Software & Apps MS Office Simplify Project Management in Office 365 with Microsoft Planner This visual dashboard streamlines how groups and teams collaborate By Cindy Grigg Writer Cindy Grigg is a former freelance contributor to Lifewire and a productivity writer who teaches Microsoft Office software to students and pros. our editorial process Cindy Grigg Updated March 16, 2020 Office 365 planner charts view for team collaboration. Microsoft MS Office Word Excel Powerpoint Outlook Tweet Share Email Microsoft Planner is a tool for business users, but you may very well find non-business uses for this versatile collaboration environment. Planner is a tool within Office 365, Microsoft's cloud-based environment that includes traditional desktop versions as well as web versions of programs like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Teams Get a Simplified, Visual Experience The idea behind this tool is to simplify and visualize team processes. With Planner, a team can collaborate with panache, by seamlessly controlling how they share files, calendars, contact lists, and more. Planner can also be thought of as a collaborative planning tool, through which a team can share Office 365 files, brainstorm ideas, solve problems, divide up action items, provide feedback, and more. Contextual Chat Sessions for Virtual Meetings Your team may already use other tools such as Skype or other virtual spaces for audio or video meetings. Planner streamlines this by bringing a communication space for chat sessions right in the project planning environment. So, as team members discuss a particular task, they can also see it assigned to specific individuals or watch as details are changed for its delivery, such as a postponed due date. The Planner Dashboard Replaces Email and Other Team Communication Tools An interface featuring Buckets, Cards, and Charts provides a straightforward, highly visual summary of the project at hand. These elements show key information such as deadlines or goals, making it easy to understand the status of a project. Also, project teams stay updated on changes without cumbersome email conversations or actively checking the Planner dashboard. Instead, the dashboard updates automatically. According to Techradar: "Whenever someone makes a strategic change, group members receive a notification. The difference between Planner and collaboration tools like Google Drive is that Planner is primarily organized based on visual cues." Personal and Educational Applications for Microsoft Planner Microsoft Planner promises to be helpful for both business and personal projects requiring collaboration. You could use this space to work with other groups you are involved with, including friends and family. Applications could include party planning, gift coordination, travel plans, study groups, and more. Students, in particular, may find Planner useful, especially since so many students have free or discounted Office 365 accounts. What We Do Know About Who Can Use Microsoft Planner Microsoft Planner is still in early stages at the time of this writing. In fact, you need to be either a First Release consumer or an Office 365 administrator to access the preview. Office 365 First Release customers are early adopters who then give Microsoft feedback in order to improve user experience. This is why they get to access tools like Planner first, because they represent one of the last checks before the widely-distributed version is published. If you are interested in signing up to be a First Release consumer, begin by signing in to your Office 365 account. Next, select – Admin Center - Service Settings - First Release. Keep an eye out for customizations on these screens, so you can decide whether this applies to just you or other users as well, for example.Office 365 Administrators with First Release status function in a similar way, but they do need to respond to an email from Microsoft. If you believe you should be included in First Release communications but have not seen an invitation about Planner, contact Microsoft to see about options for getting that resolved. So, whether you qualify for the preview or are just interested in knowing what to expect when this tool is more universally available, read on for more detail on what you can do with Planner.