Excel, Planner, Teams, or SharePoint – What is the Best Tool for Your Project?
There’s no shortage of project management software to suit teams, projects, and organizations of all sizes and across all industries.
It’s very likely your team is using at least one tool such as Excel, Microsoft Planner, or Microsoft Teams to manage their non-project and project work. This can make project life very difficult!
If you want to introduce a standardized way of managing projects, for example, using a SharePoint project site, you’ll need to understand what your team is currently using, why, and how.
In this article, I’ll cover three common Microsoft tools – Excel, Planner, and Teams – and two solutions from BrightWork for SharePoint: our free template and our full PPM solution. You’ll also learn more about Project Central, a project management solution for teams using Microsoft 365.
With multiple formulas, pivot tables, and charting, Excel is a powerful reporting and data analysis tool.
When it comes to project management, Excel is useful for lists, developing a work breakdown structure, calculating billing rates, and that’s about it.
I won’t dwell on the numerous reasons why you shouldn’t use Excel for project management. However, just in case you (or someone on your team) is wondering about this, here are some common pitfalls:
- Easy to override data and formulas.
- Hard to track tasks across multiple spreadsheets, increasing project risks.
- Does not work well on mobile devices.
- Cannot co-edit a spreadsheet.
- Difficult to find and update all information as the project changes.
- Cannot re-use the spreadsheet as a template for future projects.
The premise is simple: create your plan and use boards or ‘buckets’ to assign tasks, share files, and collaborate using chat. Planner is very intuitive and requires little end-user training.
Project teams can plan and manage tasks as Kanban Boards with information on:
- Task owner (s)
- The category of the task – using labels.
- The ‘bucket’ for the task.
- Progress (Not started; in progress; completed).
- Urgent, low, medium, or high priority.
- Start and due dates
- The description of the task.
- A checklist to break the task into further parts
- Comments and discussions.
Boards are grouped by bucket, for example, project phase, workstream, or status.
Once tasks are created, users can manage work in a few different ways:
- View tasks as boards or as a calendar (schedule).
- Drag and drop a task into different buckets as work progresses.
- Use the ‘filter’ option to view tasks by due date or label.
- Change the ‘group by’ view from ‘bucket’ to assigned to, progress, due date, or labels.
- Work in Microsoft Teams by adding Planner as a tab to the relevant channel.
Whilst there is no option to create recurring tasks, you can copy a repeated task and update as needed.
It’s also easy to view the plan in a calendar by clicking ‘schedule’ in the top menu or use charts to track the overall progress of work. This is useful for stakeholder reporting.
Planner is part of the Microsoft 365 ecosystem. Each plan has an Outlook group, a specific OneNote, and a SharePoint team site; you can also add the plan to Microsoft Teams as a tab (more on this below).
Planner is perfect for team collaboration, task management, and personal work management. I use Planner on a daily basis to manage tasks across various areas of responsibility. I also use a plan to manage my month, with a bucket per week and a backlog bucket to capture new ideas.
Microsoft Planner is ideal for small, lightweight projects and teams that don’t need too much direction or structure.
However, having used Planner for a recent project, there are a few caveats worth noting:
- There is no option to create a project timeline or Gantt chart, making resource management a little tricky.
- Sub-tasks or checklists cannot be prioritized. Likewise, it’s hard to indicate or manage task dependencies. One solution is to number each item in the checklist, but this can get very confusing.
- Commenting via cards can get unruly as everyone in the group receives the message. What may have been intended for one person can escalate into a group discussion, distracting people from their tasks!
- Notifications for upcoming tasks were only sent 24 hours before the task was due, which led to missed deadlines.
Overall, Planner is a great way to manage personal work and simple projects but isn’t robust enough for large or complex projects.
Released to the public in early 2017, Microsoft Teams is a Slack-like app within Microsoft 365 that provides a chat-based workspace for teams to talk and collaborate.
Teams will replace Skype for Business in July 2021 as a tool for calls, video conferences, and meetings for Microsoft 365 users.
Microsoft Teams is ideal for:
- Real-time chat and messaging
- Video meetings for up to 250 people
- Live events for up to 10,000 people
- Cloud calling
- Document storage
- Real-time co-editing
- Integration with third-party apps and connectors
- Public or private channels
- Robust security and privacy capabilities
- Task Management
Teams is built on the Office 365 Groups framework, bringing together various collaboration tools and options in one place.
Teams is made up of teams – a collection of people, conversations, files, and tools – and channels – a discussion within the team focused on a particular topic like a project. Each team has a SharePoint Team Site, Office 365 Group, and shared OneNote.
If you are accessing Teams via Microsoft 365, you can use the web app or download the software to your desktop.
