” between “Doing” and “Done”, but I wanted to keep it simple in the overview here.
Adding tasks to the board
Using the “+” button you can create new tasks and quickly name them. If you want to go further into detail, you can also open a larger view of the task and edit various metadata such as start date, end date, status, notes, detailed description, attachments, comments, and assign the task to a member of the team. In the normal view of the board, you can just drag and drop the items from one lane to another, as you see fit to keep a good overview. Using the “Charts” tab, you can also get a little bit of reporting and insight on what currently happens, in case you run highly complex projects with a lot of people involved.
No integration into Microsoft To-Do
Unfortunately, the tasks from Microsoft Planner are not also mirrored to Microsoft To-Do, but if a user is part of more than one project (plans), he or she could keep an overview of assigned tasks by navigating to the button “My Tasks” on the left sidebar of Planner. In here it will show all assigned tasks, from all projects (plans) they are part of.
It almost goes without saying but there are many Kanban and collaboration solutions out there, and you can use whichever you like most. The advantage of making use of Microsoft Planner is just that it’s already in your Microsoft Office 365 eco-system of data and apps and easily integrates with other apps in there. There is also a mobile app for Microsoft Planner to keep track on the business, no matter where you are. You can download it on iOS or Android.
If you haven’t used Microsoft Planner at all yet and want to understand it a little better you can check out the video below. You can get the Office 365 business tools starting at $5 per month and per user. Do you have tips to share? Feel invited to drop your pointers below in the comments. Thank you!
YouTube: Microsoft Planner – Review of mobile apps, deeper Office 365 integration + task automation
Photo credit: Nadja Schnetzler