Is Asana The Task Management App We’ve All Been Waiting For?

[Important: I’ve writtens several followup articles, in chronological order: Asana: Thoughts Down the Road, Asana: Yes, I’m Still Using It, and Further Down the Road with Asana.]

Image representing Asana as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

For the last few months the buzz around Asana, a new task management application, has been increasing. But my Google Reader is pretty packed with blogs – oftentimes hundreds of new stories in a single day – and task management posts are usually filed away for review another day…when I eventually have time. I went back through most of my “for a later day” posts and found a number of task management related posts – including ones for Asana. I visited them all…expecting that none would offer the unique set of features I have been hoping for…but so far Asana is looking AMAZING. I’d like to take you along on my journey of exploration…

One’s initial visit to the Asana website shows an aesthetically pleasing design – but a little busy. Perhaps I’m different from most people[1], but I hate watching videos and prefer reading text.[2] The Asana homepage puts the emphasis on signing up or watching a video – bleck! Thankfully, if you scroll below the fold you’ll find “Learn More about Asana” and get a quicker view of the featureset.

Here is what impressed me at this point:

  • It is Free – For all intents and purposes, Asana is free. Sure they are interested in profiting from corporate sales, but for your general needs and for any small to medium sized business, Asana is free.
  • It is Team – A lot of great task management applications are out there, but many of them cost an arm and a leg or they don’t support teamwork…being weak in either of these areas really undermines the product…and those that are strong in these two areas then oftentimes demonstrate weakness in underlying features.
  • People Views – The ability to view what is going on by the person responsible is pretty sweet. Not entirely a new concept, and maybe just cooler b/c it is called “People Views” instead of “User Views” – it feels more Facebookey (umm, Facebookie, Facebookesque, someone help me out here!).
  • Calendar Sync – This is a pretty sweet feature, though it isn’t one I personally find essential.
  • Inbox Integration – One of the goals for Asana is to completely replace a diversity of workflows – ensuring data is recorded within Asana. Part of this involves automatically integrating email conversations into Asana threads. This is a simple feature many do, but Asana’s looks really slick.

Not to say that is all there is to see…there are numerous other neat features – those are just the ones that I really like – mainly b/c a lot of other task management applications are missing one or all of these features.

I do have one question at this juncture: Is thirty team members a firm number or does this reset for each workspace? I’m guessing it is the former, but hoping it is the latter. I suppose the latter option would open Asana up to abuse by its users – who could theoretically just create a new workspace whenever they ran out of users (but that would get extremely unwieldy). Reason I ask is b/c I’m involved in multiple venues – and thirty people is a lot when each venue can contain thirty, but not so many if thirty has to last over all my different venues.[3]

Next thing I did was explore their blog – from the beginning…and I was impressed. The frequency of posts is regular enough and the quality of the posts is quite deep. At the bottom of this article I’ve included links to additional reading, including a few by the folks at Asana. Take a read and you’ll quickly see that these posts reflect a depth of philosophy, clarity of communication, and quality of composition that exceed many technology blogs whose sole purpose is to cover technology – not sell a product.

One item that becomes very clear while reading the blog posts is that Asana is being utilized heavily by Asana – and this is always a good thing. Products suffer when the creators of the product do not have an investment in the product beyond monetary success. Asana will oftentimes provide its own most standing criteria for ongoing featureset.[4]

Okay, so I have some more stuff I like about Asana:

  • Company Culture – Some tech companies have really led the way in creating (again) a culture where the company cares about its employees. For a while employees were disposable assets – but some companies have moved back and forward at the same time – back in purely statistical financial analysis but forward in employee satisfaction, productivity, and longevity.[5] Asana seems to be following this tact with company-wide lunches and regular yoga sessions.
  • The Methods – It is obvious that David Allen‘s GTD methodology is widely utilized within Asana – but beyond this one sees numerous management innovations to streamline and increase productivity, reduce errors, allow rapid development, and so on. These models are impressive and could be copied elsewhere (and perhaps where copied from elsewhere).

On the other hand, and this is not uncommon in technology culture, I’m wondering how many hours the folks in Asana are putting in a week? In this post Jerry Phillips notes folks eating lunch and dinner together (at 7 p.m.) which makes me ask, “When did you start working?” Sure, sometimes long hours are required – especially in IT and especially during the startup phase – but this can become a dangerous, long-term practice…and usually does not involve overtime compensation for the employees.

