One of the teams I work on recently started a test of Asana, a product touted as “…the next big step in productivity”. We were looking for tools to help us manage the work we do on a regular basis. I’ll put our work in two categories:
Project work – Work that comes up, is executed, and not repeated the exact same way again (except at the highest “methodology” level of work).
Repetitive projects – Work that happens on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, quarterly), is structured in the steps executed, and involves the same (or similar) roles each time it is executed, such as the monthly financial closing process.
I have to say Asana makes it easy to manage project work, but when dealing with repetitive projects Asana doesn’t shine nearly as bright.
Getting a project organized
I can’t stress how well Asana works as a tool for quickly and easily structuring and assigning work on any project that comes up. Our team is able to get on the phone from remote locations, start brainstorming, and see the same information without starting up a screen sharing session, since Asana updates in real time. Task and phases can be moved around easily, reconfigured, and promoted/demoted with ease. Meetings to determine the approach for the project, get the major phases and tasks outlined, assign ownership, and set dates flow smoothly and this work is done quickly and easily. There aren’t 15 required fields for a task, it’s user-friendly, easy, and just makes sense.
Engaging everyone in getting work done, not planning work
Project setup is super easy, and keeping tasks updated is also quick and intuitive. If you are on the project (or have access to the project space), you can follow tasks, comment on them, see historical work and comments, and “like” them to show the team you are engaged. We found our team moving out of regular group project email updates because Asana sends you regular alerts and summaries when something happens on your tasks or task you have commented on or follow. The email alerts kept us focused on using the tool, not emailing each other and losing that communication in our email folders.
Tool for managing your personal time and tasks
This is the case for me and my team – the tool has changed the manager/direct report relationship. Now my team can collaborate on the approach, get clear on everyone’s expectations, but everyone has the flexibility to define their own approach to achieve the work they’ve been assigned. The manager can view their team member’s tasks for a project to gain great insight into how they have framed the work and how they intend to execute the project or solve problems. Team members can set up tasks and projects of their own to manage their own workflow without exposing everything to the manager.
I know some of you BPM purists out there are going to bash me, but the email integration is key for us. I can’t tell you how many tools get abandoned because they are too complex or you have to always “go to app” to keep up with your work. With email alerts, when we get to work, everyone have a summary of each project, and the tasks that are due, overdue, or about to come due. In the way we work at my organization, this is an essential feature.
Asana is so easy to use, it has become a de facto tool for most of the work all of the pilot team staff does, now. As we collaborate with more people in our organization, Asana’s reach grows. The flexibility on security around making workspaces and projects private, by invite only, or totally open was just what we needed to make the tool applicable for most of our work.
Tool that is evolving to meet customer needs
It seems like Asana is dropping a few new functionality enhancements each month. Federated task search, integration with Dropbox for document management, better filtering and sorting for better reporting, and rolling out “organizations”, are all examples of the things they’ve recently rolled out. They have a great blog to discuss and cover how to use the new features and a VERY active community of users to help guide their development. If they are able to keep this pace up, the tool will definitely continue to gain acceptance, unless they fall into the classic pitfall of trying to be everything to everyone and end up not doing anything very well.
What Asana needs to improve (for me, at least)
Here are the two main things I think Asana could do better. I’m not promoting they go deep in these areas, but there are some basic features in these two areas I wish I had access to within Asana.
A basic workflow engine
Many organizations have repetitive work that happens on a very frequent basis, like “a survey is submitted,” “a help desk ticket is posted,” “a payment is received,” etc., and they would like to model the basic steps to this process and assign ownership of these basic steps to a person or group of people. When the triggering activity occurs, it would be great to launch a set of tasks following a pre-defined pattern or flow. There is a copy/paste workaround in Asana, but you can’t assign dates relative to each other (step 2 happens 4 hours after step 1, etc.) and you can’t assign tasks to more than one person. Two barriers I see for this functionality to work well in Asana.
Basic project management functionality
The last thing I want to see is another over-bloated project management solution. Asana has the ability to setup projects, tasks, due dates, and assign a single owner, but it lacks some key features like dependency management and reporting capabilities that would make it a killer project management tool.
We’ve been in the tool about six months, now, and I hope my comments offer you some advice on whether this tool is right for your organization.