Author: James Wells – Head of Digital Curriculum, Middlesbrough College

Over the past couple of years, Microsoft Planner has transformed working practices in my department, helping to streamline workflows and reduce unnecessary communication. For those who haven’t used Planner before, think of it as a stripped-back project management tool, focussing less on generating complex timelines, relationships and analytics and more upon simple task assignment, succinct communication and over-arching data views. You are able to attach Planner to Microsoft Teams, or use it as a standalone product within Microsoft 365.

Tasks are assigned using buckets and can be organised in whichever way you want. For example, my personal planners have buckets for each of the main projects I am working on, as does the overall department Planner. Another common organisation method is to allocate one bucket to each member of staff, assign specific tasks to each bucket and then every member of the team is aware of what each other is working on and how they are progressing. Access is democratic, allowing all users to report on their progress and tick off jobs as they are completed.

Board view

Board view of Planner displaying categorised cards of tasks

As well as assigning tasks, Planner provides some broad data-driven overviews of how many tasks have been completed, how many remain, and if you are working in a team, how many each specific person has completed, is on target with or is behind schedule with.

Chart View

Chart view of Planner displaying progress and priority of tasks

Of course, Planner is not the only version of this card-based project management software available. Asana, Jira and Trello all perform similar functions, albeit with individual specialisms (Jira for example is used primarily for software development). Prior to using Planner, a colleague and I ran a project with a group of Games Design students who were exploring the use of augmented reality in education. To manage this project we used Trello, which was not only beneficial from a coordination perspective, it also noticeably enhanced the productivity of the student team. Many of these students enjoyed working in this structured manner so much that they started using the approach to complete projects and coursework in other lessons.

The biggest benefit I find in using Planner is that it allows me to move away from organising tasks and projects using email, calendar and Teams communications, helping me and my department to move away from what Computer Scientist and author Cal Newport (2021) refers to as the “Hyperactive Hive Mind”. Essentially this is the burdensome, sub-optimal workflow of having your email or instant message client constantly open to work on projects or tasks, and whilst doing so being frequently forced to switch context by responding to or even just viewing non-related communications from other contacts. All organisation and communication can be achieved within Planner, limiting the need for using these other potentially distracting tools.

Individual Card View

Individual task view of Planner displaying all the information relating to a task

If you find yourself increasingly disheartened at the prospect of your bulging inbox or ever-increasing Teams notifications, Planner might be something worth considering streamlining your workflows whilst leaving the autonomy of your work execution untouched.

References

Newport, C. (2021) A world without email. UK: Penguin Business.


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