Asana review

Asana is the much talked about SaaS (software as a service) created by Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein, who also happened to be the founders of a popular social network you may have heard of, called Facebook.

Asana's key feature is its simplicity: it provides a simple infrastructure that can be used in several ways. Its most obvious use is taxk management.

If you were to define Asana with three words, you would probably use "Real-time interaction, plain and simple". Here is why:

  • Real-time interaction. Trying Asana on your own is not going to be much fun (which is probably a problem for them, since this is what most triallers will do). Asana really shines when several people are working on the same project, and (even better) talking about the same task: comments will pop up instantaneously, and discussion will have a very "real-time" feel to it. Asana is the king of Ajax applications.

  • Plain. Asana's interface is so plain, that this ends up actually being a complaint by a lot of people. It was quite clearly a conscious choice by Asanas's developrts.

  • Simple. You can "get" Asana, and I mean the whole program, after playing around with it for half an hour or so. It's just a very simple program.

Asana's overview

As soon as you start Asana, you are presented with a screen that may be considered crowded by some; the beauty of it though is that that's also the only screen you need to familiarize yourself with: what you see basically is Asana.

The application has three main sections.

A column on the left will give you your workspace overview with your projects. When you open up the application, if you only have access to one workspace, Asana will select it for you. This pane is also where you do "workspace-related" activities such as adding a new person, create a project, create a group, and tag management.

The middle section ,which is also the largest one in Asana, is the "task view" for the project you selected on the left hand side. This view is basically a very powerful todo list, where tasks can be grouped and tagged.

The third section, on the right hand side, is not as large as the middle one and it's used to give you extra detail about the item you selected in the middle pane. So, if you select the task "Write the Asana review", it will show you who the task is assigned to, when it is due, comments about that task, and so on. As I said at the beginning of the article, Asana is highly interactive: if a team member adds a comment to a specific task, others are notified instantaneously and, in fact, are encouraged to add to the conversation, since everybody will see new messages being added in real time.

Asana is very much Ajax-rich: you can move tasks around as you wish. You can't stop thinking about tablet applications when you use Asana -- I have little doubt that the developers were much inspired by (Mac) Tablet apps.

The most important item in Asana is the "task". For each task, you can set several properties:

  • Comments
  • Responsible person
  • Due date
  • Attachments
  • Tags
  • Notification subscriptiob
  • Status (done/not done)

For a task, you can also add sub-tasks: if a task for example, is made up of a series of tasks, you can spell out exactly which sub-tasks need to be completed. This is where the interface is still simple, but you can tell that this (probably much requester) feature is a bit of a strain.

Asana's interface is very minimalistic, but some of the things seem to irk me. For example, when you open up a workspace, the left pane will show you information about that workspace. However, when you click on the "back" button (to get out of that workspace, and go back to the "general" overview), rather than going there, you are offered a select box with a list of the other workspaces. It might make sense in terms of minimizing clicks, but still...

The inbox

The Asana developers "declared war to the inbox" with Asana. When a team member assigns you a task, you will receive an email notification (which you can also disable). However, you will also notice the "Inbox" icon next to the project name (on your left pane) turn blue. Clicking on it, you are taken to your inbox for that project.

This effectively means that as long as you log into Asana every day, you can effectively turn off email notifications and work completely off Asana's inbox.

This will prevent the kind of "inbox pollution" that people using these kind of programs are normally plagued by.

Great documentation and videos

Even though Asana is very simple, the developers did a great job creating videos -- and making sure that they are linked right in the application's main screen (!), along with the feedback box (yes, you can hide it). In this small bottom pane you can also see a list of shortcuts.

When simplicity can be a problem

There are little things in the interface that annoy me outright (see my complaint about the "back" button on the left panel). However, what's going to be a deal-breaker for most is the lack of features: no calendar, no time management, no CRM or contact management, and no integration with external tools.

I realise that the makers of Asana are making a point of keeping things simple. I also realise that fitting all this in an already crowded interface would be a challenge at best. However, I also think that Asana's competition has too many chances of winning customers thanks to the fact that at least one of the missing features will be a deal-breaker.

(Having said "NO CRM", I have to say that you could use Asana as a CRM by created a project called "CRM" and creating a person per task (which can then be "owned" by somebody, commented on, tagged, etc.). However, it's not quite a CRM)

Conclusion

Asana is good: if you are looking for something that will increase communication within your team, with a low learning curve, then Asana is your program. It's also free up to 30 users, which is a huge bonus for many companies who don't necessarily have the funds to spend on yet another product.

However, the lack of more advanced features is likely to hit -- pretty hard -- the number of users who actually use it (even though that number is likely to be pretty high, especially given the amount of advertising Asana's been getting over the last 2 years). Also, when you have a high number of tasks in a project, Asana tends to be less responsive and will "feel" overloaded.