SOLVED: Microsoft Lists vs ToDo vs Planner vs Project Whats the Difference?

If you are a Microsoft 365 user you know there has been an explosion of new apps including three that plan things todo in lists (see what I did there!).  There are definitely similarities between the products but they each have different use cases.

Lets start with the similarities.

What is Microsoft SharePoint?

new sharepoint siteLists, ToDo and Planner are all running of a Microsoft SharePoint in the background.  SharePoint has been around for more than a decade but most regular users have never heard of it but if you have an Office 365 account, you have SharePoint.

SharePoint’s claim to fame is that is that it manages lists and makes them highly searchable and shareable.  SharePoint’s failing in the eyes of many is that it is just too complex.  It is more of a development platform than a standard Office tool, much like MS Access.  Recently Microsoft made SharePoint visible only to O365 admins; regular users can work with SharePoint content (i.e. web sites, survey forms and lists) but cannot create new SharePoint sites by themselves.

… and now for what makes each one unique:

What is Microsoft Lists?

Microsoft Lists are the most basic of all their offerings.  Lists are little more than a simple web based Excel workbook with one column by default.  You can add more columns, import from and export to Excel and you can share with others.

what is Microsoft Lists

Microsoft promotes that there is a Lists app for Android and iOS but in fact that app is Microsoft ToDo.  Lists is also not available as a Windows Desktop app.  However, Lists is available through your browser on your main Office 355 page, portal.office.com and inside of Microsoft Teams.


What is Microsoft ToDo?

Microsoft ToDo used to be called Tasks and there is still some confusion over that naming.  In fact, if you used Tasks inside Outlook, you are now using ToDo.  MS ToDo is a much more powerful tool than MS Lists but it comes with more complexity, most of which you can ignore if you are not interested.

what is microsoft todo tasks

ToDo is available most of the places you would expect:

  1. as an Android or iOS app for your cell phone or tablet
  2. as a desktop app available for free from the Microsoft Store
  3. through your browser on your main Office 355 page, portal.office.com
  4. inside of Microsoft Teams

ToDo lets you easily create lists but those lists can:

  • repeat
  • have a due date set
  • add sub tasks (Microsoft call these sub taks “Steps”)
  • add attachments
  • have reminders added

ToDo lists can be shared with others and are automatically added to Outlook in what used to be called Tasks.

For those who remember old Outlook Tasks, you can still do all the cool things with ToDo that you could with Tasks:

  • double click on a ToDo inside of Outlook and assign the task/todo to someone else
    • If the person you assign the task to is within your organization, the ToDo will automatically appear in their Outlook’s ToDo
  • get keep status updates and percentage of completion

Strangely those features are not available in the web version.  I am sure Microsoft coders are furiously at work adding those features right now.


What is Microsoft Planner?

Planner is a much more full featured list product that allows you to easily create lists of tasks and subtasks, group them, chart them, schedule them and sort them.

In addition to being able to assign tasks to others in Planner, it is designed for groups of people.  A Plan can, and often is, created and used by just one person, but it is easy to add “Members” and to allow easy collaboration.  As soon as you add or remove someone from a Planner they receive an email notice and their Planner will automatically have your Plan added.

what is microsoft planner

Planner is available:

  1. as an Android or iOS app for your cell phone or tablet
  2. through your browser on your main Office 355 page, portal.office.com
  3. inside of Microsoft Teams

Strangely, Planner is not available as a desktop app in the Microsoft Store.  This must be in the works as it is a notable failing.

Planner is the most robust of these three list products but it missing one key feature, Gantt charts.  I and thousands of others have asked Microsoft, through their User Voice portal, to add Gantt charts but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.  If Planner had Gantt chart capability, it would wipe out a notable portion of Microsoft Project’s business and Project is expensive.


What is Microsoft Project?

MS Project is the ultimate in list management but it is expensive.  Designed originally for the construction industry to keep track of the thousands of tasks that need to be costed out, assigned to others, and produce a critical path.

A Critical Path is the notion that some task rely on other tasks to be completed before they can be started.  For instance if you can’t install a toilet before the cement floor has been poured, the pipes have been installed and work has been inspected by the city.

What most people I work with use MS Project for, is its Gantt Charts.  A Gantt Chart is a simple visual layout of all the tasks by schedule and showing the critical path.

ms project 2016 gantt chart

While Lists, ToDo and Planner all come with your basic Office 365 subscription, MS Project costs between $10 and $70/month depending on what advanced features you need.  Project Online Essentials is an excellent choice for many at just $10/month but it has one killer flaw; you can’t import existing .PRJ / .PRJX files which means you can’t open your old files… bummer!

how to buy ms project online essentials plan1 plan5

Questions or Comments?