Asana: A Simple and Versatile Project Management Solution

I don’t know what it is about project management tools that make them such a bear to adopt. There are so many solutions, your head can spin trying to process them all. Basecamp is one of the most popular for small to mid-sized businesses. Freedcamp is a “free” online tool that is very similar to Basecamp (as the name suggests). Other tools include Action Method Online,  Wunderlist, Nozbe, KickOff, and many more than I have time to name. There are any industry specific programs like SuccessWare and ShootQ for photographers and videographers.

They all have their pluses and minuses. Some are free. Some are not. Whichever one is right for you depends on so many things:

  • How you work
  • Your typical clientele
  • How many people you typically collaborate with
  • Are you on a budget

I’ve tried a number of them. Nothing was ever 100% there for me. In fact, that system that seems to work best for me is a sort of DIY solution that is really an amalgam of different online solutions (e.g. Google calendar, Gmail, Evernote, Dropbox, YouSendIt, etc.) I wrote about my “poor man’s solution” for EventDV. (You can read the article here). The main premise of the article was that 1) it’s hard to get clients to adopt new solutions and 2) it was easier to work with programs and services I was using every day anyway.

Despite how well my poor man’s/DIY solution works, there were still circumstances where I wished I had a self-contained, dedicated PM system that I could use. What I specifically needed were:

  • Tracking things that needed to get done
  • A central, easily accessible depository of communication related to a project
  • Cloud-based
  • Free

Earlier this year I wrote about Wunderlist. I still think that is a great program. But it lacked that collaborator communication tools I craved.

Then I discovered Asana.

It was sleek, simple, and very, very versatile. I tried it out and just kept on going. Here’s how it works.

How Asana Works

The video below gives you a great overview. Rather than me writing in detail how it works, spend 2 minutes watching this video, then rejoin me underneath (it would take you at least that long, if not longer to read what I would write anyway, so watch it).

I should note, one of the things I really loved about Asana was that they have this, and many more videos showing you how you can use Asana (e.g. bug tracking, CRM, applicant tracking, task management, and more).

Asana is broken into Workspaces and Projects. Think of a Workspace as a major category. I have a workspace for Dare Dreamer Media, our photography business Teen Identity, one specifically for Customer Relationship Management, and a Personal Projects workspace.

Within each workspace are your projects. So in my DDM workspace I have things like Crossing the 180, Dare Dreamer Mag, End of Month (for accounting tasks), Admin, etc. I track my client projects in the CRM workspace (which I have cleverly named “Dreamescape.”)

Within each project is a list of all the tasks associated with that project. You saw in the video how easy it was to add a task. Just type and hit enter. (Add a colon at the end to make a heading).

Within each task on the right, you can add detailed notes, assign people, add followers, put the due date, and add comments.  Here’s a screenshot of a task in my podcast project for Crossing the 180. Notice that you when you add hyperlinks, they become clickable.

How I Use Asana

Asana is great for laying out all the milestones that go into producing a film (or any project for that matter). Here’s a screen shot of the Client Project Template I’ve created in Asana:

When I have a new client, all I need to do is duplicate this template, then rename it accordingly. Asana now has the ability to create sub-tasks, so now within each of these main task, I could break them up for finer granularity.

You can assign due dates to tasks, so as the dates approach, Asana will email you. For each Workspace, you get an email with pending due dates coming soon. (You can turn those notifications off, of course).

Collaboration

One of the best aspects of Asana is how it allows you to collaborate with others. You can invite someone to have access to an entire workspace, or just one specific project. Once a person is added to a project, they can be assigned tasks, follow projects, be tagged in comments. Tagging in comments is a recent feature I really love. Let’s say you and John are the only two people on a team commenting on a recent project task. Now you want to bring Sally into the picture. In the comments just type “@Sally”, and a link is added to her name, and she’s added as a follower. (Clicking on their link will bring up all the tasks assigned to them).

As you add comments, they are emailed to the followers. You can reply to comment just be replying to the email. Here’s a comment string from the aforementioned Crossing the 180 episode:

Once a task is complete, you check it, and it grays out in the task list with a line through it. But you can always go back and still see notes, comments, etc. You can hide or show completed tasks.

One Downside

There is one downside to Asana: there are no security level hierachies. Everyone invited to a project has all the same level of access privileges. Anyone can add or delete tasks. Even remove you from a Project. I still can’t believe they haven’t addressed this. I can only assume it’s in the works. As long as the people you’re collaborating with are trustworthy, this shouldn’t be too big an issue. But, if you plan to fire anyone who is part of an Asana project, I suggest removing them before you call them into your office. :)

UPDATE: It looks like the paid version has project-level permissions.

A Bright Future

Asana is founded and funded by ex-Facebook peeps (it’s co-founder is Dustin Moskovitz, Facebook co-founder and ex CTO/VP Engineering). Other investors and advisors include Marc Andreesen (internet wunderkind and co-founder of Netscape) and Sean Parker (Napster, Facebook, played by Justin Timerlake in the movie). Overall, they have an impressive team of developers and advisors. All that to say, Asana will be around for a long time (which is important to know if you plan to invest time and energy into any PM tool).

Asana is free with a paid version if you want additional collaboration power. The free version will be more than enough for the majority of you reading this blog post.

Phew! Now that this post is finished, I can finally check it off from my DDMag Asana task list.

In the meantime, here is more video-goodness about Asana. In the m

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5 Responses to “Asana: A Simple and Versatile Project Management Solution”

  1. Hey Ron,

    I have been testing out different PM tools like Freedcamp (super buggy) and haven’t found one just right yet. I’m excited to test this one out! I just noticed when you create a workspace it gives you the option to invite people… but when you invite that person there is a check box below labeled as “guest” so they only get limited access (not 100% what that means though). Just thought I would share.

    • Hey Cody. I’ve used Freedcamp too (I think I even blogged about it). It’s definitely a good program. But Asana has really stuck for me. I think you will really like it. They have a mobile app too.

      In regards to your question about the “guest” check box, what that does is give the invited person access only to the project to which you’ve invited them (as opposed to all the projects in that workspace). But once they have access to that project, they still have full rein in that project.

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