Microsoft Lists is the latest offering in the Microsoft 365 package. It has been touted as "Smart Information Tracking" for data from sources such as inventory events. However, the concept of lists is something that has existed in the Microsoft domain for some time now through SharePoint. Hence, this application might interest you if you are an IT admin working in an environment where SharePoint lists are used heavily. On the other hand, if you are someone who wishes to organize and track information quickly, this article is still of relevance to you.

What is Microsoft Lists? ^

Microsoft Lists is an application that can help you to get your work organized. It can track issues and make inventory and itinerary handling simple. It provides you with a list of readymade templates, such as Issue Tracker, Employee Onboarding, and others to make the transition to Microsoft Lists smoother. Also, it does not restrict you in any way to these templates, as you can easily format or modify it to suit your requirements.

Microsoft Lists is a massively simplified, evolved, and visually enhanced version of SharePoint lists. Users had to be technically sound to be able to manage lists in SharePoint; however, Microsoft Lists provides you with easier ways to customize lists and to get started effectively with readymade templates. In fact, every Microsoft List is just a SharePoint list in the background. So, although this is a new application, in reality it's an enhanced version of SharePoint lists that uses the same infrastructure as SharePoint and OneDrive.

With Microsoft Lists, almost everybody can quickly create a list and then track and manage it using its readymade templates, rules, and conditional formatting options. You can use conditional formatting to highlight or focus on certain areas of the data depending on specific criteria and create rules, alerts, and automations. These features make it a smart information tracking application in Microsoft 365.

Version of Microsoft Lists ^

Microsoft Lists will be released in three versions:

Microsoft Lists Home (Web): This is the web version and is also the central location for handling Microsoft Lists.

Microsoft Lists Web

Microsoft Lists Web

Microsoft Lists App in Teams: Microsoft Lists is well integrated with Teams.

Microsoft Lists Teams

Microsoft Lists Teams

Microsoft Lists Mobile App: This is still in development. Chances are it will be released sometime later this year.

Templates in Microsoft Lists ^

Let's look at the templates that get you up and running with this application. Apart from the ones mentioned here, there will be more templates released as time goes on.

Issue Tracker template

This template is particularly useful for teams that work with ticket handling or just to keep track of the issues handled by an individual or team. The template is provided in Microsoft Lists with the columns shown below. You can further customize them as needed. If you want to add a new column, hover your mouse pointer on the column end. A 'plus' sign will appear so you can choose the type and add a new column.

Issue Tracker template

Issue Tracker template

Employee Onboarding template

This template is perfect for keeping track of all the tasks that a new employee needs to perform. It has columns to add the person responsible for the specific tasks and due date. Once the template is edited and finalized as per your organization's needs, it can be shared with everyone. Managing and tracking the progress of new employees is greatly enhanced here. You can also set rules and alerts here to keep yourself and others updated via email about the new employee's progress. You will learn how to set up these automations later on in this article.

Employee onboarding template

Employee onboarding template

Event Itinerary template

Hosting events can be hectic. This template proves handy in such a scenario, as shown below. You can organize the event and track its developments using rules and alerts.

Event Itinerary template

Event Itinerary template

Recruitment Tracker template

The Recruitment Tracker template will certainly be of interest to professionals in the HR department.

Recruitment Tracker template

Recruitment Tracker template

Content Scheduler template

This can be a handy list template if you want to keep track of publishing various articles, as seen below.

Content Scheduler template

Content Scheduler template

Asset Manager template

This template can be useful in IT inventory management. Asset ownership and several other details can be captured, tracked, and easily maintained here.

Asset manager template

Asset manager template

Travel Requests template

The Travel Requests template can be used in the organization to record, track, and manage travel and the associated budget.

Travel Request template

Travel Request template

Tracking items in Microsoft Lists ^

Items or tasks entered in Microsoft Lists can be easily tracked depending on the template in use. Let's say the template in use is the Issue Tracker with the list shown below:

Issue Tracker 1

Issue Tracker 1

The Priority and Status columns need to be changed in order to reflect the existing state for your users. To do this, click the Priority column and select Column Settings.

In the column settings, you can change the way the priority values are displayed via the choice pills, as shown below. The same can be done for all the columns. The background color can also be modified.

Issue Tracker 2

Issue Tracker 2

Automation rules and alerts in Microsoft Lists ^

Use case for Onboarding List

Let's say you create a new Microsoft List to onboard employees. However, since there are several people making changes to the list, you want to receive alerts for certain activities being performed by the users. The Alert Me feature comes in handy here. It can be accessed as follows in the Microsoft Lists Home (Web) page:

Alert Me

Alert Me

Fill in the criteria for the alerts to be sent, as shown here:

Alert settings

Alert settings

You will receive an email about the creation of the rule immediately.