Now, what about the team? The team behind a product is an important consideration. In general I like two types of teams: the teams where you don’t know anyone and the teams where you see everyone’s legacy. The teams I don’t like are ones with a lot of fluff and bravado without necessarily a lot of accomplishment or technical ability. So, I tend to prefer companies that are either lean, mean startup machines run by some guy in his basement or companies that have be-knighted geniuses on the workforce.

  • Dustin Moskovitz – “co-founder of Facebook” (yup, that is impressive), “CTO…VP of Engineering” (okay, that is much more impressive…not just an idea guy, this guy works with the tech…and Facebook has some pretty impressive tech). Last but not least, note that Moskovitz dropped out of Harvard[6] and didn’t major in the technical field yet excelled in it.[7]
  • Justin Rosenstein – Justin may not have been CTO or VP, but he did hold significant positions at both Facebook and Google – mecca[8] tech companies. Again, appears to have dropped out of college…not that I’m suggesting that is a good idea (I completed my degree and work for a higher ed institution), but it occasionally indicates someone just has such great ideas or ability for self-learning that they are able to “skip a step.”
  • Malcolm Handley – Worked for Google on several significant projects including Android, Google Earth, and Mobile Maps. All pretty sweet products.
  • Greg Slovacek – Again a Google guy – his work seems a little more from a niche, but this can be good as well – indicating a passion for deep understanding of particular topics and a willingness to slog through the mundane work it takes to make stuff happen.
  • Jerry Phillips – Okay, she gets a pass b/c she studied psychology and now is working in technology…I just think that is cool.
  • Jack Stahl – Stahl seems like an interesting character – and interesting characters oftentimes bring something unique and powerful to a team. Note Stahl attended Burning Man, and while that is kind of mainstream, its also like the outstream portion of mainstream…nothing I plan on attending. 🙂 He also impressive technical experience from Yelp.
  • Avital Oliver – Wow. Look at this list: “started coding as a child”[9], “large-scale re-implementation of the Israeli Air Force tactical information system”[10], and “founded the School of Mathematics in Brooklyn, NY”[11]
  • Kris Rasmussen – Was “chief architect” at Aptana – an impressive company with impressive products. Don’t forget he co-founded RivalMap[12] and worked for numerous tech. companies including the (to some) tech mecca Microsoft.[13]
  • Theresa Singh – Okay, can we get Theresa to write some articles for us on Post Colonial Literature? That’d be sweet, thanks. 🙂
  • Yup, I’m getting tired of ooh’ing and ahh’ing over the team Asana has assembled…but there are still a lot more folks who stick out on the team: Donnie Thompson (gourmet chef), S. Alex Smith (machine learning at Facebook), Jackie Bavaro (Google and Microsoft[14]), David Braginsky (Facebook, Google, “numerous startups”), Andrew Watterson (Meebo), and Bella Kazwell (Gmail, Google+).[15]

Now, with such a great team I’ll admit I have some hesitation over Kenny Van Zant – but with the rest being so excellent – I imagine I am mistaken. Let me explain. My hesitation with Van Zant comes from his association with SolarWinds. I’ve used a number of their products – both free and trial – but always found them to be of that somewhat lumpy enterprise class that Asana is attempting to overcome. I also hate having to enter my contact information every time I want to download one of the products – free or trial…but I’m sure Van Zant is great and maybe he can put in a word to his friends at SolarWinds that the contact info. every download is annoying (maybe we could just create an account so we only have to enter the info. once…?) and provide some streamlining of the enterprise feature-set but sometimes clunky products (no, I haven’t actually used SolarWinds enough to give real feedback…I just know when I’ve tried them they haven’t been entirely intuitive or slim and I’ve found other options I like better).

Wow, this is a really long article…guess this is what happens when you can’t sleep from 4 a.m. till (now) 6:30 a.m. In any case, I’m going to sign off for the time being. I’m not 100% sold on Asana yet, I haven’t played with it enough – but I figured it might be helpful to compile the info. I’ve been compiling myself about Asana into one place…b/c I have OCD and do things like that. 😛

The Problems:

Okay, so I’m working through Asana and I’m seeing a few issues. Here is what I’ve found so far:

  • Asana does not support recurring tasks – this is a killer for me! They are apparently working on it currently…
  • The new workspace setting is a bit buried, there seems to be plenty of real-estate on the lower left where it is nested to display it directly.
  • It isn’t clear that keyboard shortcuts such as new task work only when  one is already in an existing task.

