Using a project management application can provide significant benefits to companies looking to streamline processes in their businesses. It can greatly reduce time spent on planning as well as increase team productivity.
If you’re using Office 365, you already have access to multiple apps and platforms to help with project management. Each tool has its own strengths—it’s just a matter of what you’re trying to do.
Please note: Some features will vary based on your Office 365 plan.
To-Do: Best for keeping track of personal tasks
If you’re looking for a way to keep of your personal projects or to-do list items, Microsoft To-Do is a good solution. It’s a pretty standard to-do list tracking app.
Some of the highlights for tracking projects include:
- Multiple to-do lists
- Steps within individual to-dos
- Due dates + reminders
- “My Day” to-dos from other to do lists
- Starred “important” to-dos
We’ve written more in depth about some of the best features in To-Do and how you can combine To-Do and Microsoft Flow to automate parts of your To-Do list.
To-Do is still relatively new for Microsoft, so the functionality is somewhat limited, especially when it comes to integrating with other Office 365 programs. While you can share To-Do lists with others, but if you’re looking for something to manage team projects, this isn’t it. You’re better off with Planner for that use.
Planner: Best for lightweight team project management
If you need to track team projects, your best bet is Planner.
With Microsoft Planner, you can create plans by specific project (or however you need to divide up the plans). Each plan includes team members (using Office 365 Groups), task list boards, a team notebook, a team files section, a calendar and running conversation log. Plans are divided up into buckets of tasks. Tasks can be assigned different color-coded labels.
There are a few different ways to view your plan. “Boards” shows you your list of buckets and tasks. The “Charts” section shows you what’s going in your project with a visual representation of the status of to-dos. “Schedule” shows you the plan in a calendar view. On each of these boards, you can view everything, or filter it by categories like due date, labels, and assigned member.
Planner is best used for team’s looking to get into project management and teams who want to break down the plan primarily by tasks. It’s great for teams who work in sprints and don’t need a ton of extra features in their project plans.
There are some limitations to how many plans and buckets you can have, so you need to take that into consideration before starting your plan.
SharePoint: Best for file storage and managing complex projects
SharePoint is one of the least understood apps inside of Office 365. Out of the box, it’s an online file repository for sharing and collaborating. When planning a project, using SharePoint can be a huge help with organization and management. You can attach specific plans for the project in specific folders and then put sub documents related to the project in those folders for anyone to view. You can use SharePoint features like sites, libraries, folders and tagging to organize files basically any way you want.
Most users stop there – which is perfectly fine and a great use for the app. But SharePoint is fully customizable. By that we don’t just mean you can customize how you store files – you can build full websites and applications on SharePoint.
There are many project management templates and add-ins already available or you can build a completely custom solution. This typically works best for companies who have very specific requirements in their project management process. It can be expensive to custom build a SharePoint site, but if you have specific requirements you’re looking for that won’t be met by out-of-the box project management tools like Planner, spending the money may be worth it in the long run.
Microsoft Teams: Best for managing project communication
Before covering how Teams helps with projects, you need a basic understanding of what it is. Microsoft Teams is a chat and communication platform. There are a few different ways to use it for communication:
- Chat: Teams includes one-to-one and group chatting.
- Team Chat: You can set up “Teams” within Teams (yes, this naming is a little confusing). These basically act as a message board for communication. Teams can include your entire company or be as small as two people. You can create different channels within each Team.
- Meetings/Calling: Your capabilities here will depend somewhat on your Office 365 plan but Teams can host and record conference calls.
These three main communication elements make Teams perfect for housing all the communication around a project. How you set up your teams will be different for every company.
If you tend to have the same people working on multiple projects, you could create a Team for those people. Then, create channels for each project. The Teams and chats are perpetual, so you don’t have worry about losing information when the window closes.
Teams with tabs: Best project hub
The real power of Teams, especially when it comes to project management, is the ability to plug in other programs. You can add tabs directly to your channels for things like Files (Team will automatically add anything you upload to a channel to this tab), OneNote, Office programs, and Microsoft Planner.
Here’s a real-life example to explain how it works in action: We’re moving offices soon, which if you’ve ever done before, you know is a huge project with a lot of moving parts. To keep everything track of everything in one place, we set up a Team with tabs for other programs.
We use Teams to track the internal communication around the project. We added a Planner tab to track tasks. We have OneNote added to keep track of project related notes, including brainstorming. We added an Excel tab to keep track of the budget. We upload all the other files related to the project to the files section.
Bonus: Microsoft Flow: Best for automating project tasks
Microsoft Flow alone won’t help you with project management. But if you’re using multiple programs, Flow can be a huge asset. Flow automates small tasks and actions between different Office 365 programs. Some examples include:
- Add a task to To-Do when you get an email from a VIP (we walk through how to do this one here)
- Create an event in Outlook for new Planner tasks
- Send a digest email of all outstanding Planner tasks
- Save Microsoft Form responses to SharePoint
There are hundreds of templates to choose from, or you can create your own.
The benefits of using one or more of these apps aren’t just significant for projects alone, but also for other areas as well. The seamless integration that these systems provide can increase productivity, reduce backload time, and increase organization throughout the business and consumer side of project management.