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Do you use Microsoft Project to manage your project tasks, resources, scope and schedule? If your answer is yes – quickly think of a number between one and ten. Now, also count (on average) how many times per week you find yourself shaking with frustration, wanting to reach into your monitor, crumple that digital Gantt chart – and slam dunk it into the recycle bin.
Now, think back to your original number between one and ten. Do you have these enraging interactions with Microsoft Project even more than you first thought? If your answer here is no – please stop reading now and give me a call – you clearly have a special talent, and I am hiring! But if your answer here was yes, or if you’re not using Microsoft Project at all – then read on, this article is for you.
For those of us who serve as a project or program manager, using Microsoft Project can sometimes be a bewildering and frustrating experience, especially for those of us who don’t know the program inside and out. Now, this isn’t a criticism of Project. When used well, it can be extremely valuable – automating a lot of your project reporting, and giving you instant insight into your resource utilization, performance against schedule, and so forth. But – the first words in that last sentence are key: “when used well”. And to use something well, you have to truly understand it. And to understand it, you’ve got to like it and invest the time and energy to really learn the ropes. You might even need some professional training. Otherwise, good luck! You just auto-scheduled yourself for an exasperating week.
Regardless of what application or physical tools you use to support your duties as a project manager – we all follow a process. And when it comes to process – Agile is where it’s at! The shift from traditional Waterfall style project management techniques to the Agile methodologies is making waves in the project management community, and for good reason. Agile projects are proving to be more effective and deliver stronger results than their Waterfall counterparts. But why is that? What is it about Agile that gives it the edge over Waterfall?
One of the biggest advantages of Agile are the tactile, visual tools that are typically leveraged by the project team. Take a prime example – the Kanban board. If you haven’t heard about Kanban, it’s one methodology under the umbrella of Agile project management, where you break down workstreams into smaller chunks (tasks), and lay them all out on a big open space (typically a wall). The Kanban board has columns which represent a stage of progress from ‘Not Started’ through to ‘Complete and Delivered’. You stack your tasks up in the ‘Not Started’ column (often called the ‘Backlog’), add some sub-tasks, due dates, durations, etc. – and then assign a resource to each teask and watch your them progress through to completion. This captures a lot of the same information that you might track in a Gantt chart within Microsoft Project. However, here are the biggest advantages of the Kanban approach vs. a Gantt chart:
Clarity at a glance: see the status of any given task, who is assigned to it, what stage it’s in – just by looking at the Kanban board
Simplicity: The Kanban doesn’t bog you down with a huge grid with hundreds of subtasks, multi-level task hierarchies, dependencies, etc. etc.
It’s tactile: Your teams get to be more hands-on with the project plan, which drives understanding of what’s happening, and ensures clarity on who’s doing what.
So, now you probably want to use Kanban board. But maybe there are some obstacles to getting there. If your team isn’t all in the same place you can’t really use a wall. So, now you need a digital solution to the Kanban board. And in fact, Microsoft Project 2016 and 2019 have this. But, here’s the catch – to use the Microsoft Project Kanban board (a.k.a., Task Board) – you also need to populate Project with all the data that it requires for the traditional Gantt chart view. In Project, the Task Board is just a Kanban-style view of your project. So all the challenges you had with Microsoft Project to begin with are still present. So what to do?
Microsoft Planner has entered the game!
Microsoft has clearly recognized the frustrations that many people have with Project, especially when all they want is a Kanban board. So they made a smart move – they’ve developed a light, online Kanban tool called Planner. I’ve been using Planner now for my latest project, and it gives me everything that I want in a digital Kanban board, without all the fuss and complexity of Project. What’s more – it’s accessible online through Office 365, so I can share it with my team, my clients and stakeholders – and give everyone a single view of the project status, in an easily consumable format.
It’s great for the team – They know where to go to see what’s in the project plan. They can see who is working on what. And if they’ve got some time in the day, they can hop on to Planner, grab a task from the Backlog, and get working!
It’s great for the client – they get visibility into exactly where we’re at for any given task. No need to wait for my weekly status report, or ask “Where’s this deliverable??” Just check the Kanban board – you can see it’s assigned to Jeff, it’s 75% complete, and it’s due this Friday, and we’re on track. Planner also has some canned graphs and charts which show you summary information on how your tasks are progressing.
