Some projects require deep analysis with time-phased data and resource management. Other tasks may be more straightforward, and the need to track precise data is less acute.
Microsoft Project is a group of excellent project scheduling applications for medium and large project teams. On the other hand, MS Planner is a lightweight task management solution for small project teams.
When picking the project management software to use, there are a few things to keep in mind. We’ll help you make the right choice.
Table of contents
- Top Microsoft task and project management apps
- What is Microsoft Project?
- What is Microsoft Planner?
- Microsoft Planner vs. Project: which wins?
- Which Microsoft task management tool to choose?
Top Microsoft task and project management apps
Today, even the strictest project managers can choose a PM solution suitable for their type of management. And, of course, a lot of them turn to the Microsoft ecosystem for answers.
These tools are generally designed to assist a project manager in developing a schedule, assigning resources to tasks, tracking progress, managing a budget, analyzing workloads, etc.
But what tools are available in the Microsoft Project Management family?
What is Microsoft Project?
Let’s start with the most significant group of products in the Microsoft Project Management universe: MS Project.
This bundle of products offers features such as task assignment, due-date tracking, dependency configuration, and more. The Microsoft project management universe includes Project Online, Project for the web, and Project Desktop.
But what is the difference between these products? We can shed some light.
What is Project Online?
It allows project managers to create plans and task lists, allocate tasks, and schedule resources, among other things. Portfolio managers can also check an overview of all their projects to monitor their team members’ work.
The advantages of Project Online include the following:
- Project portfolio alignment and strengthening, plus enhanced project management forecasting.
- Greater visibility across all project activity.
- Minimal hardware maintenance is required.
- It comes with an active service that regularly updates functionality.
- It lets you increase resource management and spot bottlenecks.
- It allows you to simplify and standardize project management.
- It can be easily integrated with other project management tools like Jira, Microsoft Planner, or Azure DevOps by using third-party tools like PPM Express.
What is Project for the web?
Project for the web is a cloud-based project management solution that lets you create and collaborate on team projects quickly and effortlessly.
Notable features of Project for the web include Grids, Boards (Kanban boards), and Timelines (Gantt chant views). Below is a detailed list of Microsoft Project for the web’s advantages.
- Various extensions are available, including simple integration with Microsoft products like Office 365, MS Teams, Power BI, and SharePoint.
- It is suitable for beginners and informal project managers.
- Gantt charts and critical path analysis are two of the more sophisticated tools offered by Microsoft Project for the web.
- Resource management and capacity planning are some of the software’s best features.
- Project for the web offers project managers enhanced project management and control options, including task scheduling, task updates, Kanban boards, and collaboration tools.
What is the Project Desktop application?
With features similar to Project Online or Project for the web, the Project desktop application caters to standalone project plans and organizes work into phases.
- Task lists and custom task boards to help you plan and manage projects.
- The facility to visually track tasks for improved workflow.
- The option to work with team members and stakeholders to modify and update task lists, project timelines, and more using Microsoft Teams.
- Familiar scheduling tools and views like Grid, Board, Timeline, and Gantt Chart.
What is Microsoft Planner?
Microsoft Planner is a task management and team collaboration tool that works with Microsoft 365 products like Outlook, OneDrive, OneNote, Microsoft 365 Groups, etc.
Unlike MS Project solutions, Microsoft Planner is exclusively available as web software for Windows and macOS and as a mobile app for iOS and Android. It can also integrate with Microsoft Teams to help you keep track of tasks while working on a team project.
Microsoft wants Microsoft Planner and To-Do to be front and center on its collaborative platform, with the possibility of merging the two apps down the road.
Some notable advantages of Microsoft Planner are:
- It lets you create new Kanban boards swiftly and efficiently.
- It helps you plan using content-rich task cards containing elements like files, labels, and due dates.
- It automatically visualizes task status with bar or pie charts.
- It combines MS Planner and To-Do tasks with advanced collaboration tools using the Tasks app in Teams.
Wondering which app is most suitable for your project? The different Microsoft task management apps are designed for different project situations. Planner and Microsoft Project tools are built for team projects, but it’s better to use a personal task management app like To-Do if it’s just you.
Microsoft Planner vs. Project: which wins?
Microsoft Project and Microsoft Planner are both project management and scheduling programs. They are, however, used in very different ways.
MS Planner uses Kanban boards for easy job management on ad-hoc projects.
Microsoft Project has features that allow project managers to store precise and time-phased data. The two programs have both differences and similarities. Let’s see how they compare:
|Feature||Planner||Project for the web||Project Online &|
|Teams and assignments||✓||✓||✓|
|MS Teams integration||✓||✓||✓|
|Timeline view (Gantt)||✓||✓|
|Advanced PM (baselines, critical path, and so on)||✓|
|Risk and issues management||✓|
|Program and portfolio management (PPM)||✓|
While MS Project has the most comprehensive tools, with PPM Express, you can transform your Microsoft Planner project management into a scalable project portfolio management platform.
PPM Express is an online project portfolio management tool created to make it simple to coordinate and integrate your projects from Microsoft Project Online, Project Desktop, Microsoft Planner, Jira Software, Monday.com, Smartsheet, and Azure DevOps.
