Whither Microsoft Planner

Microsoft Planner can be so perfect if it had a few extra things. But for now, there’s PowerShell

I want to love Microsoft Planner. But there are some things it has in it that just confound me. Rather, I should say it has omissions that confound me and make me question its usability.

For the uninitiated, Planner is a user-friendly project management tool designed for teams to collaborate and stay organized. Planner helps users create tasks, assign them to team members, set due dates, and track progress visually on customizable boards. It’s not a full and formal project management software, like its older sibling Microsoft Project, which is way more robust and suitable for complex projects with intricate timelines and resource management. Planner is more accessible; Project is more involved. Still, Planner excels at promoting collaboration, task management, and maintaining an overview of project activities, making it ideal for smaller teams and less complex projects.

Here’s a perfect example for Planner that we’ve rolled out at my company: organizing all of the activities and tasks around what it takes to bring a new employee onboard and for their first few months on the job. It’s a perfect solution for that, because there are different buckets of tasks, a deadline for those tasks to take place, and different people responsible for those tasks (be it IT, HR, or the new employee’s manager). Instead of having these tasks live in a spreadsheet on someone’s desktop, they can now live in a collaborative environment.

OK, sort-of. Yes, the tasks are off of a spreadsheet and into Planner, but getting them there is challenging. I’ve been able to overcome a few of the issues with PowerShell (because PowerShell), but it’s not the most ideal situation because it requires me to kick off some of the processes. Power Automate, whilst great, is not there yet on what I need it to do. Perhaps if I had more time and patience, I could make a PA flow to do this, but those are two things I’m not in great supply of at the moment.

Planner Hiccup 1: The nomenclature is a mouthful and possibly confusing. Maybe I need to back up and address Planner nomenclature, because (a) it’s important and (b) it quickly will tell you why your PowerShell is breaking down. A Planner task is just that – a task. It has all of the information pertinent to that task, including due date and any task assignees. A Planner Bucket is a categorical list of tasks. Finally, a Planner Plan is everything – all of the buckets, tasks, and other SharePointy herbs and spices that go with the task.

Planner Hiccup 2: Tasks in a bucket can’t be sorted by anything. By anything, I mean anything. The only way they can be sorted is in the inverse order which they were created. While Planner offers the convenience of organizing tasks into buckets for better categorization and visual organization, the absence of sorting options undermines its effectiveness. Without the ability to prioritize tasks based on their due dates, teams are left with a static view that fails to provide a clear sense of urgency or help in managing time-sensitive assignments. This lack of sorting functionality hampers productivity and forces users to rely on workarounds, such as creating additional buckets or utilizing external tools, to maintain a cohesive workflow and ensure timely task completion.

Planner Hiccup 3: You can’t template. By this, I mean there is not a Planner-integrated way to create templates for tasks. “But why can’t you copy-and-paste?” I hear you ask. I’ve found that there were instances where marking a task in one Planner plan marks the same task copied/pasted from a “template” task as completed. Also, there’s no simple way to dynamically change the due date on tasks. So unless you want to manually create tasks, this is where PowerShell gets involved. It works (because PowerShell), but I don’t like that we had to get to this point. Manually recreating tasks is time-consuming and prone to errors. The inability to template tasks limits productivity, especially for teams handling recurring projects or following specific task structures.

Planner Hiccup 4: Managing this is all Microsoft Graph. I mean, we’re all inevitably heading to Graph anyway, but it’s a bit of a challenge to think that way. The PowerShell cmdlets for the Microsoft.Graph.Planner module are just wrappers for HTTP API calls.

At least PowerShell still works.

Cover image derived from a photo by Daria Nepriakhina ?? on Unsplash