Posted in Information Management, Microsoft 365, Planner, Tasks

The complicated world of Tasks and To Do

We all have different ways to remind ourselves (and others) of things we (and they) need to do. In Outlook, we could create a task, something we needed to do.

In the Microsoft 365 world, personal tasks are now things we need to assign in the To Do app. In Groups or Teams, tasks are Tasks.

This post describes the difference between To Do and Tasks, and how and why Tasks has become a bit confusing.

Outlook tasks become (things) To Do

For a long time, it was possible to create and assign tasks in the calendar part of email. You could assign tasks to others.

Image source: Turn Emails into Tasks in Outlook- Instructions – TeachUcomp, Inc

In mid 2015, Microsoft acquired 6Wunderkinder. That company’s primary offering was the ‘to do’ app called Wunderlist.

In early 2020, Microsoft released the ‘To Do’ app, built on Wunderlist. This CNET article that describes alternatives to Wunderlist includes information about the new Microsoft ‘To Do’ app.

Unlike Tasks, To Do items are essentially a personal list of things to do that is accessed from the separate To Do section of Outlook. They are not included in the calendar.

The ‘To Do’ option is on the far right of the Outlook options

There are two ways to create a new item in the To Do list. The first is to click on the ‘My Day’ option in Outlook and then add a task in the To Do section.

The second is to click on the ‘To Do’ option at the bottom left of the Outlook app, which will open the ‘My Day’ section and allow a new (To Do) task to be created.

A bit confusingly, the Planned section of ‘To Do’ displays tasks that are:

  • Personal tasks, created as an Outlook calendar tasks but which don’t appear in the individual’s Outlook calendar, only in the To Do calendar.
  • Assigned to the individual from a Microsoft 365 Group or Team (including ‘Tasks by Planner’).

The difference between the two can be seen below; the first two are personal tasks from To Do, the second two are Group/Team-based tasks. The ‘Assigned to you’ items are the second two under ‘Later’. Note that the Planned section does not include any simple, non-calendar-based, ‘To Do’ items.

Planner

Microsoft announced the Office 365 service called Planner in September 2015.

The Microsoft 365 Planner app on 1 April 2021

Planner is a task-based service originally linked directly with Office 365 Groups (announced in 2014 ‘Delivering the first chapter of Office 365 Groups‘). It was described as ‘a simple and highly visual way to organize teamwork’ within a team – which meant initially an Office 365 Group. It seemed that Microsoft’s vision was to move the creation of Tasks away from Outlook to Planner.

Initially, when a new Office 365 Group was created (including when a new Team was created in MS Teams), it created a Plan. This connection was later removed and so a new Group or Team no longer creates a new Plan.

The following is an example of an empty plan for an Office 365 Group called ‘SharePoint Admin Group’. All the members of the Group (or Team if one exists) would have access to the plan. Plans contain ‘buckets’ or groupings of tasks. The default bucket is ‘To do’ which, in the example below contains a single task ‘Create two new tasks’ (which is outstanding) A separate bucket was created named ‘New Sites’, and it has one completed task.

Example plan in Planner

Changes to Planner

Several changes happened with Planner since 2018:

  • New Office 365 Groups and Teams did not automatically create a Plan.
  • Multiple plans could be created for every Office 365 Group or Team.
  • Tasks by Planner was introduced to Teams (see below) so that every channel can use either the ‘parent’ Office 365 Group Plan or create a new one.

These changes have created some confusing content in the Planner app.

Tasks by Planner in Teams

Microsoft announced in April 2020 that Planner would be renamed Tasks (it is still named Planner a year later).

As noted in the link (by onmsft.com), ‘… the change means that Teams users will soon be able to see their individual tasks and team tasks in a single app from across Teams channels, Planner and Outlook. For mobile users, the change also means that both a list view and a new mobile tasks experience will soon be available in within the Teams app.’

The new Tasks by Planner and To Do was visible from Teams in early 2021 but the relationship between Outlook To Do tasks and Planner Tasks via Teams remained a bit confusing.

Tasks by Planner and To Do in Teams

When a Team channel is opened, the ‘Tasks by Planner and To Do’ can be added as a tab.

Tasks by Planner and To Do can be added as a tab in any ‘public’ channel (not private channels)

When ‘Tasks by Planner and To Do’ is selected, two options are visible and this is where some of the confusion starts.

Most people are likely to simply click ‘Save’, which creates a ‘Tasks’ tab in the channel and a new Plan. Ideally, they should use an existing plan, if it exists (which it probably won’t – as a result, multiple Plans may be created for each Team and channel.

This is how the new Tasks tab looks like in the Team:

Perhaps it doesn’t matter (for some organisations) how many Plans or Tasks that are set up.

