Asana – the future of team project work?

May 7, 2012

I recently discovered Asana. On their web site they say “We’re building the modern way to work together, a fast and versatile web application that connects everyone with what’s going on, their shared priorities, and who owns each part of the effort.

My one sentence summation is Asana is a revved up web based task list for teams. It’s simpler, but it also seems cleaner, than the 37signals Basecamp product. And you know I am a big fan of Basecamp.

Asana is fast and easy to use and anyone that can browse the web should be able to use Asana. Asana has made it very easy to create a work space then create projects under that work space. Under projects you create tasks. You can assign tasks to individuals (even if they haven’t signed up for Asana yet), assign due dates, attach files, assign followers of that task, and add notes. Assigned team members or followers can add comments to a task. And you can easily see the history of the task. You can create new tasks via email and the keyboard short cuts are a great time saver.

Asana also has apps for iOS and Android. I am using the iOS app on my iPhone and iPad and the apps give you all the functionality of the web based version.

I am using the standard (free) version of Asana which allows up to 30 members. For $100 a month you can upgrade to a premium workspace for up to 30 members that has project level features and priority support. For $300 a month you can have up to 50 member, $550 allows up to 75 members, and $800 a month allows up to 100 members.

Asana is missing some of the features of more mature products – you can’t assign a milestone date to a project (you may be able to do this with a paid plan?), you can’t see all late tasks for a project (you can see late tasks by person), no association of tasks to each other (IE predecessors), no threading of notes, no way to see all attached files across a workspace, etc.

And of course the big weakness of Asana, and honestly all project task lists, is you have to 1) put in all the tasks and then 2) maintain it. The tasks have to be actionable, but you don’t want to overwhelm the team members with minutia. Also, the team members have to agree to participate. A task list that never gets up dated isn’t helping the team get the project done. That was one of my biggest issues with Basecamp – getting all team members to consistently mark off the tasks they had done. Even with reminder emails, I ended up having to go over the tasks in our team meetings. With Basecamp, and I’m sure with Asana, it was quick and easy to walk through the open tasks, but still it wasted time in a meeting instead of freeing up that time to do “real” work.

Asana is cool, and they are getting a ton of buzz right now, but they are trying to break into a pretty crowded space. There are many other completing tools out there (Basecamp, Producteev, Zoho, Jira, even MS Project, etc). But if you are working on a team project with less than 30 members and want to improve your efficiency and communication I say try out the free version. There is very little to loose and maybe a lot to gain.


And, for my own personal task list, I still love Omnifocus.

Ready, Aim, Fire!

September 7, 2010

I wrote my last post about project management. How you should know what your targets (due dates and milestones) are before you start firing (start development).  But the same is true in business too.

How often are decisions made focused on the now, the immediate need? It may fix what is broken, or at least the visible symptoms, but does the solution fit into the larger picture?  Will it cause other issues later?

Many times, in this tight economy, this is driven by a perceived lack of resources, but as I have posted before (in my review of Rework) when resources are scarce is the time when you need to be more creative. Not enough money to keep up your MS Exchange infrastructure?  Dump it and move to Google Apps email (Enterprise level email).  Not enough money to expand you SAN for network drives for your users?  External hard drives are cheap now.  Not enough money for your DR plan for your production site?  Move test and staging to a different location and make that your hot swap (just make sure you built the infrastructure properly).

Sometimes a disjointed strategy, or one that not all the leaders have bought into, can also cause decisions to be made that are fine for the silo’ed department, but maybe isn’t the best decision for the entire company.  I have to believe that those VPs really do think they are making the best decision for the company.  I hope it isn’t just ego getting in the way.

And, it could just be the company has grown so big, or is spread out in multiple locations that it becomes real difficult to make the “right” decision that works for the entire company.  And finally, I will admit in certain cases there isn’t one “right” decision. Sometimes you have to pick the lesser of two not super solutions and make it work.

But in general, when making large IT purchases or fixing broken business processes it is so much better for the company long term to take the time to make the right decision now.  It isn’t easy to do the leg work and do the research.  It isn’t easy to get agreement across departments.  It isn’t easy to sacrifice your political capital.  But it is so much better than creating new problems for yourself because you didn’t do the work. And it is so much better than having to un-do it later and then put in the right (better) solution.

Ready, FIRE, Aim, aim, aim…

August 23, 2010
How many times have you seen a project fall off the rails because there wasn’t a real documented plan?  Everyone on the team knew what they had to do, the assignment was clear, but the PM hadn’t put together a good project plan.  No milestones were documented, due dates were not firm (except the final due date at the end), and time wasn’t allowed for internal review. How often is QA skipped because there isn’t enough time? It’s the ready…, Go!, ok change, ok change, ok change mentality…

I know some people look at Work Breakout Structures (WBS) with disdain, but to me you have to be able to see the whole task, with all the intermediate due dates and milestones to know how long you really have to get the work done.  Without a WBS how do you know if you are on track? With a WBS you can just look at the date and the tasks being worked at that time and it is pretty easy to see if you are on time or not. Without a WBS how do you know if something slips early in the project how that effects other later tasks?  What is dependent on that task?
The other benefit of a WBS is if you have resources and days assigned you can easily see who is over booked, who is not fully booked, and maybe balance out the work load a little. Before you kill someone with too much work!  🙂
Finally, the biggie to me is, with a WBS it is real easy to show a client what a change request does to the schedule.  It not just “we can slip this in, it shouldn’t be a big deal.”  Without a WBS you can talk about it, but that doesn’t mean much.  With a WBS you can actually show the real impact.  So much harder to argue magic (magic in this case = this little task takes up no time at all) when you have real numbers and dates in front of you…
So remember the order should be Ready, Aim, FIRE!  You are much more likely to hit your target (due date).
Some of the tools I have used to create WBS:

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