Which Office 365 Tools Are Best to Track Projects?
Even if you aren’t a certified PMP and have no training as a professional Project Manager, sooner or later you will be called upon to manage a project at work. Large or small, we know you’ll want to do your best and help your team to succeed.
It looks like an Office 365 project may be in your future. You’re already familiar with the core products in the Microsoft Office 365 suite: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. You’ll most likely need all of those to complete your project, but none of them are really right for managing the project itself.
Office 365 Project Management Tools
A project is a collaboration of work between different people or groups with a common aim. While you can easily email Word documents and Excel spreadsheets back and forth between everyone working on the project, these programs won’t help you keep track of which docs are done and which spreadsheets still need to be edited.
Perhaps you’ve used the Office 365 To-Do function before. It is very handy for helping you manage your day-to-day tasks and even helped you coordinate multiple to-do lists and “star” the most important items to be done.
The downside to the To-Do function is that it is a personal function only. It allows you to build single-level lists only; no subtasks list. Also, there is no way to really share your tasks with others or create reports.
So it may help you manage your particular tasks within the project, but won’t help you see the big picture.
2. Outlook Tasks
Outlook Tasks makes it easy to manage a small project from within your email app. You can look at your tasks in terms of status, priority, level of completeness, category and more. You can even display your tasks on a calendar and share them with other team members.
However, it’s not a tool that’s easy to pick up and learn on your own. Your tasks, events, and meetings can all get mixed up and make your display messy and hard to follow. It takes a lot of effort, even with some training, to arrange your tasks and make each one clear.
3. Office 365 Planner
Planner is the heart of the Office 365 project management toolset. Using very familiar agile tools like boards and cards, Planner gives teams a different way of organizing their work. This very visual approach is much easier for people to quickly grasp too.
Additionally, with Planner, you can share files and see who is working on what. When you need to communicate with a team member you can click on their picture to initiate a Skype call or chat. Charts provide another visual view of how you are progressing against your deadlines.
The major complaint about Planner is the limitations on the number of plans and the number of tasks in each plan that you can have. You’ll want to take this into consideration when you are first mapping out your office 365 project instead of not being able to add tasks three-quarters of the way through a project.
4. SharePoint Task Lists
SharePoint itself is a full project management tool. Companies have built entire websites and applications using the sites, libraries, folders and tagging features of SharePoint. There are two subsets of SharePoint that are especially useful for project management.
The SharePoint task Lists tool enables users to create lists of tasks and subtasks and see their distribution on a project timeline. Other views including Gantt charts allow you to see which tasks are late or upcoming, giving you a visual overview of the state of the project.
Unfortunately, you can’t add multiple timelines within one task. Customization is also needed to allow for reporting, so this too is a tool best used on smaller projects.
5. SharePoint Project Sites
Setting up a SharePoint project site gives you one central place to manage your project. You can use task lists to capture actions, to-dos, and deadlines, calendar features to handle events and document storage to keep everything straight. All of it can be accessed from your site homepage allowing everyone on the team to co-edit docs.
This is the most robust of the Office 365 project tools. You can sync team calendars and other events with Outlook. You can also integrate your SharePoint Project site with Microsoft Project, the standalone project management software that certified Project Managers use.
The downside to a Microsoft SharePoint Project Site can be costly. While there are some templates available, if you have any specific customization requirements, getting them built into your site can be costly upfront.
6. Microsoft Teams
While most of the options we’ve talked about so far center on the data and tasks sides of your project, Microsoft Teams is the service to use as a communications hub in Office 365. It includes individual or group chat functions that act as message boards to keep your team working smoothly.
Each team can also have different channels and hosts can record conference calls. For example, if your company has a creative team that works together on all your client projects, you can create a team for those people and different channels for each client.
Using Teams can be a little confusing at first because of the way things are named within it. That’s because the first thing you do is set up “teams” for both one-to-one chatting and group chats.
7. Microsoft Flow
Microsoft Flow isn’t really a tool in itself, but if you are going to use Office 365 as a project management platform it is a useful add-on. Flow automates the small tasks that tie different programs together.
For example, you can add a task to To-Do when you get an email from your boss, or send a digest email of all your outstanding Planner tasks in response. You can also save Microsoft form responses to SharePoint, or automatically save email attachments to OneDrive.
It is a free add-on with dozens of templates to help you make the necessary connections between applications.
Integration Is the Answer
Sometimes being armed with too many tools can be just as bad as having too few. Office 365 is a productivity software package. It was not designed to provide a very visual view of your work or provide simple management suitable to a non-professional.