Office 365 Planner is here … and it’s awesome!

If you follow any of Microsoft’s Office 365 blogs, Yammer groups or Twitter accounts you’ll know that their cloud based project management and planning tool, Office 365 Planner, has launched this week to tenants on the appropriate plans (Office 365 Enterprise E1, E3, E4, E5, Office 365 Education, Office 365 Education E3 and E4, Office 365 Business Essentials and Business Premium).

If you are a regular SharePoint user you may have noticed the green Planner tile appear in the Office 365 launcher when you click on the launcher icon at the top left of your Office 365 window.

This product has been in development for some time and has been on beta preview to ‘First Release’ customers since December 2015.  Now finally it has launched and it was certainly worth the wait!


Office 365 plans are linked to ‘modern groups’ which provide a collaborative workspace for teams with shared mailbox, OneDrive, OneNote notebook, calendar and now planning workspace.

Tasks are added to the overall plan and are displayed as cards.   These can be arranged as ‘buckets’ to organise the tasks by work type, team or any other way, or can be displayed by progress.  The latter view shows the cards in three categories of ‘Not started’, ‘In progress’ and ‘Completed’.

Tasks can be assigned to individuals and can contain rich data to add more detail including description, start and due date, file attachments, links, checklists and a message log.


Where Office 365 Planner really comes into its own is its tight integration into the Office 365 ecosystem.   If information security is important to an organization (and why wouldn’t it be?) Planner is great as it reduces the number of cloud services a company deals with and is protected by the Microsoft Office 365 Trust Center.

Office 365 Planner has really simple but effective reporting tools with a dashboard view that is easy to use.  You can get a ‘at a glance’ view of the state of the plans showing task completion and allocation so you can see who is over or underallocated.   You can click on a section and the corresponding tasks are displayed in the right hand column.  (In the example below you could click on Alex Darrow and Alex’s tasks would be displayed in the right hand pane organized by In Progress and Late tasks).


It’s still early days for Planner so some key features (for me) are missing.   You cannot share plans externally so you cannot have a plan that is shared with customers and suppliers.  This is shown as being in development in the Office 365 public roadmap and when it arrives it will be a huge step forward for the product.  It would be great if users don’t need to be Office 365 users because it could get complicated if one particular supplier was the only part of your plan that couldn’t use the planner.

After using Planner for only a few days I found some of the notifications a little overwhelming.   It would be good if you could temporarily turn off notifications, especially when setting up lots of tasks as my mailbox went crazy!

These negatives are only minor for me and Planner doesn’t cost anything extra for Office 365 subscribers on an appropriate plan.   Click on the tile and try out Office 365 Planner today!

I miss Office 365 – life after connected working


Recently I changed employer and moved from a company with Office 365 to a company that doesn’t.   I didn’t really appreciate the impact of losing Office 365 on the way I work and interact with colleagues.   It takes some time to move your work style to take advantage of the super-collaborative, always on, high-availability approach of Office 365.    But when you do, you won’t look back … until you lose it.

Mobile Working

There are those who say that it blurs the lines between work and personal and upsets their work life balance, but I find it a lot more convenient to have access to work information from whatever device I have to hand.   Office 365 makes it easier to bring your own device and use the most appropriate tool at the most appropriate time.   I became a OneNote convert after transitioning to Office 365 and sometimes took notes on my Windows tablet with the stylus, sometimes on my phone and sometimes on my iPad … but I had a choice.    Combined with apps like Office Lens, it became a breeze to accurately record meeting actions, whiteboard sketches, documents, posters or anything else you can snap with a camera.

Sometimes you have one of those ‘corridor queries’ that you can resolve quickly if you have access on your phone and this is easily done with Office 365.   I could get to my email, SharePoint and OneDrive for Business all via my iPhone.

Collaborative Working

When we moved to Office 365 it made a huge difference to how we communicated and collaborated on documents.   Suddenly my inbox stopped being full of file attachments and started to have sharing invitations.  We became an organisation that used versioning and comments, and did it all in one document.   Previously, everyone made their changes in their emailed copy and the document owner had to identify and merge all of those changes into one document.   This was a lot of work and is very prone to error.

It took time for people to ‘get’ sharing but once they did it was a revolution and reduced the chance of people reading out of date information.   We’ve all been there where we’ve sent out a document and immediately realised an error.   That’s not a problem in the Office 365 sharing culture, so no embarrassing follow-up emails to the boss.   In the non-Office 365 environment, you send a link to a document and people respond to ask you to send as an attachment.   This isn’t efficiency!

Home Benefits

When I left my Office 365 employer I lost my home access to Office 365! I had to actually pay for a home subscription for Office 365 so I could continue to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint at home.

