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Microsoft Planner, SharePoint and Teams: How and why to integrate them

You surely know that all the tools in the Microsoft 365 suite are now indispensable for any self-respecting digital workplace.

But do you also know that you can integrate them to unlock new features?

Let's see together what benefits you can gain from combining Microsoft Planner, Microsoft Teams and SharePoint Online!

Microsoft Planner: What it is and what it's for

Planner is the Office 365 (now Microsoft 365) tool created to manage a team's activities with flexible, customizable and, most importantly, collaborative work plans.

This means that all members of a project, initiative, department, or even the entire organization can access a single interactive planning space consisting of task boards and more.

Before we introduce this wonderful project management tool in detail, we want to tell you where it can be found.

In fact, your company can include Planner in its toolbox with virtually any Microsoft license, from Business to Enterprise.

This may already give you a clue to the importance of this application in the strategy of digitizing business processes and building an effective digital workplace.

Let us see together what features make it so special.

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Planner's special feature lies in its ability to divide the tasks that make up a project into categories called "buckets".

So far, it may seem trivial, but these categories are what makes the platform so popular within the Microsoft universe.

In fact, the buckets divide the plan into columns, each representing a different stage of progress. Within them, the buckets can house a considerable number of activity boards.

The latter are boxes dedicated to a specific activity in the project, which will have to move from one bucket to the next (again thinking of categories as progress states) until it is completed.

Each bucket shows essential details, such as the user to whom the task is assigned, progress status, and due date.

In addition, bulletin boards can contain checklists, which are mini-tasks that must be cleared to complete the entire task.

Details of a task board on Microsoft Planner

Details of a task board on Microsoft Planner


In order to be able to organize the work plan and distinguish the different tasks that lodge in the same bucket, we recommend using subcategories.

Subcategories are nothing more than tags to be assigned to each activity bucket. Each of these tags is distinguished from the others by color and title. For example, you might tag some bulletin boards with the "Branding" tag in purple or the "Important" tag in a nice bright red (just to keep the priorities clear at all times).

Speaking of priorities, Planner message boards can contain more information than the ones just listed.

In fact, you can indicate the priority level of a task, but also add notes and comments, set the bulletin board as a repeat task (so you don't have to create it from scratch each time), and attach files from Microsoft Teams and SharePoint Online.

We will delve more deeply into the relationship between Planner and the tools in the Microsoft 365 suite in the chapters to follow.

Regarding the functionality of interactions with the platform content, you can change the way you view your work plans from the top navigation menu.

Among the options made available, you can decide to take stock about tasks and projects in two main modes:

  • Summary.

This is the default setting, which allows you to view at a glance the column buckets and the activity bulletin boards they contain.

Interestingly, to move a task to the next stage of progress, simply drag the relevant task board from one column to the next. You can then update the shared work plan with ease.

  • Graphic Summary.

With this setting, you can use different types of graphs to see how many tasks have not yet been started, how many are in progress, how many are behind schedule, and how many have been completed.

With the "Bucket" chart, you can view the status of different message boards by category, thus understanding which buckets contain the most overdue or completed activities.

Finally, you have the ability to examine the status of activities by user, so you can compare the productivity of team members (including you) over a given period of time.

 

Types of charts for viewing the status of tasks on Microsoft Planner

Types of charts for viewing the status of tasks on Microsoft Planner


In addition to the display modes just listed, Planner allows you to enter your work plans into the Outlook calendar.

To do so, simply click on the three dots in the navigation menu and select "Add Plan to Outlook Calendar", "Publish", and finally "Add to Outlook".

Now, you will be able to view tasks within "Other Calendars" on Outlook, so you will never miss a single deadline!

To conclude this brief introduction to Microsoft Planner, we would like to point out that the platform allows any user to create or join multiple schedules at the same time.

In fact, in the side menu, you will find the "Create New Plan" feature, along with sections on the home page (where all the workplans you are a member of are contained) and the personal area (where the activities of all the plans you have been assigned to are listed).

Having reached this point, we only need to continue by analyzing the possibilities of Planner's integration with tools that are equally fundamental for companies.

Let's talk about Microsoft Teams and SharePoint Online.

How to integrate Microsoft Planner and Microsoft Teams

Let's start by clarifying one thing: Every time you create a work plan in Planner, it automatically opens a Microsoft 365 group.

It is important to emphasize this fact because any Microsoft 365 group can be leveraged as a workgroup in the Teams app, in turn linking to a team site on SharePoint Online.

So, it triggers a chain reaction that allows users to communicate and collaborate by integrating the functionality of all these applications.

But let's focus now on Teams.

To place your work plans within the app, you need to add Planner as a tab. To do so, just click on the "+" in the top menu and add "Tasks".

