Microsoft Planner is the new Excel when it comes to managing project portfolios and that’s not a good thing.  

I’ve lost count of how many PMOs and other project delivery functions I’ve encountered using a complex array of spreadsheets held together with macros & duct tape to support project management, resource tracking and MUCH more. However, Excel hinders as much it helps alleviate project delivery and the same is true with Microsoft Planner – which, as a result of being available for free to anyone with a paid subscription to Office 365 (O365) is being used to try and manage entire organisation-wide project portfolios, when really, it’s designed for lightweight task management in a team setting. So, in the same way, that I wouldn’t advise anyone to climb Mount Everest whilst only wearing a pair of flip-flops and Speedos, I wouldn’t advise any Project Practitioner / PMO function to use (or advocate) the use of Planner to manage complex projects. 

I would instead recommend the ‘new’ Project from Microsoft as an alternative (depending on your level of maturity). It’s essentially a culmination of all of the most requested features that power users wanted to see introduced within Planner! So, here I present the top FIVE ‘must have’ features that the new Microsoft Project offers to users of Planner that are attempting to manage project portfolios. 

Top FIVE Microsoft Project features YOU need to manage Projects 

1) MORE Views (Grid, Board and Gantt Timeline) 

I think we all agree that tasks boards are perfect for visualising a small number of tasks in a structured way through task cards & buckets, so you’ll be thrilled to hear that Project does include what is essentially the ‘same’ Board view that you get within Planner! However, Project ALSO includes the TWO most user-requested Planner views, the Grid and Timeline (Gantt), and when combined, both views make it much easier to digest and visualise the project flow whilst seeing much more detail. One project, many views – pick your favourite!  

Microsoft Project for the Web
Microsoft Project for the Web

2) Project Task Dependencies 

Tasks rarely sit in isolation; they tend to be interconnected and need to take place in a certain order. Think of them like a baton exchange, projects get completed by team members finishing their tasks before other team members dependent on those tasks can make a start on their work. So, it’s clear that dependencies are an important aspect of project management, and it’s for this reason that this was one of the most requested feature requests within Planner. Whilst ‘dependencies’ won’t make an appearance in Planner, it is a standard feature within Project, which currently supports Finish to Start (FS) links with planned support for the other types Finish to finish (FF), Start to Start (SS) and Start to Finish (SF). 

Microsoft Project for The Web – Dependencies view through the Gantt Timeline
Microsoft Project for The Web – Dependencies view through the Gantt Timeline

3)  Extensibility with Power Apps 

The new Project is designed to be extended through the Microsoft Power Platform, as outlined previously when I wrote about Project for the Web for Power Users. Users within PMO for example, often want to capture additional details around the projects, ranging from project descriptions, financials to RAID logs whilst also embedding lifecycle governance, these requirements are enabled through the Power Platform, specifically Power Apps and Power Automate. You can get a glimpse of our pre-built Project Accelerator+ Power App in this recent webinar and learn about extending Project for The Web with Power Apps through this article. 

The Wellingtone Accelerator+ Power App for Microsoft Project for The Web

4) Automated Reports 

Within Planner you can access inbuilt charts, which is great for visualising the statuses of your plans, however, it doesn’t allow for the pushing of data into Power BI and this was again a common request from users! The new Project provides a data feed to Power BI, meaning you’re able to get access to supercharged insights and rolled up views from across your project portfolio(s), with the ability to even see your project data alongside data from other data sources i.e., forecast/planned costs from Project alongside actuals financial data from your ERP solution. 

Microsoft Project for The Web & Power BI
Microsoft Project for The Web & Power BI

5) Critical Path, Baselines and more 

When working on a project, it’s often crucial to see how various tasks impact the project finish date, to help with this Microsoft recently rolled out a ‘critical path’ view which is available within the Timeline (Gantt) view. Another feature that will be landing soon is the ability to ‘baseline’ your project, so when you’re asked whether or not things are going according to plan, you’ll be able to compare variances against the saved baseline (snapshot) natively within the schedule. This is something that the PMO would also be able to see through the associated reports and dashboards to identify projects that may need a helping hand. 

Microsoft Project for The Web – Critical Path
Microsoft Project for The Web – Critical Path

The Future Roadmap for Microsoft Project

As members of the Microsoft Technology Adoption Program (TAP) we get early visibility of new features, so if you are not already subscribed to our PPM Intelligence newsletter please sign up as we’ll be pushing out regular updates on the future roadmap of Microsoft Project for The Web as and when we receive them.

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