We can now see there are three Plans for the SharePoint Admin Group Team, two in the same (General) channel. The end user can also see tasks that were assigned to him/her. If they click on the ‘Tasks’ option they will see the list of personal calendar- and To Do-based tasks as we saw above in Outlook:

Behind the scenes, in Planner, we can see four plans for the SharePoint Admin Group. Three of these map to the three above, but not the one titled ‘Tasks – SharePoint Admin Group’ which has two completed tasks. But where is it?

Here are the two completed tasks in SharePoint Admin Group ‘Tasks’ plan that don’t exist in the main SharePoint Admin Group Plan, or the other two.

Where are these two completed tasks?

Or, more specifically, why do they not appear in many of the Teams Tasks tabs? There are no private channels in this Team, so I know it’s not hidden in one – and, in any case, you cannot create a new Task list in a private channel.

Just to try to work this out, I created a new Task in that list of Tasks, assigned it to myself. The only place I could find it was in both Teams and Outlook in the ‘Assigned to you’ area.

Assigned to me in Teams
Assigned to me in Outlook

Summing up

Tasks, either to remind yourself of things you need to do, or what others need to do, are probably good for specific purposes or Teams. But the ability to create multiple Task lists in Teams channels is just going to create more and more confusion.

But it’s confusing and will likely result in multiple random Tasks/Plans in Planner, even for the same channel.

Posted in Microsoft Teams, Office 365, Office 365 Groups, Planner, Products and applications, SharePoint Online, Yammer

Managing Project Records in Office 365

The introduction of Office 365 Groups brings a new way of working with and managing project records, including emails, documents and other types of records. But controls need to be in place to prevent uncontrolled growth.

A typical project team is likely to create two main types of record – documents and emails. More often than not in the digital world these are kept separate and unconnected to with the main project records, unless the user saves emails to where the documents are stored, or all documents remain attached to emails.

The introduction of Office 365 Groups brings an innovative way to work in projects and keep all project-related records together.

What are Office 365 Groups?

Groups are similar in some respects to a both (a) Distribution List (DL) in that they allow a group of people with a common interest to communicate with each – albeit on a point-to-point basis without new users being able to access earlier emails, and (b) a (public or private) Yammer group in that they allow the members of the group to discuss issues together ‘out loud’ instead of in one-to-one emails.

In addition to ‘conversations’ that take place in Groups, Groups also have an associated SharePoint site, a shared calendar, a plan in Planner, and a notebook in OneNote. These options are visible from the Group view in Outlook:

O365Grps1a.png

A (private) Group can be linked directly to a Team (in Microsoft Teams), allowing further types of exchange, including in multiple channels.

o365grps4a

Office 365 Groups allow all types of project records – emails, conversations, documents, plans, chats, notes – to be accessed in the one place linked by the unique name given to the Group when it was created. External guests may also be invited a Group.

But, to be clear, this does not mean that these records are all stored in the one location; the records remain in Exchange, SharePoint, OneNote, Planner, or Teams. What connects them together is the unique name or identifier.

Creating Groups

The default settings in Office 365 allow Office 365 Groups (and SharePoint sites and Teams) to be created by anyone in the organisation. The danger in allowing these default settings is uncontrolled growth; when a Group or Team is created it also creates an associated SharePoint site (that is not yet visible in the SharePoint Admin portal).

To minimise uncontrolled growth, it is recommended that these default options be disabled, and that the creation of Office 365 Groups, SharePoint sites and Teams, be limited to the Office 365 Administrators, based on requests from users.

Groups should, ideally, be assigned a prefix to distinguish them from each other and from DLs and Security Groups (SGs) that are also used in Outlook. It will be interesting to see to what extent DLs are replaced over time by Office 365 Groups, as the latter are more functionally useful.

A suggest prefix for name of a project Group could be ‘PRJ’ as shown below. The same name is then used on the SharePoint site, in Planner, in OneNote and, if the Group is private, on the associated Team in Microsoft Teams making the connection between them clear.

O365Grps2a.png

Note:

  • It is not possible to associate a public Group with a new Team; if a new Team is created with the same name as a public Group, it will create a Group with the same name).
  • Creating a new Modern Team Site from the ‘New Site’ option (if enabled) on the user’s SharePoint portal also creates a Group. If controls do not exist (and the options are not disabled), users will quickly start to create multiple SharePoint sites that have associated Groups, and things could get out of hand very quickly).

Managing Project Records More Effectively

Office 365 Groups, and their associated elements – SharePoint, Planner, Teams etc – allow project records to be accessed from a single point – Outlook (on a browser or mobile device app).

Each of these elements can also be accessed from both iOS and Android apps, allowing all members of the team to communicate and share information more effectively.

Instead of sending project documents attached to emails, documents can be sent as links in email, conversations and team chats. Documents can also be proactively and jointly edited by multiple people at the same time, including using both apps-based and online versions of Office applications.

These options, via Office 365 Groups, should improve the way project records are managed.