Microsoft Planner vs Trello | Project Management Software


Project management meeting stock image.
Image: Gorodenkoff/Adobe Stock

When considering which project management software is right for you and your team, you’ve likely come across Microsoft Planner and Trello. The project management tools are based on the idea of card-based kanban boards rather than traditional task lists, creating a digital version of a physical board with various Post-It notes tracking tasks. Board-style project management tools provide an immediate visual representation of work that’s in progress versus complete, and dragging a card into the Done column creates a sense of satisfaction.

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The project management tools Trello and Microsoft Planner nicely straddle the space between a simple task list, and more complex project management tools, making them great for smaller teams or personal planning.

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What is Microsoft Planner?

Screenshot of Microsoft Planner
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft Planner is one of the many tools included with Office 365 and, as such, can be easily integrated into Microsoft Teams, SharePoint or a variety of other Microsoft tools. It’s one of the unsung heroes of Office 365, putting it at an immediate advantage if your company already uses Office 365.

You can quickly configure buckets that mimic the columns of a physical board, and each card-style task offers the ability to add dates, priorities, sub-tasks and comments. You can assign multiple people to a task, and everything is integrated with Microsoft’s active directory, so if you’re already a Microsoft shop, it’s easy to assign colleagues.

What is Trello?

Screenshot of Trello
Image: Trello

Trello is software that popularized the kanban board-style project management tool, arguably inspiring Microsoft to release Planner as a Microsoft stack alternative. Multi-column boards are similarly easy to configure, with the added ability to use background images to create some visual interest.

screenshot of Trello
Image: Trello

Like Microsoft Planner, each card can contain a rich set of data, ranging from dates and subtasks to a rich comment tool that allows for attachments and formatted text.

Microsoft Planner vs. Trello feature comparison

 Microsoft PlannerTrello
Configurable kanban boardsYesYes
Card-style tasksYesYes
Easy collaboration and sharingYes, best within the Microsoft ecosystemYes, requires others to create a Trello account
Attachments on cardsYes, at card levelYes, at card and individual comment level
Integration with other applicationsYes, best within the Microsoft ecosystemYes, through Power Ups and APIs

Common features of Microsoft Planner and Trello

Kanban board-style interface

The primary interface of both Microsoft Planner and Trello is the kanban board, a configurable multi-column display that allows cards to be added to a column and quickly dragged between columns. If you’re accustomed to a typical task list, it takes a moment to adjust to a board, but the power lies in the fact that you can configure the board any way you want.

For example, you could create a sales board with a column for prospects, leads and proposals and drag cards with client names between each column. For personal task lists, you could create a column for each day of the week and quickly drag tasks between the days to plan out your week. Product teams typically create a Backlog of ideas, and column of In Process items and a Ready to Test column.

Cards

Within the board, each item is represented by a card. The card performs very similarly in each tool, with the nuances in what data elements are available in the card. Planner has a Progress field, while Trello adds configurable Labels. I find the latter more valuable based on how I design my boards.

Similarly, while both tools allow for attachments within a card, Trello allows these for individual comments, which might be helpful for sharing multiple versions of a document. Trello tends to offer a bit more configurability for the card, but be careful not to overengineer your cards and risk reducing the intuitive simplicity of board-style project management tools.

Integrations

Microsoft Planner and Trello offer a variety of integrations. As you’d expect, Microsoft Planner provides deep integrations with other products in the Microsoft ecosystem. At a simple level, your entire organization will already have access to Planner with an Office 365 subscription, and a Planner tab can be added to Teams with a single click to more complex integrations. For example, you could integrate Planner with a complex enterprise project, allowing users to access a simplified view of their tasks while maintaining complex relationships at the enterprise level.

Trello, on the other hand, has what it calls Power Ups and Automation, which integrate with a wide variety of cloud-based products, including those from Microsoft. As a more mature product, Trello’s integrations are broad and include the usual suspects of cloud-based tools.

Choosing Microsoft Planner or Trello

If you’re outgrowing simple tasks lists but become overwhelmed by WBS elements and Gantt charts, a kanban board-based tool like Microsoft Planner or Trello is a great solution. The simple idea of a configurable board allows for a great degree of flexibility and structure in how your team manages its workflows.

Users can quickly understand cards and a simple click-and-drag interface, while power users can create integrations that put complex functionality underneath an intuitive interface.

As you evaluate these two tools, you’ll quickly find they’re more alike than they are different. Both offer very similar core functionality, and the deciding factor primarily comes down to whether your organization already uses the Microsoft 365 suite. The simple fact that Microsoft Planner is essentially bundled with Microsoft 365, available to all your existing subscribers, and readily integrated into other Microsoft software creates a high bar for choosing Trello.

Trello offers a bit of additional configurability and functionality with its task cards. It may be easier to use with teams distributed across multiple organizations that might not all be Microsoft 365 subscribers.

Conversely, if you’re not a Microsoft 365 user, it’s challenging to acquire Microsoft Planner in a standalone capacity, making Trello the easy choice.

Outside a few niche use cases, like requiring attachments to be associated with an individual comment, both are comparable enough that your use of the Microsoft 365 platform makes for an easy deciding factor.



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