Free or trial version
All the MS Project online versions have a trial version of at least 30 days. Starting with MS Project Online Project Plan 3, you can get all three apps included:
- Project for the web.
- Project Online.
- Project Online desktop client.
MS Project Desktop, as a stand-alone solution, doesn’t have a trial, but you can get a demo call with Microsoft partners.
Hint: Microsoft Project Desktop is almost equal in functionality to Project Online Desktop Client, so if you’re looking for an opportunity to test a Microsoft on-premises solution, you can grab an online version with Project Plan 3 and test its Desktop application.
However, anyone with one of these Microsoft 365 plans has free access to the Microsoft Planner app: it will appear in your dashboard’s Office app section. You can also get a month’s trial to test a Microsoft 365 plan of your choice.
Products and pricing
When deciding between MS Planner and Project tools, it’s critical to consider the price differences. Microsoft Planner is a free tool that comes with a Microsoft 365 subscription. Microsoft Project, on the other hand, is a group of standalone tools with different pricing plans:
- Project Online is a web-based tool available as one of three plans:
- Project Plan 1 – from $10 per user per month.Project Plan 3 – from $30 per user per month.
- Project Plan 5 – from $55 per user per month.
- Three subscriptions are available for Project for the web: Project Plans 1, 3, and 5 (the prices are similar to Project Online). You can also use a lighter version of Project for the web within an Office 365 license.
- Microsoft Project Desktop, provided with a one-time-buy license per PC, costs from $679.00 for the Standard version to $1,129.99 for the Professional one.
Starting from Project Plan 3, you can get Project Online, Project for the web, and MS Project Desktop versions via recurring licenses instead of a one-time buy.
If you already have Microsoft 365, you can use MS Planner without making additional payments. But if not, here are Microsoft 365 options to consider:
- Microsoft 365 Business Basic – $6.00 per month per user (annual subscription with auto-renews).
- Microsoft 365 Business Apps for business – $8.25 per month per user (annual subscription with auto-renews).
- Microsoft 365 Business Standard – $12.50 per month per user (annual subscription with auto-renews).
- Microsoft 365 Business Premium – $22.00 per month per user (annual subscription with auto-renews).
Microsoft Planner also allows you to add people without a Microsoft 365 license to your plan. As a result, this is a less expensive option than Microsoft Project but a less sophisticated tool.
User interface and experience
The UX for Microsoft Project products is more complicated than MS Planner, so using it effectively might require some onboarding time.
The Gantt chart view is the default view in MS Project. On the left side of the screen is a data table, and on the right is a Gantt bar chart.
The Divider bar separates each section and can be moved to make each side bigger. A Gantt chart has rows, columns, and cells just like an Excel worksheet. The Gantt bar chart graphically displays your project schedule.
The Project Online (Project Web App or PWA) interface comprises three main areas: Quick Launch, Ribbon, and Content display area.
- Quick Launch lists the main views and pages that you are able to access. You can click on these links to navigate to different areas of the program.
- The Ribbon is the toolbar that you use to perform actions on what is currently in the content display area. Multiple tabs on the Ribbon may allow you to switch between different sets of actions. Each tab contains groups of related buttons that you can use to interact with the page content.
- The Content display area contains information about your portfolios, projects, and tasks. This is the main focus of each page, and it is where you enter and review data.
There are three main views available in Project for the web:
- The Grid view is based on a traditional work breakdown structure, displaying tasks and subtasks.
- The Board view supports agile and Kanban methods, with a similar interface to Microsoft Planner.
- The Timeline view renders tasks and dependencies as an interactive Gantt chart.
You can access MS Project Online and Project for the web via the browser or a Windows app, but mobile and macOS support is only available through third-party apps.
Microsoft Planner is substantially more straightforward to use than Microsoft Project products. A competitor to Trello and Asana, it uses buckets, boards, and dashboards to present impending tasks, their owners, and associated details in an organized manner.
Because it is newly designed software, its user interface is built with a modern workplace concept in mind. MS Planner is accessible via both browser and mobile app.
Collaboration features in MS Project products can be divided between desktop and online.
Project Online and Project for the web let team members collaborate and log time against their allocated tasks in the cloud.
It has all the cloud-based features for efficient collaboration: coordinating timesheets, creating and assigning tasks, adding information about project issues and risks, storing and working on project documents, linking issues, risks, and docs to specific tasks, etc.
On the other hand, the Microsoft Project Desktop version is often limited because the MPP files are managed entirely by the project manager or a small team, with only selected team members having access to updates.
However, MS Planner is known for its user-friendly design as a part of a larger collaborative environment. Team members can handle their tasks and buckets without a central project manager.
After you’ve created a plan, you can use Outlook to communicate, SharePoint to exchange essential files, and OneNote to keep notes, among other things. Microsoft Planner also works nicely with Teams, and you can add Teams chat to your Outlook group.
Both Microsoft Planner and Project products support agile project management. Microsoft Planner readily assists an agile approach with its project board, task designs, buckets, etc.
