Microsoft Planner Enters the Project Management Toolscape

We love hearing about new tools (if you couldn’t tell). On June 6 when Microsoft announced its launch for Microsoft Planner, I was interested immediately. A little about me, my name is Danny and I do marketing research at Stacklist. I’m also a Microsoft advocate (I do all of my work from their Surface Pro 4) so I expect a lot from their new project management tool.

I read their blog and was wooed by their showcase video.

Looks a lot like another popular tool we know and love, doesn’t it?

I’m talking about Trello, of course. I use Trello every day. It’s the first thing I check when I get to work so I know what projects I need to work on and what needs to get done for the day. Trello is very intuitive and can be just as complex as you want it to be. When founders and CEOs of startups are looking for a project management tool, they’re looking for something that allows collaboration amongst their team so there’s feedback on ongoing projects. They’re also looking to make sure everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals efficiently. Often, Trello or other project management tools are a company-wide solution with boards focused on team level collaboration around their respective projects and tasks.

We also see startups using Trello and other project management tools to automate very specific and discreet business workflows.

Nick Petit, Founder & CEO of Kahoots App uses a combination of Intercom, Slack and Trello to handle support tickets and track bugs.

“Intercom collects our feedback, then we use Slack to drive awareness of it and distribute it internally. We use Trello to categorize the feedback as bugs, modifications or enhancements.”

And Joshua Goldstein, Co-founder of Underdog told us about how they use Trello to run their entire recruitment workflow.

".… We already live in Trello for engineering and product tasks, so it seemed like a natural fit for recruiting, as well. Our recruiting workflow inside Trello looks like this: Inside our board, we have six columns: (1) Initial contact, (2) Schedule follow-up, (3) Waiting for reply, (4) Interview scheduled, (5) Extended offer, and (6) Closed thread. We move candidates from columns 1-6 depending on where they are in the process. We use Trello’s “Deadline” feature as a due date for reminder emails."

These tool combos and integrations help save hours in a week for businesses, which is so important for startups as you focus on growth. With the addition of Planner, Microsoft is making more cross-tool integrations for workflows within small businesses. Yammer and OneNote are a couple of other the more noteworthy product additions that could support these workflows and make Office 365 more attractive to startups and more conducive to modern practices for collaboration.

As an Office 365 user, with a home account and an education account, I thought I would try out Planner and give it the first Stacklist review. Spoiler alert - I didn’t actually get to use the product, but the process of trying to access the product brought to light some pretty important points about collaboration software.

From their blog post, June 6 “marks the general availability of Microsoft Planner. Over the next several weeks, Planner will roll out to eligible Office 365 customers worldwide.” After visiting the Microsoft Planner page, and checking my Office tools for Planner, I couldn’t find it. This was a problem, and I needed answers. I’ve solved issues before using their live chat customer support, with quick and very delightful experiences. If you ever connect with Zandra, she’s awesome.

The first Microsoft Answer Tech I connected with was Garrett. When I asked him how I could get Microsoft Planner, he responded, “planner?” I then linked him to their blog page, to which he responded with a number to call.

Not very helpful.

I closed the chat and forgot to take down the number, so I connected again. Manoj connected with me and when I asked him how to get Planner, he gave me an answer 10 minutes later (he apologized for the delay so I didn’t mind). For an Office 365 user to get Planner you need a Premium plan. For someone with a Business or Education subscription I was told to “contact my administrator.”

Which made me think about some of the most popular and well-reviewed products out there for startups - they’re really accessible. Even if they’re not freemium, they’re certainly not in a walled garden and it’s generally easy to get colleagues onboarded. And this accessibility is practically and philosophically fundamental to collaboration.

This seems like a good time to mention another great thing about Trello, it’s free.

If you’re looking for the best project management tool for your startup, Microsoft Planner could be a good choice if you are in their ecosystem already. If not, check out these other tools you could use. Each of them have their own pros or cons, so it depends on your business and your team. One of my favorite quotes about tools is from AJ Solimine, Co-founder & CEO of Nitrous, “project management tools depend heavily on the “Project Manager” --there really needs to be one singular owner who forces everyone on the team to use the same tool. Otherwise things break down easily because everyone has their preferred tools and workflow.”