Actionspace vs. Microsoft Planner

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Actionspace vs. Microsoft Planner

August 31, 2016

June 2016 marked the launch of Microsoft Planner for Office 365 – a productivity tool for structuring and managing teamwork. This new product definitely catches the eye with its bright design, business graphics and user-friendly interface.

At Actionspace, we have tried out Microsoft Planner’s approach to teamwork management and compared it to what our product has to offer. Designed for teams that use Office 365 and SharePoint, Actionspace is a powerful task, project and workflow management solution.

What Microsoft Planner and Actionspace certainly have in common is the goal to enhance teamwork management and help dedicated teams to get more things done faster. With both solutions, one can manage personal and group tasks and structure them into projects. However, the implementation stage is what distinguishes the two from one another considerably and makes them better suited for different team sizes and workloads.

Consider our analysis below to see what the two systems have in common and how they differ.

First impression

Microsoft Planner Actionspace
Bright design, business graphics and user-friendly interface. Minimalistic design, intuitively clear interface, faster performance.

Details: From the very beginning, what one stumbles on in Microsoft Planner is action speed. Resulting from the interface style, any transition in the system, except for pop-up windows, leads to full redrawing of the screen, which looks a bit old-fashioned and unhandy. While both systems are hosted on Microsoft Azure, Actionspace supports more speedy interactions with only the changing parts of the screen redrawn.

Positioning

Basing on the Kanban board logic and a ‘can do’ paradigm. Project-as-a-process approach, encouraging a certain project processing logic.

Navigation among projects

The more Plans, the more complicated the navigation. All ongoing projects presented on a single screen.
No filter, sorting or search options. Advanced filtering, sorting and full text search opportunities.

Details:

  • Navigation mechanism is rather concise: all plans are arranged by name on the list on the left.
  • Plans marked as Favourite appear on a separate list on top of other plans.
  • Whenever one launches numerous plans and their names no longer fit onto the screen, navigation complicates, and one has to use the scrollbar to move through the whole list.
  • Filtering, sorting and searching through the list of plans are not available.
  • Elaborate navigation mechanism gives one an opportunity to see the whole picture with all running projects on one screen.
  • To find out the details about a task or a project, one can select a necessary list (My Tasks, Assigned, In Work etc.) and then easily filter or sort items. One can also use the full text search to get information about tasks and projects.

Source: Liquid Hg Blog

Task management

The solution is practically inapplicable when managing tasks involves control of completion due to all users being granted the same rights within the system. Role-based access. Work on tasks is a structured and controllable process.
Works best for flat-organized teams. Suits both, flat and hierarchically organized teams.

Details:

  • A task must be created within a Plan.
  • Working with a task is limited to name, specification, description, attaching a document (transferred automatically into a note in OneNote) or a link, setting start and due dates, assignee (optional), and adding a checklist. Only the name is required.
  • While a task is in progress, any user from the assignees’ group can change its status (“Not started”, “In progress”, “Completed”), deadline, assignees and all other task parameters, and even delete it.
  • A task may be attached to a project or exist independently. It has a pre-set processing logic with consequent task statuses and roles differentiation. A task can be not started, in progress, completed, with an issue reported, recalled or delegated.
  • By “Splitting” a task, one can easily transform it into a project with dependable tasks, also available for “Splitting”.
  • In the course of running a project or a task, they get consistently modified with all changes saved as “History”.
  • Any task or project can be saved as a template for future use, and set as recurrent with time specifications. Thus, Actionspace accumulates information about business processes becoming a corporate knowledge base.
  • User roles include “Author”, “Assignee” and “Observer” with specified rights regarding tasks’ modification. For instance, only the author can delete a task, which needs to be either completed or recalled.
  • Task delegation and issues reporting mechanisms are one-click and simple actions.
  • It is possible to set reminders for the system to warn one on a certain date.
  • For flat-organized teamwork, one just needs to add all group members as Observers to a task/project for them to be able to change the statuses and content.

Personal productivity improvement

Separate “My Tasks” panel to represent all tasks a user is involved in. Numerous tasks’ representation opportunities.
  Special “Focus” mechanism to boost personal productivity.

Details:

  • A user can view all their tasks in the “My Tasks” panel.
  • Tasks are represented in two ways: “Plan” (all tasks grouped in Plans) and “Progress” (according to the task status).
  • Tasks are displayed as cards, which turns work with multiple plans containing numerous tasks into quite a complicated thing to do.
  • Tasks are represented on several lists: “My tasks”, “Important”, “Issue”, “Approval”, “Due Today”, “Overdue’” etc. These specifications ease navigation among day-to-day operations, no matter how many tasks there are in the system.
  • Inspired by the “Getting Things Done” time management concept, Actionspace presents a personal productivity booster with its “Focus” mechanism, where users can put all tasks they are currently working on. Any task or project can be marked with a “Focus” sign, regardless of one’s role in it, and the system automatically puts the tasks with set reminders in “Focus”.
    One can also access the calendar view, where all tasks are presented according to the deadline or reminder date.

