Using Planner to Manage a Truck Fleet
Call me persistent. Or obsessive. Either one is OK. When a customer came to us with a problem—how to schedule their fleet of service trucks—we dug in to solve the problem. So far, it’s looking like Planner may be the right tool for the job.
Side Note on Planner
Have you heard of Planner? It’s a simple project management tool that is part of the Office 365 stack. Planner is card based, and it focuses on who-what-when details for tasks. There are non-Office 365 products that offer similar functionality. Basecamp, Trello and Asana are some examples.
There are a couple of things I like about Planner.
- It’s cross-platform, meaning that it runs in a browser as well as on a smartphone. This gets you past the Mac/PC divide. It also means that you can update your plan as soon as a task is completed or its status changes.
- I also like the fact that it delivers the 20% of project management functionality that is enough for 80% of the population. What do people want to know? What is the task, who owns it, and when is it due?
When Microsoft Project is More Than You Need
Don’t get me wrong. I love Microsoft Project. I championed the adoption of it at Nortel back in the day, so we could manage complex hardware and software development projects. Gantt charts don’t scare me, and I don’t have to ask Google what WBS stands for.
But I’m an outlier here. I repeatedly meet with customers who are looking to get something done and are at a loss to understand how to organize the work. These folks are not trained Project Managers. Some of them turn to Excel for help. Others turn to Project; it usually doesn’t end well.
Back to Our Problem
Our customer runs a sign installation business. Every project requires a truck to carry supplies, hoist workers up to a sign, and handle other tasks. There are a couple dozen trucks in the fleet, and they have different characteristics. Some trucks have longer beds. Some have specialized equipment. So the problem is not just to assign any truck to a job. The scheduler has to assign the right
truck to a job. The manager has to know if he can meet the customer’s installation date, based on having the proper truck available on that day.
What About a Calendar?
We originally identified a solution that could be implemented using Resource Calendars in Office 365. How to do this? Set up each truck as a “resource” with its own (“equipment”) calendar. Assign one or more people (the schedulers) with the permissions to modify each resource calendar. Then show a Schedule View that displays each resource’s appointments for a given day. Sounds like a great solution!
However, Schedule View of truck availability for a given date is not supported in Outlook for the Mac—which is what the President of the company uses. This particular calendar view is “on the roadmap” for Outlook on the Mac, but there’s no availability date forecasted so far.
In response to the need for a better solution, we created a solution using the Planner tool that is part of Office 365.
The Planner Solution
This solution starts with the creation of a task for each truck to be managed, for each day it might be used. This will populate each date with a Task for each truck. Here is a sample screen shot of task creation.
All that needs to be done is to fill in the task name (“Truck 5 Available”) and assign a due date for the task. This will place the task on the calendar for that date. To begin, someone must assign a task for each truck, for each working day of the month. The task title should include the truck number and the word “Available.” For instance, a task would say “Truck 1 Available.”
Here is an example of a date with a number of trucks listed.
This example also highlights how trucks are assigned. Initially, all trucks are set as “Available.” When management wants to schedule a truck, they edit the task associated to the desired truck, and change “Available” to the name of the customer or job number.
Putting the word “Available” in the Task Name allows for using the Filter function to show only tasks trucks) that are listed as “Available”.
For instance, the list of trucks shown below has been filtered to show only tasks that contain the keyword “Available.”
This filtering takes place by choosing the Filter option. Next, you type “Available” into the input box. This will cause only tasks that contain the word “Available” in them to be displayed.
Moving Beyond Trucks
I would still use Resource Mailboxes and Outlook to manage a group of resources like trucks. And when the Schedule View needed for this is available for Outlook on the Mac, our customer will likely move to that solution. Until then, this seems like a good solution.
- Truck schedules can be set from a smartphone. This means a salesperson can confirm an installation date before leaving the customer’s location.
- The user interface is simple to understand and use.
- Planner provides some nice views that give “at a glance” information for the whole truck fleet.
“Great,” you say, “but are there other applications?” Good question.
Think about any pool of resources that you manage. This could be “loaner” PC’s or laptops. It could be “burner” smartphones. Or it could be drivers attached to a country office’s motor pool. It might be portable video conferencing units. Any group of resources that you temporarily loan out, and which you have to manage, would be a candidate for this solution.
Try it out and let me know how it worked for you!