Who stay behind?
$38 million funding into their online collaboration brainchild.
The last of round of this investment has been closed less than year ago, and now the audience of yogis of project managers exceeds tens of thousands. Such popularity, for sure, is interfering with the way Asana is being promoted - free accounts are granted to small teams and individuals for the expectation that some of them will grow sometimes. And sure, these companies would unlikely change the tool they got accustomed to, filled with data, necessary for the work. These expectations, nevertheless, are too bright, and below we’ll see, what’s wrong with them.
If you're enough experienced and clearly imagine, how to work with Asana, please, pass through this part of article - you unlikely find it interesting. But if you haven't yet worked with this tool of online collaboration, I recommend you to read it, in order to get the point.
Online collaboration inside Asana is building up around projects, with tasks stored inside them. Tasks, in their turn, can be broken down into subtasks, when decomposition of complex issue is needed.
For example, if you want to develop a web-site about astronomy, you should create a new project in Asana, called "All about Solar System" along with list of following tasks - "Think up domain name", "Find a server", "Install Wordpress" and "Prepare content".
Then you have to assign your teammates in order to start the work - carry on conversations, attach files and so on.
Sometimes issues are too complicated to resolve them in one go. For example, if you want to carefully choose a server for astronomy site (because you expect heavy traffic load) you should create into "Find a server" issue few additional subtasks: "Hosting with the best uptime" and "Select panel for administrator". In Asana you can create subtasks in a subtask, so tree-like structure of data for this service is available.
But let's return to the question, how tasks are processed in Asana. When you create an issue for you collaborator, he (or she) has to clearly state, when the work will be done - today, later, or even postpone this task. In order to make your colleague haste, setting a deadline is possible.
This way of working is clear, understandable and creates a nice impression, especially on non-engineers. Sure, somebody can say, that use cases aren't as clear as in RememberTheMilk, but I don't suppose it is a problem. Every tool has to be mastered.
Structure has to be visible!
Sure, along with numerous good points Asana has some disadvantages, and some of them are important.
The first problem relates to invisibility of issues' structure and it doesn't allow running really complex projects, with a deep and entangled inner organisation. Flat lists of tasks cannot crystallize information by giving it a structure, and this, in addition, seriously damage the productivity of work, especially of managers. Why does it happen?
Asana, like any powerful tool for online collaboration, supports deep decomposition of extended issues. You can create subtasks inside a task, and divide newly created items further.
And here hides a problem, which puts to end the structure in Asana. You cannot look around, taking in all tasks at once, because interface doesn't support tree view for issues. Left part of Asana screen is always occupied by list of projects, central one is for the tasks of first level only and all the rest is pressed into the right block of the service: task with descriptions, its parent and descendants.
The concept of structure of information in Asana is enough underdeveloped to make running a complex project painful.
askcow or Wrike, and this is a problem.
Full-fledged tree tells tools of project management from bug- or issue trackers, and project managers along with software architects become first victims of such flaws.
Flaws in protection.
The safety of information in Asana is another serious problem of the service, and I don't refer to questions interfering with cryptography and data protection. The story is about errors inherited from human nature. In order to get the point, let's begin with a different approaches to security of data.
This concept has strong advocates and numerous followers, but in my opinion it is insufficient, because all, even the most skilled people, make errors (and sometimes intentionally). The second problem is constant downtime - collaborators often have to wait until an administrator grant them rights of no importance, possibility to edit a comment or to attach a file, for example. Such restrictions sometimes become ridiculous, you know (JIRA users know this problem well).
askcow, where this conception is elaborated to perfection.
Third paradigm of ensuring the information is building up on "Undo" functionality. This conception is implemented in Asana, but it's going not so smooth, as expected, and at least few scenarios fraught with loss of data exist.
Another scenario is also dangerous for the information, and it relates to direct erasing of some issues. You can delete a task without possibility of restoring it. Asana, of course, will offer you to "Undo" such action in corresponding popup, but as soon as you close it, your information is lost, if your e-mail notifications are switched off.
There is at least one case, when you can lose important project, but I offer you to find it by yourself. I'll only say, that it to deleting a project scenario.
Transparency of changes also contributes to unreliable protection of data. Asana activity log behaves strange sometimes and doesn't show complete picture of the situation. Certainly, it has been done deliberately, in order to get users rid of informational noise, generated by collaborators and their activity. This problem can be resolved by applying filters to activity log, but Asana does not.
Poorly elaborated conception of safety of information is the second problem of this online collaboration tool.
Complex project management in Asana: possible or not?
Absence of visualisation of the structure of projects, breaches in scenarios of deleting the information, lack of full-fledged activity log, all these are not critical while you're working on small projects with teams, you’re confident in. And here Asana does its best - the system is simple enough to get accustomed to work with. But, as soon as your projects start to require careful planning, issues start to need deep decomposition, and number of involved collaborator becomes significant, Asana stops fulfilling the purpose of a tool for online collaboration. It stops saving time. Management of long lists of numerous untraceable tasks, which have no clear relations between each other, is a thankless affair.
Anyway, Asana is a high-quality product built on a solid tech foundation, and the popularity of this service is a reliable evidence. But declared adaptability to complex projects is rather a marketing move, than reality. You can hardly tell Asana from RememberTheMilk or Basecamp – their functionality and facility are almost identical, except of possibility to divide subtasks, but this tool is definitely insufficient for full-fledged project management.
I recommend you to register an Asana account, it's free. This tool for online collaboration is worth trying it, and if the project you're running is enough simple, you'll probably find Asana fit.