You will thus apply the philosophy of "Teams as a platform," that is, you will turn the app famous for its real-time communication features into a complete collaboration space.

In fact, you will be able to accompany the agile management of your projects on Planner with chat messages, dedicated areas for meeting notes or general wiki, quick access to shared archives and SharePoint intranet.

This last feature is particularly interesting, since you will be able to attach in the task boards all files and content archived in your Teams group. Also, it should be noted that the archive on Microsoft Teams corresponds to an equal archive in the SharePoint team site linked to the group.

 

For more on this topic, we refer you to reading our article on integration between SharePoint Online and Microsoft Teams.

 

All of this is important to ensure the smooth, and more importantly secure, sharing of documents needed to carry out the activities of the plan.

Imagine if all members had to search for the files they need without having a central, integrated repository with all their work apps.

Hours of productivity (and sanity) gone up in smoke.

But the relationship between Planner and Teams does not end there.

News and updates made to an activity board or its related checklist are collected and highlighted in the "Activity" section of Teams. Here, due dates are also notified at the beginning of the week in which they are due!

And more: within Teams, Planner offers an additional way of viewing projects than the summary and graphical summary (seen in the previous chapter).

In fact, you can examine the number of current activities and their progress in the form of a list, a tabular setup similar to Excel.

Tabular display of project activities on Microsoft Teams

Tabular display of project activities on Microsoft Teams


Finally, if what has been said so far was not enough, we would like to remind you that each Microsoft 365 group (and therefore Teams) can create and have access to multiple work plans, either beyond the original one with which the group was created or beyond simply the first one with which the group has been equipped.

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How to integrate Microsoft Planner and SharePoint Online

The integration between SharePoint and Planner offers essentially two main benefits, which relate back to the two most important features of SharePoint Online, namely document management and internal communication.

Let's look at them in detail.

The first thing that needs to be said is that Planner can be inserted within any page of a SharePoint site thanks to the new specific web part.

Just click on "Edit" on a team or communication site page, click on "+" in one of the free sections, and finally add the "Planner" widget.

In this way, you will be able to:

  • Display all of your plan's bulletin boards within the SharePoint site, in both summary and graphical modes.
  • Improve team synchronization by highlighting the current status of the project and individual tasks.

Of course, you can always attach files and content from your SharePoint libraries and lists within activity boards.

However, Planner can be a game changer in publishing news and articles within the intranet.

You may have already thought of it, given the total flexibility of buckets and bulletin boards, but Microsoft's project management platform is perfectly suited to managing internal communication campaigns such as newsletters or special announcements.

Let's clarify this use case with a practical example to reproduce:

  1. Create an activity board in bucket 1, which is dedicated to the writing phase, and insert as an attachment the Word file with your text being processed.
  2. Move the bulletin board to bucket 2 for review. Here, members of your communications team responsible for reviewing and correcting completed drafts will come into play.
  3. If it becomes necessary, move the bulletin board to bucket 3. This column is in fact reserved for drafts that need to be corrected.
  4. Once fixed, move the bulletin board with the draft ready to be published to bucket 4.
  5. Finally, place the bulletin board with the now-published article back in bucket 5.

 

Schedule publishing tasks on SharePoint Online

Schedule publishing tasks on SharePoint Online


Crystal clear, right?

With one platform, equipped with all the necessary integrations, it will be easier to manage your company's publishing plan as a team.

To track communications of different types in one plan, remember that you can rely on subcategory tags. Use them to categorize the topics of your announcements, from the article for the global newsletter to the HR department's service notice.

In addition, you can always decide to expand or reduce the different publication stages, tailoring them to your needs. For example, you could add a 0 bucket where you could host all ideas and proposals for future articles and highlight them in special bulletin boards.

Finally, we want to emphasize that all Word files uploaded to Planner are automatically archived within the SharePoint team site linked to the group.

This means that all members can collaborate on writing and revising texts simultaneously or share tasks by taking advantage of the different levels of access that SharePoint offers (we tell you more about this topic in our article on SharePoint and its 7 main features).

If something later goes wrong with file collaboration, don't worry: SharePoint's document collections have a change history.

With her, you can access all previous versions of the file you are working on and decide to restore any of them.

The teamwork between Planner and SharePoint will save the output of all your news!


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Giuseppe Marchi

Microsoft MVP for SharePoint and Office 365 (now called Microsoft 365) since 2010, Giuseppe founded Dev4Side and intranet.ai with the aim of helping companies to have a simpler and more effective working environment thanks to Microsoft technologies. He works as a consultant for everything related to collaboration, intranet portals and Microsoft cloud platforms.

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