It’s great for me - When I check in, I can see who is doing what, where their tasks are at, when they’re due – and I’m confident that no one is duplicating any effort. The canned reports are helpful for me too, by showing how many tasks each team member has on the go. And the best part – it’s super easy to maintain! No more spending hours trying to define dependencies, enter resources, align start and end dates, eventually pulling my hair out undoing all the “helpful” things that Project automatically does to all other tasks in my project if I do something crazy like change the end date of a single task. It’s also super flexible – missing a particular task status or column? Just add it. Does the client have some unique verbiage they like to use to otherwise say “Delivered”? Just change the name of the column. Easy.
So, if you want an easy way to implement and maintain a digital Kanban board, and improve efficiency and delivery of your projects – jump onto Office 365 and start using Planner. You’ll be glad you did!
Microsoft is replacing Skype for Business with Microsoft Teams (Teams). Teams is a central place where employees can chat, video conference, voice call, share files, and work with business apps. Teams also integrates with our SharePoint Online site! It allows us to connect Office 365 groups, SharePoint Pages, Documents, Libraries, News Feeds, and more directly into our Microsoft Teams groups and channels. Rather than having siloed workspaces, Teams allows us to interact directly with several applications through a single interface. This can help cut down on time, effort, and confusion for employees.
Image 1: The Teams Client and main areas.
Activity Feed – Updates the user based on recent activities on posts they’re active in.
Chat – Like Skype for Business, this is the general chat area for direct messaging.
Teams – Here we have our Teams groups, channels, and apps.
Meetings – Contains upcoming meetings, allows scheduling of meetings, and where we join meetings.
Files – Shows recent files, teams files, downloaded files, and OneDrive files.
Teams Groups and Channels – A list of the Teams we belong to and their channels.
Tabs – The tabs that have been added to the channel for quick access.
The type of Group membership
Org-wide: Contains the entire organization.
Private: Used for private groups with restricted access to members.
Public: Allows anyone to search, find and join the group.
Join or Create a team – Allows people to join a team or create a new team.
Teams and Office 365 Groups
Teams can use Office 365 groups to automatically create Groups and Channels within Teams. This allows for easy management of department groups, project groups, committees, and other Teams within an organization. When users are added to the Office 365 group, they will also be added to the Teams group and have access to the Channels within this group.
Ad-hoc groups can also be created and will have a SharePoint team site associated with them; Allowing flexibility for groups and teams to create their own collaboration areas. Each Team can have Channels for organization of their content and work and can manage their own Tabs. Old Team Sites created prior to the new modern Office 365 groups can be connected with a group allowing use within Teams as well.
Image 2: Create a team directly within the Teams client.
Teams and Channels
Each Team comes with a General channel, but additional channels can be created to suit the needs of the team. Owners can choose to allow members to create channels, add or remove apps, manage tabs, remove connectors, delete messages and edit messages. Teams and channels can be locked down or allowed public to suit the needs of the organization and the Team.
The best practice is to disable posting for the General channel for anyone but Owners. This allows us to post announcements, news items, company updates, and important information without worrying that it will be scrolled away and missed by some employees.
Each channel has its own set of Tabs. The default tabs are Conversations, Files and Wiki, but these can be added to and customized to suite the Teams needs. SharePoint document libraries, files, external websites, and apps can all be added here. This helps create quick access and knowledge for important documents or areas that employees should be able to access.
Image 3: Teams integrates with many apps and Microsoft continues to add new connections regularly.
SharePoint pages can be viewed directly through Teams! This is one of the keys to creating a single interface for users to interact and collaborate through. A tab for News, Announcements, Events, or other important SharePoint pages can be added directly into our Teams tabs allowing users to view this information without ever leaving the Teams client. Rather than having employees operate multiple windows and interact with numerous siloed environments, we can start creating a single space for our employees to interact with everything.
Image 4: Interacting with SharePoint pages within Teams.
Conversations can be started for documents, tabs, and more. This will allow for important information to be attached to the item it’s about and added to by new users. Rather than posting directly in the channel, attaching conversations about the specific item to it allows other users to access that information regardless of how long its been since it was posted. Important information can always be found without the worry of it being scrolled away in your channel. New employees to view the item will easily be able to see what was discussed and can eliminate the need for repetitive questions.
Image 5: A conversation started on a document.
Microsoft Teams is a great start to bringing all applications into a single interface for users. SharePoint didn’t allow us to easily interact with as many external systems, and this is where Teams really begins to shine. Incorporating our SharePoint sites, document libraries, lists, external websites, and apps all into a single place creates an easier and more enjoyable experience for our employees. The addition of new connections and apps on a regular basis continues to allow our organizations to grow and add additional connections without leaving the Teams client. Teams gives us a single place to interact and collaborate.