Time to test whether this works as stated. So, I changed the ATP M365 row and modified Status to Draft needs approval.

Alert testing

Alert testing

I immediately received an email to inform me about this edit, as follows:

Alert email

Alert email

Use case for automation based on entry values

Another possible use case for this is to set rules to send alert emails to specific individuals when specific values are found in entries in the list. Let's take the same example of a content scheduler template list, as seen above. The editor wants to send automated emails to authors based on the value of the Draft due by date, which is nearing.

This can be achieved by clicking the Automate option and then selecting Create a rule, as follows:

Use case for automation based on entry values

Use case for automation based on entry values

In the same way, you can create many other automations as needed.

Microsoft Lists vs. Excel ^

Microsoft Lists, as discussed earlier in this article, is a better version of SharePoint lists. It is suitable when you need to display, track, and manage tasks, inventory, and other things in an intelligent way. This is done using different tracking methods, rules, alerts, and automations, as explained in the previous section.

Excel displays the information in the same tabular form.

If you don't want to use flow and other alert features, then Excel has a legitimate case here. As far as the visualization of data is concerned, Excel lags behind Microsoft Lists. Since lists can be exported to Excel and vice versa, their features do overlap a lot. Lists allows several people to edit the same file. So does Excel, when accessed via SharePoint. However, from the standpoint of ease of automation, rules, and better integration with Teams, Microsoft Lists has a slight edge.

Microsoft Lists vs. Planner ^

Planner is best suited for project management tasks. However, Microsoft Lists can be used to manage tasks, inventory, issue tracking, and asset management, etc. Also, if you want to customize your columns and display, Lists is the go-to app. To be honest, both apps have their specific strengths; hence, you must choose accordingly.

Microsoft Lists in Teams ^

In Microsoft Teams, you can easily share a list with other team members. You can create a new list by simply opening it in a new tab (see screenshot below).

Add a Lists tab in Teams

Add a Lists tab in Teams


The same can be seen in the screenshot below, where a list I created, called Recruitment tracker, is now a tab in the Teams channel; hence, it is visible and accessible to all the channel's members.
Lists as a tab in a Teams channel

Lists as a tab in a Teams channel

Let's see how to use Lists to the fullest extent in Teams. There are several options that you can choose from.

Create a new list using templates in Teams

  • Click the '+' symbol in the Teams channel where you want to create the new list.
  • A new window is displayed with a list of available apps. Select Lists and click Save in the next window.
  • Now you are shown the new Lists tab, with two options: Create a list and Add an existing list. Select Create a list.
    Create a new list using templates in Teams – 1

    Create a new list using templates in Teams – 1

  • In the next window, you will see three options to create the list. For now, let's ignore them and go with one of the available templates. Let's say you select the Recruitment tracker template.
    Microsoft Lists Home Create List.png

    Microsoft Lists Home Create List

  • Create a new list using templates in Teams – 2

    Create a new list using templates in Teams – 2

    The next page displays the format. Click Use template.
    Employee onboarding template

    Employee onboarding template

  • The list is empty at this stage. Click New Item and start filling in the details. The row is added to the list when you click Save on this page. You can do this for all the rows you want to add here.
    Adding rows to a list

    Adding rows to a list

Create a list from an existing list

This option is especially useful when you have already agreed upon several templates in your teams. Hence, you can save plenty of time by reusing them.

  • The steps here remain the same, except that you will not use the template for your list. So, you will again click Create a list and then select From an existing list
    Create from existing list

    Create from existing list

    .
  • On the next page, you can choose a list that has already been created in the existing Team and use its template. Apart from this, you can also select lists from other teams you belong to.

Create a blank list

To be honest, there may not be many advantages to this approach. Since this starts with creating a blank list, the burden is on you to create new columns and practically design the entire list.

I wouldn't recommend this approach as we have a plethora of options to create productive lists.

Create a list from Excel

This is a useful option when you want to create a list with the same columns as in an Excel sheet on your computer or in the same team.

  • The initial steps remain the same. So, you will again click Create a list; however, now you will select From Excel.
  • On the next page, you can either upload an Excel sheet from your computer or select one from the existing team.
  • Selecting from the existing team is convenient if you have the required file there. In most cases, you would want to upload the file from elsewhere. Click Upload from this device.
  • If the Excel is already in tabular format, the file will be accepted; however, if it's not, then you will see something like the screenshot below. Follow the instructions there to edit the Excel and then click Refresh to create the list as needed.
  • Choose the name and click Save. Finally, the list is visible. This has proved to be a handy trick for me on some occasions.
Creating a list from Excel – 5

Creating a list from Excel – 5

Create a new list using an existing one

  • In the Lists tab, select Add an existing list.
  • Now you will see the options in the team you are currently in.

