Get your teams working together: Announcing Microsoft Planner

Productivity apps are all the rage at the moment, although they should not be considered a ‘magic bullet’ for organising your schedule or curing procrastination.

While increasing productivity is not a new thing - individuals and organisations have always striven to get more out of their day or their workforce – without a doubt, we all have more distractions and demands on our time, which productivity apps potentially provide a solution for.

Productivity Apps: Do they actually work?

Developers make all sorts of claims for their apps and their ability to increase productivity, however, they are sketchier on the hard data to back them up. With such a diverse field of products, it’s hard to come up with any real comparisons in their performance. However, a study from Salesforce suggests that productivity apps can boost worker productivity by 34 per cent. The report also discovered that 60 per cent of employees in SMEs and large enterprises use apps for work-related activities.

Yet to be effective, productivity apps need to be properly integrated into the workplace. This is one of the major stumbling blocks organisations have - getting everyone to adopt the technology and use it so that the whole team benefits. Since many people already have their own productivity apps downloaded on their mobile devices, it can be difficult to get buy-in on a new system.

People also bemoan the time it takes to get set up and started, questioning whether it is a productive use of their time managing their productivity app! Therefore, if your organisation is planning to implement a new app it is important that employees receive the right level of support to enable them to use if effectively.

Another issue is how to integrate the app with the IT systems the organisation is already using. While most apps allow a certain amount of integration between them and other tools, these are not necessarily the ones your business is using. Furthermore, there are security issues that organisations need to be aware of when employees are using apps with a personal account. This could mean that sensitive company information is taken out of your organisation’s secure environment, and stored on the servers of a third-party app developer, without the protection extended by a business account.

Microsoft Planner

This is why the introduction of Microsoft Planner could be the solution your organisation is looking for. Microsoft, who has produced arguably the most well-known and utilised productivity app of all time – Microsoft Outlook – is getting in on the current ‘productivity app-ism’ with a new addition to their Office 365 suite – Planner.

As many businesses, large and small, already use Office 365, integration with many of the organisation’s IT systems is straightforward and intuitive, increasing the likelihood of take-up by members of staff. If you already have a subscription, there is no additional fee and it all integrates with your existing logins and Office 365 apps.

Do You Need Microsoft Planner?

If you are not familiar with team task planning apps, the clue is really in the name – they allow teams across your business who are working towards a single goal or outcome to organise their tasks, understand where the initiative as a whole is going, identify where issues might be and collaborate to reach the goal quicker. Essentially, a clever digital organiser for teams.

What they are not is a project management tool, for which Microsoft has ‘Project’. Project management applications usually focus on having a single person or team driving the initiative (the project manager(s)) and distributing tasks for the team to complete. Many organisations consider this an outmoded way of working but for complex projects, it is usually still considered necessary.

Planner bridges the gap between project management tools and personal task lists, which you can set up in Outlook. Instead, Planner is designed for team collaboration, providing a tool to assign tasks to individuals, to manage progress, for internal communication about team projects, and to provide an overview of projects in progress.

Personally, thinking about my own company and how we manage projects and workload here, I think productivity apps, whether Planner, Trello or any other, can be a valuable tool. As well as providing everyone with the big picture and the finer detail, it also increases accountability as individuals can see how their activities (or lack of) impact on each project and each other.

With email notifications set up to remind you of a forthcoming deadline, it can certainly focus the mind on the job and help individuals prioritise their workload.

Bruce Penson, Managing Director of Pro Drive IT