Office 365: Apps Beyond the Basic Suite Part 2

Posted on Thursday, March 26, 2020 by Jessica Salerno

Part 2: Planner

By Shayna Chapman, CPA

The first blog post of the series gave you a short list of apps you should consider using as part of the Office 365 suite of products. In this post, we will explore Microsoft Planner. In short, Planner is a cloud application that allows you to manage projects. You create a project, assign it to people within your organization and visually watch it move through the process to completion.

For a small firm, this is a wonderful perk to the O365 subscription. If you don’t have the budget for yet another software subscription for project management, use what you already own to take care of this problem! Planner can be used as a firm tool to manage several client projects at once, as a more specific tool for managing one client’s very specific project and to work externally with clients to have them be part of the process on a project.

Planner is organized using “buckets” and each task in a project has a “tile” full of information on that task. The easiest way to describe this is by giving an example of a firm-wide project we all know well: tax returns. Think of the “Buckets” as your various stages of tax preparation. You probably have at least the following listed as statuses in your tax software:

  • Waiting on Client
  • Information Received
  • In Preparation
  • In Review
  • In Efile
  • Finished

Each one of the above is a “Bucket” holding returns. Buckets are basically the columns the returns fall under. When a return comes through the door, you move it from “Waiting on client” to “Information Received” either by clicking and dragging or a drop-down menu. You can assign it to various people at any point throughout the process. You can also make notes, make a checklist, put in a start date and due date, and then actively watch your team move them from stage to stage to finish without having to run tedious reports from your tax program. You can watch this happen on your desktop or your smartphone. The notes can be used to write down issues you are having or information you need. This can be very helpful if a client calls to check on a status and you are not available to speak to them. Another person on your team can see the task and reply, “She’s still missing your 1099 DIV for XYZ bank.” Anything which eliminates the time to make a return call is to be appreciated! Below is an example of a Planner “board” for tax returns. Note the “Buckets” across the top and the information in the tiles. You can open each tile for additional information and to choose what to show or not show on the board tile.

As a bonus, if you have invited clients to be “guests” in your O365 atmosphere, they can be invited into plans and have tasks assigned to them like your internal team. This is great for onboarding a client. We often setup up a task such as “Needed Information” and then make a checklist within it and assign it to the client. The client then can actively be part of the plan staying on top of their part of the process. No more emailing a client back and forth and saying, “Thanks for sending X, but we still need Y&Z.” Clients have the information available to them on their computer, tablet or smartphone as well!

Planner may be sorted and filtered various ways into charts to see what is past due, how many tasks are assigned to specific people, and even see a calendar schedule of items per the due dates and start dates entered.

Planner still has some features that need to be developed. Some important ones are the ability to search key words and have recurring tasks. But overall, it is a very handy product which can provide great value to your firm and clients.

Shayna Chapman, CPA, is founder of Shaynaco, LLC and has twice received the CPA Practice Advisor's 40 Under 40 honor and twice selected as one of CPA Practice Advisor's Most Powerful Women in Accounting. She contributes to articles regarding tax, accounting, technology, and small business issues regularly and blogs about these issues.

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