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Microsoft task management tools - A complete guide (with examples)

SoftwareOne blog editorial team
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We are often asked by customers about what to use to track personal and team tasks' status. One may think that there is an easy solution when you use Office 365, but actually, the answer to this question is different every time.It's mainly due to technical limitations and a great number of features available. This article will save you some trouble and help you find the right task management tool.We hope you will find it helpful. We must, however, include a disclaimer before you read any further! There are a lot of personal opinions from our consultants in this article, and with some of them, you might disagree!

What tools are available for task management?

Today, there are a number of places where you can find a Tasks feature in the Microsoft landscape:

  • Outlook/Exchange
  • SharePoint lists
  • OneNote
  • Planner
  • Microsoft To-Do
  • Project and Project Server

We can imagine you asking – what the hell! What should I use, can't they just create one, good application?There seems to be no single vision for tasks at Microsoft. There was never a good, complete scenario, but let's see what value we can get from what we have now.

Outlook

Outlook is a starter scenario for many users. Most of Information Workers' tasks come from e-mails. You can simply flag them to convert to tasks (well – this is not really true – flagging an email is different than creating a task. Contact us if you want to know more!.There are some standard task fields such as title, priority, status, etc. You can even set reminders, recurring tasks, or even assign them to another person!Perfect scenario. Not...The biggest limitation was always the lack of integration with mobile clients (especially those by Microsoft). Even if you manage to sync your tasks to another device, not all of them will be included (for example, flagged emails). And when you assign a task to someone, you'll only get the status information when they send it.Our recommendation for Outlook tasks:

  • Good for starting your journey with personal task management (usually, experienced people use other tools)
  • If you want the whole team to work on a task list, there are easier and more modern options.

SharePoint

Back in 2007, everyone was surprised by how quickly SharePoint usage grew. Platform flexibility and features such as tasks were some of the reasons. SharePoint task list is very feature-rich. It's hard to mention all of them, but the main ones are:

  • Creating, updating, deleting tasks (of course!)
  • Setting custom statuses
  • Assigning tasks to other people
  • Creating custom views
  • Gantt chart view
  • Microsoft Project integration
  • Exporting to Excel
  • Connecting and managing a task list in Outlook
  • Notifications
  • Setting permissions per task

The main problem with older SharePoint features is usability. You get a ton of features, but in the end, many of them require a lot of clicks. This just makes adoption hard and discourages users. The views are not mobile-friendly, and there is no easy way of syncing or working on the task list on a mobile device. When it comes to assigning a task to other users, remember that you can do it only for those who have accounts on SharePoint. You can also assign a task to a group, but it's tricky to filter them.In SharePoint 2013, there was a very nice feature – Work Management Service. It aggregated all of SharePoint, Exchange and Project Server tasks in one view. Tasks sent by workflows used to integrate with Outlook nicely.Unfortunately, this feature was disabled. The biggest pain of SharePoint tasks is that Microsoft no longer invests in them and from a future usage perspective, this is a dead-end scenario.Our recommendation for SharePoint:

  • Good for any scenario with complicated usage requirements such as task-level permissions, custom views, integration with Project
  • Many features make adoption harder, so remember about proper end-user training
  • Microsoft no longer invests in it, so if you plan long-term usage, then look for other options.

OneNote

OneNote is a one-way journey. Once you start using it, there is no turning back. It's also a component of many collaboration scenarios such as Team Site, Groups, Teams, and Skype. At SoftwareOne, we use OneNote for virtually every case.When it comes to managing tasks there is a simple process. You can tag your notes with a "To Do" tag. It's the simplest, easiest, and quickest way of working on a task list. You will probably ask if it's possible to assign a OneNote task to a specific person. Yes, it is! This task will appear in that person's Outlook task list. When they complete it in Outlook, the update will be synchronised with OneNote! Now – this feature is really cool, but to be honest it didn't really work for us. At our company level hardly anyone uses Outlook tasks. Instead, we sometimes just use a simple table in OneNote with an Assigned To column.Our recommendation for OneNote tasks:

  • It's the simplest and quickest scenario. Because OneNote syncs to your devices, it's also convenient for people who travel a lot
  • If you require filtering and a custom view, it's not possible
  • Use it when you prefer simplicity over features.

Microsoft Planner

Planner is part of the Office 365 portfolio. It allows users to create modern, visually attractive plans. It has many features that competition such as Asana or Trello offers. If you have Office 365 subscription and your scenario is group collaboration, it should be your first choice. Main Planner features are:

  • Creating plans (that are connected to Office 365 Groups)
  • Mobile application
  • Task labeling (simple visual categories)
  • Adding attachments
  • Comments
  • Simple task history
  • Checklists (a simple sub-task concept)
  • External access (using Office 365 Guest capabilities)
  • Simple reports (such as plan status, assigned to me, tasks in categories)
  • Kanban/Buckets view (allows you to see categorised tasks in a nice, visual way).

There are two features that we would like to see in Planner. The first one is Outlook integration. The second feature is more granular permissions. Now if you assign a person to a task, they get permission to the whole group. This means access to all tasks, documents, notes, conversations, etc.Microsoft invests and actively develops Planner so it's possible that these features will appear in the near future. You can also vote or submit a feature request here. Our recommendation for Planner:

  • It should be your first choice for any task management for a team
  • It requires Office 365 subscription and Office 365 Groups enabled – note that many IT departments block group creation.

Microsoft To-Do

What? Another task management application from Microsoft? Yeah…Right now To-Do features are very limited to:

  • Creating lists
  • Creating tasks
  • Setting due dates, note, and reminder (something so obvious that I didn't even mention it in other applications)
  • Integration with Outlook – yay! The only application that natively saves tasks in your mailbox. This might be the reason the features are so limited for now
  • Log in using Office 365 account (limited to the mobile app, it doesn't work in the web version).

Our recommendation for Microsoft To-Do:

  • If you are looking for nice access to your Outlook tasks on a mobile device – just use it (with Office 365 account).
  • For other scenarios, it lacks features right now, but Microsoft may quickly develop it, so keep track of that app's status.

Microsoft Project and Project Server

From the regular user's perspective, using Microsoft Project or Project Server for managing tasks is a bit exotic. These are nice products but their usage seems limited to managing projects, not tasks.We will just leave you with the information that it's possible to manage tasks with Project and you can create complicated relationships between them to have the whole project progress overview.If you managed to read till the end – thank you! It means that the topic is really interesting to you. Contact us if you have any questions!

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SoftwareOne blog editorial team

Blog Editorial Team

We analyse the latest IT trends and industry-relevant innovations to keep you up-to-date with the latest technology.