Embracing New Stuff

When you’re in the Office 365 mind-set as a company you embrace new technologies and approaches.   This is partly because it’s encouraged and often you can’t control when Microsoft switch on new services.   In the Office 365 company you’re more likely to see a Sway, use Office Mix to create interactive videos and analyse information in Power BI.    This is a whole level of information sharing that is forbidden in the non-Office 365 world.   It stays local or on company servers.   Don’t transfer, don’t share!


Office Lens released on iPhone (and Android as a preview)

Office Lens

If you’ve seen Office Lens on Windows Phone, you’ll surely have been envious of your Windows Phone colleagues.  Evernote’s recently released document scanner is a bit disappointing so I was really hoping for Office Lens to come to iPhone.

There is no longer any reason to be envious as Microsoft have released Office Lens for iPhone and on Android (as a preview).   So what is Office Lens?

Office Lens is an awesome document and whiteboard scanner but what makes it really awesome is that it will OCR the text (it does struggle with cursive writing so it can’t worked magic on your whiteboard scrawl) and the results for printed text are pretty good.    It is certainly more than acceptable to digitise printed documents, receipts, business cards and post it notes.

But what about getting them out of the app?   Microsoft has come good with a wide range of options to allow you to share your photographed masterpiece.   You can send to OneNote, Word, PowerPoint or OneDrive if you’re on Office 365, and you can save to PDF, send via e-mail or save in your photo library.

I gave it a try on the back cover of my PRINCE2 handbook.   I purposefully took the capture at an angle rather than straight on to challenge the application but it cope admirably capturing the text with great accuracy and outputting to a Word document including the text and the original photograph as a reference.  (see screenshots below)

Office Lens Process

Microsoft have published a nice little introduction video that shows the capabilities well.

Office Lens for Android Preview

To get the Office Lens for Android phone, follow these three easy steps:

    1. Go to Office Lens Android Preview in the Google+ community.
    2. Click Join community in the upper right-hand corner.
    3. Under About this community, click the Become a Tester link and then follow instructions on the page.

Why aren’t your files in OneDrive?


*Moving to “The Cloud” is difficult.  It shouldn’t be but it is for many people.  Many people are unwilling or unable to move their files because of a lack or understanding of how cloud storage works. Part of the reason is that users can’t see it and therefore have a perception that they have no control over how it works.  There is a comfort in seeing your files on the desktop or in My Documents.

We feel a security in backing up to a USB flash drive that we carry round in our jacket pocket. But this is a false security – hard drives fail and USB flash drives get lost. So why should you store your files in OneDrive or OneDrive for Business?

1. Instant backups – as soon as your file is stored in OneDrive it is backed up.  This means your files are safe straight away.  If we compare this with storing files on your network storage (I’m not considering USB of desktop storage as there is no backup) you are better off on OneDrive. Most network administrators carry out their backups overnight in the quiet period.  This means you are covered only after the overnight window so if you save a file at 10am and then have a problem at 4pm you are left high and dry.

2. Version history – OneDrive for Business keeps a copy of every version that you save as soon as it is saved. Have you ever wished that you could go back an hour, week or month in a document? You can view, compare or restore historic versions in OneDrive with ease. This also means that your files and folders are neater as you only have one file no matter how many versions you have. No more version information in the file name (admit it, you’ve got document version 1.docx, document version 2.docx, document version 2 final.docx and document version 2 final final.docx in your current filing system!)

version history

There are some differences between OneDrive for Business and OneDrive in terms of version history.   OneDrive for Business keeps every version of every file type and version histories are available from the Office suite within the application itself.   OneDrive maintains a version history for Office files only but the previous versions are only available through the browser and not using the Office applications.

3. Self Service – if you do want to retrieve a backup from network storage you’ll likely have to raise a ticket with your network support team, wait for a technician to pick up the call, retrieve the tapes or log on to the backup system, find the file … and you need the file right now! With OneDrive you have complete control so you can retrieve the file or a specific version of the file when you need it in real time.


4. Sharability – I could write a whole article about this (and I probably will at some point) but the gist of it is that you can share your document with other people, work on it collaboratively and retain version history across users.  You can share as read only or as an editable document and can revoke that access at any time.  There are a whole range of reasons why sharing is better than e-mail but I’ll save that for my article about sharing.

5. Access anywhere anytime from any device – If you can get to the internet then you can get to your files.  Are your files are on your USB drive or your hard disk and you’re not near them? Tough!  Are your files on your network storage? You might be lucky enough to have a VPN connection but that won’t help you if you’re not on your usual device or you’re on a mobile device.   With OneDrive or OneDrive for Business you can access your files through the browser (and even edit them using the online version of Office) from any device connected to the web with a browser.  If you’re on a mobile device you’re in luck as OneDrive downloads are available for a whole range of platforms.

So I ask again … why aren’t your files on OneDrive?