Source: Static.Spiceworks.com

Progress tracking

Vivid progress tracking on single Plans, complicated overall monitoring. Multiple ways to represent information on progress. Comprehensive reports, export to Excel.

Details:

  • Apart from looking at each Plan’s dashboard, the only way to monitor progress on tasks in Planner is to group them by “Progress” on the “My tasks” board.
  • There is no opportunity to view the overall progress picture with all tasks one is involved in. As mentioned above, this makes dealing with multiple tasks complex and cumbersome.
  • A number of task representations that facilitate progress tracking are available. For example, in “Tasks to Control” section, the items are represented in “Tasks to Control”, “Important”, “Issue”, “Waiting for Approval”, “Overdue”, and “Due Today” lists.
  • Smart filters and sorting options help to organize tasks in specific orders. Once necessary kinds of tasks have been identified, there is an option to save the customized list as a report and export data to Excel in a pre-set template format for further processing.

Source: GetApp.com

Project Management

Great visualization of Plan structure. Project process visualized in Gantt charts.
No particular Plan’s processing logic. Project’s processing logic identified at the planning stage with possible modifications.

Details:

  • Planner follows the Kanban logic with tasks going through particular stages, identified specifically for the task.
  • Tasks in a project are organized in buckets.
  • Any team member can drag and drop tasks between columns. This approach does not follow any specific process logic and just helps to make visual organization of the Plan more convenient.
  • Actionspace follows an alternative project-as-a-process paradigm of project management. On the planning stage, tasks can be arranged in a particular sequence in the Gantt chart mode. Upon the project launch, tasks are automatically assigned to responsible groupmates.
  • While the project is in progress, all members with appropriate rights can monitor the level of completion on the Gantt chart, but only project manager can change its structure if needed.
  • A project can be created from scratch, transformed from a task as a result of a “Split”, or launched from a template. Such an approach allows one to not only visualize project stages in a convenient way, but also automate the process.
  • Independent tasks and other projects can be attached and detached from a project anytime.

 

Source: ManagedSolution.com

Project progress can be viewed as a list of tasks:

Or in a Gantt chart:

Project dashboard

Limited space for representation in the Planner hub. More items fit on the screen due to compact representation.
Filtering options not available. Multiple filters.

Details:

  • The Planner hub gives an overview of all projects.
  • Business graphs are used as a form of representation and visualizing progress on all ongoing Plans with color identification for tasks not started, late, in progress and completed.
  • The hub has limited space for representation and the information on plans is brief, which does not give one full detailed understanding of what is going on.
  • All ongoing projects are shown as bars with color indication for percentage of completion.
  • Overall number of tasks in the project and their current status are displayed in Total, Completed, Last Week, Overdue, and Issue columns.
  • One can easily apply filters to identify projects related to a certain context.
  • Users with special Supervisor rights can view all company’s projects, regardless of their role in them.

Source: GetApp.com

Teamwork management

In Planner, team members can view plan’s history and use comments to communicate on tasks:

Source: Gigaom.com

and attach Outlook 365 conversations to plans.

Source: Itunity.com

Apart from the abovementioned features, Actionspace allows saving different versions of the attached files and restore previous versions if needed.

Notifications and Reminders

Both systems notify on changes and send reminders to users in a similar fashion. In Actionspace, one can further specify categories of notifications in order to avoid cluttering their inbox, as well as select dates to set additional reminders and see a calendar of reminders and deadlines.

Final remarks

  • Plans can be marked with colored category indicators showing on the Plan’s card.
  • Actionspace offers another smart classification and search tool, which is Tags. Users can mark tasks and projects with Tags and later select Tags as a search parameter.

Source: Gigaom.com

  • Planner automatically creates an Outlook group for each Plan, which may lead to an unmanageable increase of groups.
  • Another benefit that Actionspace brings to its users is seamless Outlook integration that allows creating and assigning tasks directly from the inbox without reentering the data.

Conclusion

Both systems we have reviewed – Microsoft Planner and Actionspace – are designed to perform identical functions of effective task and project management and empower teams to achieve business goals.

All in all, Planner better suits a flat organizational structure with a relatively small number of tasks and plans for each team member. Planner’s indisputable advantage is its great Kanban-styled visualization.

Actionspace’s potential spreads beyond that and allows dealing with projects as goal-oriented processes with different roles assigned to employees. Actionspace will suit teams with a limited amount of tasks and projects, as well as large organizations with various business processes and operations, due to a wider range of features and sophisticated yet easy to use interface.


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