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!

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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.

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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).

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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

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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!

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The iPhone office for Microsoft Office users

I read an excellent blog post by Stephen Waddington today “The iPhone office: 25+ apps for working in public relations on the move“.  Whilst it was an excellent list, with lots of crossover between his most useful apps and my own, there were some noticeable appsimage missing that are in my workflow.

I’d recommend checking out his list and then adding to your collection using the apps below.  For ease, I am using the same sections that Stephen has listed on his post.

Social Networking

Stephen listed the common Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn apps but I am adding Yammer into the mix.  The enterprise social network basic version is free for businesses and the premium version is included in certain Office 365 subscriptions.

Writing

Before becoming an Office 365 user I was an Evernote user but in recent months I have migrated to OneNote.  This is an excellent fully featured note taking app that syncs to the cloud for easy access.  This has been continually developed by Microsoft and recently added handwriting support for iPad.

In addition, the Microsoft Word app is free for Office 365 subscribers, maintains fidelity for Word documents and gives you access to your OneDrive files with ease.”

Communication

I wouldn’t be without Lync for helping me stay in touch with my work colleagues on the move.  It allows me to see my colleague’s presence status, send instant messages and make video and audio calls.  Lync is about to be rebranded as Skype for Business but as yet there’s no word on a new iOS app to accompany it.

I have been a firm fan of the default iOS Mail app having tried and rejected a number of alternatives.  In January, two months after acquiring Acompli, Microsoft released the rebranded Outlook app which connects to Exchange, outlook.com, iCloud, Google, Yahoo and other IMAP accounts.  It’s the first real contender that stopped me using iOS Mail and Calendar.

Storage

As a Microsoft user my documents are all stored in the cloud with my personal files in my consumer OneDrive and my work files in OneDrive for Business.  Up to recently, these were accessed using separate apps but Microsoft has unified the app into the OneDrive app.

Other notable apps

I’ve already posted about the recently released Office Lens app which I believe is a game changer.  You can take photos of whiteboards, printed and handwritten documents, and business cards, and share them in a wide range of formats.

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.

OneNote gets handwriting on iPad … Finally!

Finally it’s here! Microsoft has finally added handwriting to OneNote on iPad. After keeping it for Windows only devices, it was released on Android and now it has made its way to iOS.

Obviously as it’s iPad you have to use a capacitive touch stylus or you can use your finger to write. It was quite easy to do and handwriting wasn’t too bad. Up to now I’ve been using NotesPlus (paid app) which includes the excellent MyScript handwriting recognition.

It also includes OCR text search of images that are inserted, although it takes up to 5 minutes per image for any text be recognised and indexed.

Notes can be saved either to OneDrive or OneDrive for Business so you can keep all your notes in sync and switch between your iPhone, iPad and Windows devices.

If you’re used to using a stylus to write on OneNote on a Windows device (as I am for work), it does take a little getting used to but very quickly my handwriting improved to be something which is passable and I could share with others without complete embarrassment.

I use the excellent Bamboo stylus on my iPad which can be purchased as either a Solo stylus (capacitive touch stylus only) or the Duo stylus (which has a regular pen on one end for use on paper and the capacitive touch on the other end).  Many have also recommended the Pencil stylus from FiftyThree available in either gold, walnut or graphite.

So download the update from the App Store now and start writing on your iPad straightaway using OneNote.