There are several ways to create, record and assign tasks in organisations. These may include:
- Personal tasks (or calendar entries) in email applications such as Outlook, or set via the Microsoft ‘To Do’ application.
- Team and Group-based tasks created and managed in various ways, including on physical white boards, via Microsoft 365 Planner/Tasks or ‘Tasks by Planner for Teams’.
- Project-based tasks, including in Microsoft Project or other similar applications. Depending on the type of project (e.g., agile or waterfall), this may also involve tasks pinned on Kanban boards.
- Activity-based tasks, including in dedicated task-based software such as Jira, Trello, etc.
This post describes the three main elements of tasks in Planner/Tasks (including via Teams), where the records are stored, and recordkeeping considerations.
An important point to consider while reading this post is whether you regards tasks in Planner (or Tasks by Planner for Teams) as records? If your answer is yes, then you will need to think about how these records will be managed.
(Thanks to the team at Office365 for IT Pros for some of the detail in this post).
What is Planner?
To quote from the e-book ‘Office 365 for IT Pros’, Microsoft Planner (also known as ‘Tasks by Planner and To Do’ in Teams) is ‘a lightweight task-oriented planning application’ that is based on membership of Microsoft 365 Groups (click link if you are unfamiliar with Microsoft 365 Groups).
While there is some functional similarity between Microsoft Project and Planner, organisations soon (or will need to) learn which one is most appropriate for their business needs. Based on my own experience:
- MS Project is best for tracking activities and tasks for major projects.
- Planner is useful for general group task assignment and tracking of those tasks.
What are the three main elements of tasks in Planner?
Every task in Planner has three main elements:
- Data. The details of the task itself including the ‘bucket’ it belongs to, progress, priority, dates, notes and a checklist.
- Attachments. This may include either uploaded documents or links. Two tasks cannot have the same attachment, for reasons explained below.
- Comments. These are effectively ‘conversations’.
When a new task is added via Planner or Teams (Tasks by Planner for Teams) via the ‘+ Add task’ option, an end-user simply needs to enter the task name, set a due date (if required), and assign if (if required).
After the new task has been created, the end-user may click on the three dot menu to add a label, assign the task, copy it, copy a link to it, move it, or delete it. Note that deleting a task does NOT delete any attachments or comments.
The end-user may also click on the name of the tasks, which offers the options shown below to add attachments or make comments.
What is stored where?
According to Office 365 for IT Pros, ‘Planner stores the metadata for plans, including information describing the tasks and buckets that make up each plan, in an Azure data service’. Click this link to learn in which country your Planner data is stored)
The accessible metadata about each plan can be seen when the plan is exported to Excel.
- Task ID (for example: QXkIWsgkqkO5rLu5pvfMhQgAEyXz)
- Task Name
- Bucket Name
- Assigned To
- Created By
- Created Date
- Start Date
- Due Date
- Late (true/false)
- Completed Date
- Completed By
- Description (= Notes)
- Completed Checklist Items
- Checklist Items
As can be see, the Plan metadata does not include or show references to attachments or notes. There is no way of knowing from the exported data if the task had any attachments or comments
Any task can have attachments or links to other content. When uploaded ‘from computer’, these attachments are not stored in Planner but in the Documents library of the Team’s SharePoint site (the ‘Files’ tab), at the same level as (public) channel folders, as described in detail below. There is no option to choose where they will be saved.
This can be quite confusing, especially as all attachments uploaded from a computer, for all Tasks may be stored in the same location, without reference to the task. (This underlines the importance of saving the required attachments to the Teams channel Files tab first).
In the example below, the Teams channel ‘New Sites’ has a plan named ‘New sites tasks’. A task (‘Does this seem right’) has been added with an attachment ‘ExamplePDFA’. (Note, the visual of the document is a check-box option; only one visual can be displayed if there are multiple attachments).
As noted already, if uploaded from a computer, an attachment is actually stored in the Documents library at the same level as the channel folders, which means they are not visible from the Files tab for the channel as can be seen in the screenshot below.
To get to the task attachments from Teams you have two options:
- Go to the ‘General’ channel, click on the ‘Files’ tab, then click on the ‘Documents’ option (to the left of ‘> General’). ALL attachments to ALL tasks for every channel in the entire Team are stored in this location. This needs to be kept in mind if anyone syncs the library to File Explorer as there is no indication that these attachments belong to a task in Planner.
- By clicking on ‘Open in SharePoint’ and then navigating to the top of the Documents library as can be seen below.
In the same way that the task data exported to Excel does not show any reference to attachments, attachments uploaded from a computer (or, for that matter, attachments from Teams files) show no reference to the related task.
From a retention point of view:
- If retention labels have been applied to the Team’s folders in SharePoint, these labels will not apply to uploaded documents linked with tasks.
- If a retention policy has been applied to the entire site, then these attachments will be deleted in line with that policy.
The following could happen:
- Anyone with delete rights, not knowing why these uploaded documents exist, to simply delete them.
- A member of the Team or Group could add more content to the library at the same level as the uploaded attachments, especially if they are working via File Explorer. (Keep in mind that a new channel is NOT created when a new folder is created in the library at the same level as the channel linked folders.)
Also, if the person who created or is editing the tasks ‘removes’ the document from the three dot menu next to an existing attachment, that attachment is not deleted from the library, which is why there are two documents titled ExamplePDFA above, one with the extra ‘ 1’.
Although it may be difficult to enforce in reality, asking end-users to attach or create a link to a document already stored in a Teams Files tab is better practice.
Task Comments are threaded conversations that are captured in the Microsoft 365 Group’s mailbox. If the Team was created first, the M365 Group mailbox will not be visible to the end users in their Outlook client. However, they will receive a copy of the conversation in their normal inbox.
In the example task below below, which was created in a Team with a visible Outlook mailbox, there is one initial comment to indicate the task was created, then two additional notes.
In the Outlook client, each of these added comments is visible as a thread ‘in reply’ to the original task.
Curiously, the copy that appears in the end-user’s Inbox also shows the retention period for all other Inbox emails. It is not clear if this retention policy will apply to the task conversations or not.
Managing records in Planner/Tasks
Are tasks records?
If organisations decide that tasks are records, they will need to consider how they will be managed given:
- The way that Planner stores task data, attachments, and comments separately. Planner task data is made visible via the Teams interface, it is not stored in Teams.
- The ability for members of Teams to create multiple plans with multiple tasks with multiple uploaded attachments (all stored in the same location without reference to the task it relates to).
- The fact that a Group/Team may create a range of different types of content, not just in Teams.
- The inability to apply retention policies to tasks in Planner, while retention policies might affect uploaded attachments, Teams files or comments as conversations in Outlook.
- The inability to close or archive a plan, or export all the content as a single entity.
At a minimum, all the task data could be exported to Excel and stored somewhere – perhaps even on the Team’s SharePoint site. The exported data will not include any attachments or comments (neither of which are not referenced in the Excel export). One problem with this approach may be deciding when and if the task data is to be exported, and if the original plan should then be deleted – who is responsible?
If organisations decide that tasks are not records, they should still consider how to manage the various elements of each task and plan from a retention point of view.
- At what point can a plan be deleted? Does the deletion need to be recorded somewhere?
- What if the Team decides to delete it anyway? There is currently no information governance/retention coverage for Planner but attachments and comments (if any) may remain.
Perhaps the easiest approach is to regard Planner tasks as low-level working content, not really records, in the same way that tasks in the former Outlook were generally overlooked as being records.