Microsoft Lists Home (Web) ^

This is the web version of Lists and contains all the lists that were created by the user; hence, it serves as a central location where all the lists created by that user are visible.

Microsoft Lists Home (Web)

Microsoft Lists Home (Web)

Once you log in to the Microsoft 365 portal, you will find Lists in the Apps tiles or in the All Apps section.

Microsoft Lists tile

Microsoft Lists tile


Clicking Lists launches the Lists Home page. You can create new lists, modify existing ones, and mark certain lists as your favorites.

Create a new list from Lists Home (Web)

Click the "+" symbol on the page.

Create a new list from Lists Home Web

Create a new list from Lists Home Web

On the next page, you will see options similar to the ones explained for Teams; hence, you may follow the same instructions.

Microsoft Lists Home Create List.png

Microsoft Lists Home Create List

Select the template you want and proceed. On the final page, it will ask you for the name of the list.

The important thing here is that you have the option to save the list in My List or on a different SharePoint site.

My Lists is selected by default. You should choose this if you intend to keep the list private; if you do, it will be visible to only you.

If you choose a SharePoint site to store the list, then all the members of that site will have access to it. You can share the list later via the Share option.

Saving lists

Saving lists

Set a reminder ^

Setting a reminder is a feature that I could find only in the web version of Lists. Here, I have created a list using the Content Scheduler template.

  • To set a reminder, click the Automate option and choose Set a reminder. The next choices are specific to this template. You can select either one, depending on your requirements. I have selected Draft due by.
  • A dialog window will open to the right asking you accept the terms and conditions, which you must do to proceed further.
  • The next window shows you the apps that are used to set up this reminder using Flow. There is a check mark beside the apps if you are signed into them in the same browser. If not, then you will see "+" symbols beside the apps and you must sign in, as shown below.

Click Permissions to check the permissions used by these apps.

Set a reminder

Set a reminder

  • After you sign in or your account is authorized, the following screen is shown. Click Continue to proceed.
  • On the next page, you can set the reminder days.
  • I set the reminder to send me an email six days before the publishing date. And sure enough, I received an email immediately.

You can also check all your flows and reminders.

Manage flows and reminders

Manage flows and reminders

The option to create new flows is available in the Automate tab under Power Automate. Understanding flows is a different topic; hence, given the scope of this blog post, I will not delve into it. You should still refer to this article to learn about flows.

PowerApps is another feature that's visible in Lists (Web). Please read this article to gain insight into it.

Sharing ^

The Microsoft Lists Home (Web) page provides you with the option to share your lists, as shown here.

You can share an entire Microsoft List or just an entry in it.

Sharing a Microsoft list

Sharing a Microsoft list

Here, I selected an internal user and gave him the access right Full Control over my list and then clicked Grant access. The other options are Can Edit and Can View. You can also share individual items with other users.

Microsoft Lists data ^

Microsoft Lists data is stored in the user's OneDrive storage. The exception is when you choose to save the list on a specific SharePoint site, in which case, the list is shared with all the site members and the data is stored there.

Access to Microsoft Lists ^

Although the Microsoft Lists rollout has begun, you may notice that it's not in your tenant. You may get a message in the Message Center in the portal about the availability of Microsoft Lists from a certain date. Microsoft has stated that the rollout will be completed by October 2020. If you have received Microsoft Lists in your tenant, you can go for the early release option. See this link for more information.

Access your One Drive. In the URL, replace OneDrive with lists. If Microsoft Lists has been rolled out to your tenant, you will be able to access the MS Lists Home page.

Licensing and pricing ^

Microsoft Lists is available in the licenses for Microsoft 365 E3, Microsoft 365 E5, and Microsoft 365 F3.

It has been stated that it will be available in business plans as well; however, I could not find Lists being displayed in any of the apps available on Microsoft's page. It may be that the documentation is not yet updated. Please refer to this page to check the licensing details.

Conclusion ^

Microsoft Lists is a decent addition to the Microsoft 365 application lineup. Existing SharePoint list users will find it easy to adjust to this application. Microsoft is aiming to make lists more user friendly with this application; hence, you can expect them to release many more readymade, efficient templates. There are some useful discussions and suggestions over the usage of the different apps in Microsoft 365 on this page and this.

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It's always good practice to follow the roadmap for Microsoft 365 to keep yourself up-to-date with the latest features being released; hence, you can follow this link for new Microsoft Lists updates.

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