What is Asana? Task management tracking made easy

When it comes to keeping tabs on project management, popular upstart Trello has company: Asana, which has been around since 2008 and in public use since 2011. Here’s what Asana does and how it works.

Managing projects across teams both large and small isn’t easy. It can sometimes get complex and is often inefficient. That’s where collaborative task management firm Asana hopes to help out. It aims to make tracking work activities simpler, reducing the need for email and unnecessary meetings, or – as Asana calls it – all that “work about work.”

Asana was created in 2008 by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and software engineer Justin Rosenstein after they saw a need to coordinate teams more effectively inside the social network’s operations. They soon realized that tech giants weren’t the only companies that could benefit from greater efficiency.

“It turns out that these difficulties tracking work are universal across organizations: the bigger your team, and the bigger your mission, the bigger your coordination problem,” Moskovitz and Rosenstein wrote in a blog post.

The application is now used by 20,000 paying customers, including companies from a number of industries, from Uber and Airbnb to Spotify, Bed Bath & Beyond and even NASA. That’s up from 13,000 in 2016.

How does Asana work?

At a basic level, the cloud-based software allows colleagues within an organization’s Asana workspace to track and manage the progress of projects. For example, workflows can be set up for HR teams to manage the onboarding process for new staff.

At a more granular level, “tasks” are created to monitor individual components of a wider project. 

Teams of users can add tasks, assign them to team members, set due dates for completion, comment and share relevant documents. Notifications on the status of tasks – and looming deadlines – are sent to a user’s inbox.

Asana Dashboard Asana

Asana’s Dashboard provides a high level view of all work under way, allowing users to track progress as individual tasks are completed.

Asana’s dashboard also lets users access a high-level view of the status of projects at a glance.

“[Asana] allows teams in organizations to determine how they need to work together,” said Margo Visitation, vice president and principal researcher at Forrester. “Whether they want to work in a way that is driven by conversations or by tasks, they have the opportunity to work in the way that is comfortable for the team.” 

Raúl Castañón-Martínez, senior analyst at 451 Research, said that Asana will benefit teams that previously relied on a diverse set of tools like spreadsheets, file sharing and even email and chat apps. “As projects grow more complex it becomes a burden trying to manage teamwork this way.” 

The software is relatively easy to use when compared to more complex project management tools sich as Trello and Smartsheet and is aimed at a wide range of business professionals. Asana’s product design is one of its key strengths, said Castañón-Martínez.

“Unlike full-featured project management tools with specialized features, Asana follows a more minimalistic approach to avoid feature overload,” he said. “It provides a flexible framework that can be used by knowledge workers across the organization for planning and tracking activities against shared objectives.”

Asana Calendar Asana

Asana’s Calendar View lets team leads and individual team members set and view upcoming deadlines for projects and tasks.

Visitacion said that Asana “augments” traditional planning and delivery capabilities, “with the emphasis on delivery over planning. It is a tool that can help organizations deliver more effectively, make decisions more effectively, based upon plans that are created at a higher level.” 

Asana is keeping tabs on project management rivals and even mimics some of the features they offer. Earlier this year, for instance, Asana added a feature that imitates Trello’s core functionality  with the addition of Kanban-style project boards.

"We want to give them full credit," said Asana's head of product, Justin Rosenstein. "They have done a great job on executing and creating this easy, visual view. But we see a much bigger opportunity because we basically think Boards is not a product, it's a feature."

While there are clear similarities in presentation, Visitacion said Asana has a clearer focus on supporting teams of professionals than Trello.

“Trello is slowly being molded into being more of a business-oriented tool, but the majority of Trello users are still personal users,” she said. “… Being in the Atlassian world [Trello] is being molded to be more like an Asana, but what Asana has had for a longer period of time is the focus to be on the team versus the personal.”

Features and pricing

Asana is available through a web browser and a mobile app, with support for both Apple’s iOS – with recent updates aimed specifically at iOS 11 – and Android

It has three payment options: a basic, free version with limited access to features and paid Premium and Enterprise tiers.

The free tier supports up to 15 team members, with access to limited dashboards and search functions, as well as unlimited task projects and conversations.

The Premium level costs $9.99 per user per month when billed annually and adds features such as admin controls and single sign-on; it also lifts restrictions on the use of dashboards and team size.

The Enterprise plan offers more advanced admin controls, custom branding and same-day support. There are also added security and data protection features, including data deletion and cross-regional backups. Prices, depending on which features are included, are available upon request.

Those tiers are roughly in line with the pricing for rival Trello, which also offers a freemium pricing scheme, starting with a free basic option, $9.99 mid-tier Business package, and a full enterprise plan.

Asana has already launched its first integrations with third-party software providers and now links into productivity tools including Google Drive, Jira, OneDrive, Dropbox and Slack. Google recently announced that Asana will be accessible directly from Gmail.

Asana mobile apps Asana

Asana users can access the app through a web browser or on mobile devices, with Android and iOS apps available for download.

Growing enterprise user base

Asana’s focus going forward is clear: it aims to scale its operations globally and add new enterprise users.

In 2016, it announced plans to bolster its staff and improve customer support. More frecently, it has added new features such as custom fields and pre-made workflow templates.

The company this year announced senior staff appointments, with Oliver joining from Dropbox as head of sales, and Tim Wan as head of global finance. Wan had previously been chief financial officer for Apigee, leading the company through its IPO and eventual acquisition by Google.

The company is also eyeing ways to become more enterprise-friendly. “We’ll be investing even more in IT-admin, security and advanced workflow features to accommodate the growing demand for Asana in large, complex organizations,” said Asana’s head of business, Chris Farinacci in a blog post.  Farinacci is a former Google employee.

As Asana increases its large-business focus, Castañón-Martínez expects the company to further enhance security features and add even more integrations with third parties. “The company has already been doing a lot of work with this to cement its position as a software vendor to IT,” he said.

“Another opportunity is enhancing the product with contextual intelligence. In a way, that is what Asana is achieving with integrations to apps such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Slack, Gmail and others.  Adding A.I. and machine learning features could further enhance its capabilities and take it to the next level.”

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