Features I’d Like to See:

Here is my wishlist:

  • [Still Unavailable: 6/12/13]: A Windows desktop application that would feel similar to Notepad…I don’t like having to even open a browser.
  • [Still Unavailable: 6/12/13]: Some form of chore assignment functionality similar to ChoreBuster.
  • [Available with Organizations, Not Workspaces: 6/12/13]: The ability to move tasks and projects between workspaces.
  • [Available with Organizations, Not Workspaces: 6/12/13]: Have projects and tasks which span workspaces.
  • Support for recurring tasks. This functionality has been added, though they are doing a “roll-out” which will take several weeks.
  • Native Android application.
  • Granular Permissions for Workspaces so one can allow individuals to see one project but not another, without barring everyone from access to a project.

For those interested in some further reading…Here are some good articles/posts:

  1. [1]Okay, okay, I know my friends are going to jovially reply, “Dave, of course you are, you are strange.” But what I mean here is, in this particular area am I strange?
  2. [2]I think this has to do with my ADD, I have a hard time sitting still while videos meander about stuff I know or don’t care about when text allows me to jump in and out exactly as I desire.
  3. [3]For example, I would want to do workspaces for work, for home, for church, for other projects…for any one of these thirty team members is enough – but if I have to have only thirty members between all the workspaces? Might be a little tight.
  4. [4]For example, as I was reading Asana posts I thought to myself (and I don’t know what already exists at this juncture), “Boy, it seems great…but what if someone at Asana is slacking off? How do they track that?” I’m sure Asana will hit that bump (may have hit?) and will respond appropriately…this is the advantage of a company using their own software.
  5. [5]Perhaps the tech industry innovated in part out of necessity. The technology sector requires specialists – the longer you stay at a job the better you are at it…picking up a n00b may save a few dollars, but there will be a huge learning curve and the lost experience and productivity are significant.
  6. [6]I’m assuming since he only spent two years as an economics major.
  7. [7]He was an economics major at Harvard…someone correct me if he had a technical background from elsewhere…
  8. [8]Nope, not a spelling error, “pilgrimage” doesn’t connote the right sense here.
  9. [9]This isn’t surprising, but it does indicate that technology runs in his blood…Something those who have it sometimes wish they could escape, but never can…the draw of tech. always calls them back when they attempt to pursue other ventures.
  10. [10]This probably means he’s an algorithmic genius…
  11. [11]Ummm…You don’t look this old dude.
  12. [12]A company somewhat in the same arena as Asana.
  13. [13]I think Microsoft is impressive, and a ‘mecca’ though I don’t know much about their corporate culture. Yeah, they have been a pain at times but they’ve moved in some really great directions over the last number of years with much more openness…though this whole Windows 8 / HTML5 push…I’m not sure about.
  14. [14]Wait, is that allowed? Isn’t there some sort of “I will always be an enemy of (insert Google or Microsoft here) for as long as I am alive?”
  15. [15]I apologize to those team members I didn’t mention explicitly – Stephanie Hornung, Tim Bavaro, Kenny Van Zant – I expect great things from you as well, I’m just not as personally familiar with your accomplishments.

8 Replies to “Is Asana The Task Management App We’ve All Been Waiting For?”

  1. For implementing GTD you can use this this application:

    http://www.Gtdagenda.com

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.

  2. P.S. Just a brief update, but I’m still using Asana and find it useful….though I still have a few desire features and problems as noted at the end of the article.

    1. Bitrix24 is clunky to use and to look at. For example, no clear way to make projects. Have to patch together a project using the workgroup option.

      Bitrix24 seems to post the same “it goes outside just task management” at every Asana review. Stop it.

  3. Hey  another task management app you can try out is Brightpod ( http://brightpod.com ) ,  an app specifically for marketing teams. Includes readymade workflows & a whole bunch of collaboration features.

  4. Asana is one of the first and most popular business collaboration tools that exist, although there are also other new and more complete solutions in terms of collaboration that can offer much more than a simple business software. One of them is Comidor ( https://www.comidor.com) which is based on cloud and is a full package for every small- medium business

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