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Microsoft 365 First Steps: Microsoft Lists

Posted September 15, 2020 | Microsoft 365 | Microsoft Lists | Windows


Note: This would normally be a Premium post, but thanks to Microsoft, we are able to offer it to all readers without any roadblocks. –Paul

Even those new to Microsoft 365 are probably familiar with core Office applications like Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. And since we’re well into the cloud era, I assume that the existence of web-based versions of each of those apps likewise unsurprising. Indeed, as I wrote last week in Microsoft 365 First Steps: Understanding the Value, the least expensive Microsoft 365 offering of interest to small businesses, called Microsoft 365 Business Basic, provides access to these web-based applications instead of downloadable native applications on Windows or Mac.

That’s not necessarily as confining as you may think. Yes, the desktop versions of the Office applications, especially Excel, often provide broader feature sets than do the web versions. But the Microsoft 365 web applications have their own advantages too, not the least of which is that new features often appear first on the web. For example, Microsoft’s simplified ribbon is available now in the web versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The desktop apps still make do with the clunkier older ribbon interface.

Better still, some Microsoft 365 apps are only available on the web, including some new apps of which many subscribers, I suspect, are completely unaware. And knowing about these apps and the capabilities they provide is a key way that you can realize the full value of your Microsoft 365 subscription. So I’d like to focus on one of them today. It’s called Microsoft Lists.

The app’s name evokes list-making, of course, and that, in turn, may cause you to believe that this is yet another to-do or tasks solution. That’s not the case: Instead, Microsoft has a task-management service called To-Do that is available via its own app—on the web, desktop, and mobile—and inside other Office apps like Outlook and Teams. Likewise, Microsoft has another Microsoft 365 app called Microsoft Planner that might you want to check out if you need a team-based project management tool akin to Basecamp.

Though there is absolutely some overlap, Microsoft Lists is a bit different than those other two solutions. It’s a “smart information tracking app,” as Microsoft describes it, or an app that lets you create and manage lists of information using a variety of template-based presentation styles, rules, and alerts. It’s an evolution of a SharePoint feature called Lists, but now available as a standalone app on the web and via Microsoft Teams. (A mobile app version is coming soon as well.)

Like other Microsoft 365 apps, Lists is available from the App launcher in the Microsoft 365 portal, and it’s easy to spot thanks to its groovy, 70’s style icon.

From the web app, you can create a blank list, of course, or base a new list on an existing Excel spreadsheet or previous list, including a SharePoint Lists-based list.

But you can get a quick feel for the power of this solution by examining the pre-built templates, which include Issue tracker, Employee onboarding, Event itinerary, Asset manager, Recruitment tracker, Travel requests, Work progress tracker, and Content scheduler.

In each case, an empty list with appropriate fields is created for you; for example, a list created with the Issue tracker template has fields for Issue, Issue description, Priority, and the like.

Each item in a list can be assigned to a team member, and you can generate alerts via email or text message when items in a list are changed. And like other Microsoft 365 web apps, Lists integrates with Power Automate and Power App, which I wrote about previously in Master 365: Getting Started with Power Automate (Premium) and Master 365: Getting Started with Power Apps (Premium), respectively. You could, for example, create a custom mobile app specifically for any Microsoft Lists-based list using Power Apps

But thanks to the popularity and extensibility of Microsoft Teams, you can also access Lists directly from within Teams: To do so, navigate to Apps, search for Lists, and then add Microsoft Lists to Teams. Now, a new Lists tab will appear when you view the team(s) with which you associated Lists and you can add any lists you want to access regularly from here.

If you’re not yet using a commercial version of Microsoft 365, please try a free month of Microsoft 365 Business Standard, which includes access to the Microsoft 365 desktop, mobile, and web apps, and 1 TB of cloud storage per user, and can be accessed by up to 25 users during the trial.

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