Let’s make it straight. I was one of the earliest adopter of Microsoft Planner in beta, and I’m still using it on a daily basis. The promise of having a Trello alternative, seamlessly integrated with the Microsoft 365 platform, has always been an exciting perspective to me.
So why asking such a bold question? And more importantly, is it even relevant to ask it?
What makes Planner great?
In a sense, Planner came out of nowhere. It was bootstrapped by a great team, but working barely independently from the main Microsoft 365 product group.
From this silo, freed from the hassle of a big organization, they were able to ship a new product quickly, and most importantly, iterate fast, delivering great value to the Microsoft 365 platform.
Compared to the other alternatives available as part of the many “tasks management” solutions from the Microsoft ecosystem (ToDo, Outlook…), Planner is a great visual task management product, ready to use with powerful capabilities:
- Personal dashboard view of Planner so each individual can see all their Planner tasks across Groups and Plans.
- Embedded commenting system for collaboration
- Seamless attachments management from each task
- Could be easily embedded in Microsoft Teams tabs
The case against Planner
The devil is in the details.
Most importantly, probably due to some trade-offs made during the initial design phase, Planner doesn’t provides proper integration capabilities for third-party apps to interact with its API endpoints:
- No webhooks to integrate with automation platforms such as Power Automate or Zapier
- Lack of support for the “application-mode” permissions model
These missing capabilities ultimately prevented the creation of a strong and thriving ecosystem, key to success for such tasks management apps.
From the outside, it feels like this project generated a lot of technical debt, that Microsoft if apparently paying now, looking at the few progress made in the roadmap in the past few months.
Is the Planner team out of breath? Does it have the necessary resources to move forward?
Microsoft Lists, a credible alternative?
On the other side, we have Microsoft Lists.
The product philosophy is radically different. While Planner’s only focus is to visually manage tasks in a kanban-style UX, Microsoft Lists is more generic and address many different scenarios.
From a technical perspective, Microsoft Lists is a major feature and interface upgrade to SharePoint lists, packaged as an independent app. Coming from this solid SharePoint background, Microsoft Lists is feature rich, and supports all the possibly imaginable scenarios for task management:
- Multiple views (lists, cards, custom…)
- Tasks versioning
- Properly integrated with the Microsoft Graph with a consistent API
- Native integration with Power Automate, Power Apps and Power BI
Also, as it relies on SharePoint, it comes with batteries included in terms of compliance features.
Microsoft Lists still has some weaknesses:
- Microsoft Lists is not intrinsically a task management tool, and you may feel it in its UX
- Its made of building blocks, very customizable, but probably too much for the average information worker
Last year, Jeff Teper, who was previously Microsoft CVP of Office apps, (SharePoint, OneDrive and Stream), took over the leadership of the Microsoft Teams product group.
Keeping in mind his track record, and reading the recent announcements:
- Kanban board view for Microsoft Lists
- One Big Step for Both Lists the App and SharePoint the Platform
my gut feeling is that Jeff Teper may have a personal preference for Microsoft Lists, despite it weaker UX.
From a more rational perspective, when the Teams PG had to allocate budget to either Planner or Lists as the default tasks management framework for Microsoft Loop, what do you think they’ve chosen… ?
Maybe at some point, the survival of Planner will be the elephant in the room…