With built-in sprint tools, MS Project can be easily adjusted to support agile.
Merged with MS Planner and OneNote, Microsoft Project can cover almost all the agile processes.
Variety of configurations
Both the Microsoft Planner and the Project products can be modified in their unique ways. Microsoft Project allows you to create custom views and filters and add custom fields to your tasks.
On the other hand, MS Planner comes with a limited selection of fields that have yet to be customized.
Microsoft Project is therefore your best bet if you want more configurations. Anything else you add to a Microsoft Planner assignment will go in the Description or Comments area.
Level of project details
The Microsoft Project products, with comprehensive tools and features, are built for more detail-oriented work than the lightweight MS Planner. In Microsoft Planner, you and your team can create plans, assign tasks, chat about tasks, and see charts of your team’s progress.
If your project management requires features like custom fields, baselines, resource monitoring, capacity planning, or reporting, we recommend going for Microsoft Project options. Also, if you want to be able to track dependencies or resources, or a little more complexity, Microsoft Project products work better than MS Planner.
MS Project Online is the only solution for building a project portfolio where portfolio managers can look across all projects to see what people are working on.
Feel free to test both options with your team to decide what best suits your workplace.
Reporting features in MS Project should be considered from two sides: the desktop and online versions.
If you’re using Project Online, what tools can you use to view and create reports? You have several options:
- Sample reports in Project Web App that come included to give you ideas for basic reports:
- Project Overview Dashboard, providing high-level information about projects, including start and finish dates, risks, issues, and tasks.
- Project Overview, providing high-level information about projects, such as completion tracking, number of assignments, and number of tasks.
- Resource Overview, providing high-level information about projects, including the number of hours worked and several tasks by resource.
- Excel BI features that include charts, tables, and views.
- Reports in the Project Desktop application.
- Power BI for data visualizations and insights.
Reports in MS Project desktop: it comes with predefined reports and dashboards for checking your overall project performance from different points of view. All of them are located on the Report tab.
There are a few options to choose from:
- Dashboard reports to analyze how many tasks have been completed, what’s left to be done, the current cost status of your project and its top-level tasks, and completion progress.
- Resource reports to understand the work status for all overallocated resources, showing their actual, remaining work and the work status of all people.
- Cost reports showing the costs and cumulative costs per quarter, the cost and earned value, variance, and performance indices over time, comparing costs and schedules to a baseline to determine if your project is on track.
- Progress reports consolidating all tightly scheduled tasks listed as critical on your project’s critical path, all tasks that were started or finished later than their scheduled dates, and tasks that are lagging.
Also, if a predefined report doesn’t meet your needs, you can use one of the report templates to create your project reports. The last feature enables you to export to an Excel file and customize it as you want
MS Planner’s basic reporting function was created around a simple dashboard with task status, priority, stage division charts, and members’ task alignment.
So, MS Project has a more significant range of reporting options than MS Planner.
In MS Project Desktop and Project Online (PWA), the Gantt chart view is the default view for new projects.
That means you can list each of your project’s tasks in the grid portion on the left side of the Gantt chart view and then organize them into a hierarchy of summary tasks and subtasks. You can also link tasks together to show task dependencies.
In addition to this, the following features are available in MS Project’s Gantt chart:
- Zoom in and out.
- Change the color, shape, or pattern of Gantt bars.
- Create a new type of Gantt bars, such as one that shows available, slack or delayed tasks.
- Add text to Gantt bars.
- Display task names for individual Gantt bars on a summary task bar.
- Change the height of the Gantt bars.
- Change the appearance of link lines between Gantt bars.
Project for the web has its own Gantt chart called Timeline. There is also a unique and widely customizable tool, the Roadmap, where a project manager can add or remove projects, filter, and cohort data.
You can take advantage of collaboration opportunities within Roadmaps by:
- Creating a view of your organization’s projects and coordinating them together to achieve your business goals.
- Connecting directly to projects from multiple systems in organization, allowing each team to use the tools that fit their work style.
- Quickly tracking statuses of all phases and milestones to spot problem areas early.
- Working together by creating a new group of stakeholders or sharing your strategy with an existing Microsoft 365 group.
The Gantt chart is unavailable in Microsoft Planner. But we know how to solve this problem.
Enterprise Resource Planning
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) aims to organize tasks and anticipated timeframes. Microsoft Project products are excellent tools for this.
Microsoft Project is a good fit for ERP, designed to take tasks and completion times and assign them to team members directly in the app.
On the other hand, the MS Planner lacks features like a timeline or Gantt charts, so it isn’t the best tool for this.
Which Microsoft task management tool to choose?
The different groups of Microsoft Project tools and Microsoft Planner have considerable differences.
By weighing the features of each instrument in terms of cost, team utilization, and project planning parameters, you can determine which of them will work best for you.
Microsoft Planner is designed for ad-hoc teams as a centralized platform for team collaboration. On the other hand, Microsoft Project products are more complex tools that use time-phased scheduling and are suitable for medium and large teams.
If you’re looking for ways to migrate between Project Online and MS Planner – discover our new guide about it.