Creating a new team is straightforward – simply click ‘create team’ underneath the list of available teams and complete the relevant information. A team can be private or public.
Complete your team by:
- Adding more team members
- Creating public or private channels
- Uploading or creating new files
- Adding tabs, including Planner, Power BI, or a SharePoint site.
Microsoft Teams integrates with a wide range of Microsoft and third-party apps so your team can bring project information together in one place.
If you are using SharePoint or BrightWork to manage projects, you can easily add a link to a project site to the relevant team. Simply click the ‘Website’ icon above, fill in the short form, and add your link.
The link to your project site will appear as a tab in Teams. This way, you can easily combine the functionality of BrightWork with chat, video calls, and more in Teams.
Outlining the full functionality of Teams would take a few articles. Microsoft has created excellent training resources for Teams on their website and within the tool itself, including a bot, so do use these guides.
With a focus on collaboration and agility, Teams is a core part of how the BrightWork Marketing team works together.
Microsoft 365 has an overwhelming amount of collaboration options; Teams brings the best of these options into one place in an easy-to-use way.
However, Teams is not a stand-alone project management tool. Whilst you can add apps like Planner, there is no easy way to track tasks or report across projects.
Without dashboards or roll-up reports, managing key project elements like budget, resources, and timelines is impossible in Teams. Information is stored in silos – files, folders, team chats – making it difficult to spot risks on individual projects and across portfolios.
I like to use Teams as an aid to project management, a place to collaborate and share files or ideas quickly – which keeps my inbox clutter-free! It’s also ideal for day-to-day teamwork and collaboration.
Free SharePoint Project Management Template
Some projects require more process and structure – that’s where a SharePoint project site is useful. Using lists and web parts, you can use a SharePoint project site to:
- Plan and manage a project schedule
- Manage resources
- Assign and track tasks
- Create a document repository
- Add workflows to automate project tasks
- Use a Work Breakdown Structure
- Manage goals, risks, and issues
- Provide project status updates.
Like Excel, SharePoint is part of the Microsoft suite so it’s likely already part of your organization’s IT infrastructure.
However, the problem with using SharePoint for project management is you’ll need to configure the site to match your requirements – an issue if you aren’t familiar with SharePoint or don’t have a project management process in place.
That’s where the Free SharePoint Project Management Template from BrightWork will give you a head start.
The Free SharePoint Template has everything you need to initiate, plan, track, and report on a project using SharePoint – straight out of the box.
Based on a simple five-step approach to project management, key features of the Free SharePoint template include:
- Getting Started Tiles to help you plan and set up the project
- Project Homepage with metric tiles, RAG status icons, and ‘tasks by status’ chart
- Quick Launch menu
- Tasks List
- Project timeline and Gantt charts
- Issues List
- My Work and Work Reports
- Project Status Reports
- Document repository.
It takes less than five minutes to download and install the Free Template and launch your project site. As the template is based on SharePoint, it will plug straight into your existing IT infrastructure with no coding required.
The template is free, forever, and can be used to manage as many projects as you need.
Project and Portfolio Management for SharePoint On-Premises: BrightWork
The free SharePoint Project Management template is a fast starting point and is designed for single projects. If you need to report across multiple projects and portfolios in one place, the full BrightWork solution has everything you need!
Built to run on SharePoint On-Premises, BrightWork ships with a range of pre-configured project templates, reports, and portfolio dashboards.
Key capabilities of BrightWork include:
- Cross-project portfolio dashboards
- Project Request Management
- Agile Boards
- Interactive Gantt Charts
- Power BI Reporting Pack
- In-browser Task Scheduler
- Enhanced sync with Microsoft Project Professional
- Personalized Work Reports
- Template Design Sync.
If you want to get projects under control and use Microsoft 365, Project Central could be what you need.
The latest offering from BrightWork, Project Central is a visual, simple, and dynamic way to manage projects using Microsoft 365.
With just a few clicks and no training, you can launch your first project on Project Central very quickly.
Built on Microsoft Azure with access based on Microsoft work accounts, Project Central is secure and easy to manage.
Key features include:
- Project workspace with agile cards to track progress.
- Project Templates, an easy way to save time during project set-up.
- Project dashboard for more detailed information about a project such as health and goals.
- Portfolio dashboard, which provides a roll-up view across all projects.
- Activity Feed to keep everyone in the loop in real-time.
- My Task, a simple and visual way to track your work.
- Create and assign tasks to the team to get the job done quickly and effectively.
- Ability to create multiple accounts for different types of projects or departments.
- Easy set-up with your Microsoft work account.
- Access to Office 365 files.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2017 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.
In her free time, she enjoys a challenging session at the gym, tucking into a good book, and walking the beautiful Galway coastline with her dog.