Microsoft's Office 365 Planner is now available in preview mode

Office 365 Planner
Office 365 Planner

Microsoft has begun rolling out Planner preview to Office 365 First Release customers. Planner is Microsoft's collaboration tool, designed to allow teams to brainstorm, organize and assign tasks, among other activities. Although primarily designed for business use, Office 2016 users can also use Planner to plan vacations, creative projects and more.

Office 365 administrators who have opted into First Release will be able to install the Planner preview after receiving an initiation email from Microsoft. Emails will begin going out today and will be rolling out over the next several weeks.

In addition to task management, Planner is built to help groups share files, discuss workloads and conduct chat sessions. Think of it as a virtual boardroom for team meetings.

Visual collaboration

Planner allows managers to create a dashboard for group tasks. Managers can assign projects, track progress and rearrange responsibilities directly from the dashboard.

The best part: you don't have to keep your eyes on the dashboard all day. 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.

Instead of your boss sending a group email telling everyone what their new assignments are, your boss can simply drag and drop a responsibility from your column to your colleague's. The cues are represented by items called "Cards," "Charts" and "Buckets," all of which feature rich image previews of due dates, financial goals or whatever success measures have been established for a given project. This enables project managers and workers to gain a quick, visual understanding of how far along a project might be and the next steps that need to be taken.

Planner is integrated within the Office 365 suite, so users can easily add and share Office documents, calendars and contacts within Planner without having to leave the tool.

The plan for Planner

Like Windows 10 and Office 2016, Office 365 and Planner are iterative applications. Microsoft will make regular updates to the tools, based in large part on user feedback.

Similar to how Windows Insiders have helped shape the Windows 10 operating system, Office 365 First Release customers will be able to share their experience with Planner prior to its worldwide, general rollout.

In order to sign up to become a First Release customer, users must log in to Office 365, go to the Office 365 admin center and then Service Settings. From there, you will be asked to choose how release updates are sent to your organization. Instead of selecting Standard, you'll want to tick First Release for your entire business or for select recipients.