Three tricks with Microsoft Planner


There is no search. But you can filter by keywords to get what are effectively search results. Filtering is a better approach than searching as it also enables you to filter by when a card is due, who it’s assigned to, and which bucket it’s in.


Planner provides an iCal feed which can be pulled into an Outlook calendar to show as Meeting items. So, if you like using Outlook to manage your time and tasks, you can use this feed to show cards based on their start and due dates. And if the items in Outlook could be coloured (perhaps by bucket or label), then the Outlook calendar would start to be a bit roadmap-y.

Checklist items into cards

Items in a checklist can be promoted to cards by clicking on the up arrow that shows when you hover over the checklist item. The card is created in the same bucket as the card with the checklist but has no associated attributes such as due date, status or assignee.  An improvement on this might be being able to choose to copy and/or set the attributes from the parent card when promoting the checklist item rather than having to go into the card after it has been created.

Microsoft Planner vs. Trello

I love Trello. I’ve been using it for years and have written about how we use it to manage projects. I like how easy it easy to create cards with an email and how well IFTTT works with Trello. I like Butler Bot and all the automation I can use to accomplish system housekeeping. Trello isn’t perfect, and falls down a bit in reporting, but this has never been a big problem, so in many ways it’s as close to perfect as a system could get for my way of working.

I work for an organisation that considers itself a ‘Microsoft house’, which means all of our core infrastructure and software is Microsoft, and that we are encouraged to use the approved software provided by our It department. My digital mindset says use the best tool for the job, but I also understand that using a single enterprise-level ecosystem provides better security (which is essential) and that using whatever third party software you feel like can have legal implications if that company’s terms and conditions don’t allow the software to be used for business purposes for free.

So you see my problem. Using a system that works for me versus using a system that works for the organisation. So, I started playing with Planner, Microsoft’s Trello-like product to see if it could give us the same level of flexibility in managing projects that Trello has but is compliant with organisational policy. Can I turn that ‘versus’ into an ‘and’?

After an hour of playing with Planner, this is what I think:

  • Both are accessible in a browser and both have an android app. This is important to me as I use four different devices and need to be able to use whichever system whenever and however I want.
  • Cards can’t be created in Planner by sending an email like with Trello, but there is a workaround by using Microsoft Flow (Microsoft’s IFTTT) so I have a flow set up that creates a card in Planner for every card created in Trello, which means I can use the good bits from Trello such as creating a card by email and butler bot automation in Planner.
  • Planner has a status for each card of Not started, In progress and Completed. At first I didn’t get why it would have this as there is also a start and due date for each card, but the status drives some of reporting and the Progress view.
  • Both can show cards on a calendar view but do it differently. Trello treats each card as only being able to be on a single day. The card can be moved to tomorrow if you didn’t finish it today but then it won’t still be on what is now yesterday. This means you can’t see how long a card has been worked on for. Planner has a start date and due date for each card which means that when you look at the calendar view the card is shown over the length of time between the start and due date. Both have a week and more view but neither have a year or selectable dates view.
  • Planner has a number of ways of displaying lists of cards whereas Trello only has one way. Trello lists can be titled by the name of the project, with cards being tasks within the project and having due dates, or the lists can be titled To do, Doing, Done with cards being tasks on the lists but with Labels used to group cards on the same project. Planner can switch between views which means lists can be set up for each project (called buckets in Planner) and providing those cards have been given a status of either Not started, In progress or Completed, switching views shows the cards in those three status lists.
  • Both allow a user and multiple users to be assigned to the card, both can have attachments and comments on a card, and both allow cards to be dragged and dropped between lists.
  • Trello doesn’t do any kind of reporting. Planners reporting is limited but it shows how many cards each person has in each state, how many cards are in each state for each bucket, and how many cards over the whole board are in each state.

It’s a close run thing. I’m not aware of anyone else in the organisation using Planner although I’m sure it would be really useful for them, especially as most of them don’t require the same level of flexibility as I do. If Planner had automation and adding cards by email it would win outright. Planners approach to switching between views of lists is really good (even if there is an overhead if selecting the right status, start and end date for each card). I think that Planner is good enough for us to consider moving to using it rather than Trello. And I never thought I’d say that.