Posted in Electronic records, Information Management, Planner, Records management, Retention and disposal, Tasks

Managing tasks as records in Microsoft 365 Planner/Tasks

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?

The Planner option in office.com

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).

The Planner app in Teams

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).

Adding a task

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.

Task 3-dot menu options

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?

Task data

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
  • Progress
  • Priority
  • Assigned To
  • Created By
  • Created Date
  • Start Date
  • Due Date
  • Late (true/false)
  • Completed Date
  • Completed By
  • Description (= Notes)
  • Completed Checklist Items
  • Checklist Items
  • Labels

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

Task attachments

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).

Example task with an attachment.

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.

The task attachments are NOT stored in the channel Files tab

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’.

Removing an attachment doesn’t delete it, adding to the potential confusion.

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

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.

The header of the thread in the Inbox shows a retention policy, not visible in the one above.

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.

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.