Asana has long been considered one of the best in project management software, and though I found there to be a higher learning curve relative to competitors, my experience is that it deserves this place.
The cloud-based platform offers a robust free plan for small teams and its premium features have the potential to transform business process management for deployment in large organizations.
This review is based on my personal experience registering, configuring, and executing a project in Smartsheet. The sample project I built in the tool is a three-month application development timeline with six sprints and over 20 core tasks.
Below is the sample project (Figure A). The columns listed include task name, start and end dates, assigned contact, status, duration, completion percentage, and notes. Meanwhile, rows organize sprint tasks and subtasks into sprints. Two sprints contain multiple subtasks.
To add additional context, I familiarized myself with Asana’s product documentation, demos, industry reviews and recognition and a comparative analysis with alternative software applications. I ran a free trial of the Business plan to test this tool.
Asana alternatives & competitors
*in alphabetical order
What Is Asana?
Asana is a work management company and software offering project and task management, collaboration, and productivity capabilities for teams. The company’s cloud-based platform includes a stack of tools to help team members re-visualize and optimize project workflows.
In 2008, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and engineer Justin Rosenstein founded Asana in San Francisco, California. Inspired by a productivity tool developed for the social media giant, Asana’s beta was released in November 2011 with a commercial edition the next year. In the decade since, the project management platform is a public company worth over $5 billion and serves over 126,000 paying customers.
The Asana platform includes features for general and niche project management teams to collaborate in real-time on project tasks. While organizations increasingly adopt hybrid infrastructure environments, Asana can preserve communication between remote team members, integrate critical data from third-party applications, and automate common business processes.
For a quick demo of Asana, watch the review from our partner site, TechnologyAdvice.
Asana is available as a free trial, free plan, or paid SaaS subscription to give small and large teams the tools and centralized console to efficiently work through project tasks.
Start with the Asana desktop or mobile application
The Asana platform is available via web browser, desktop application, or mobile application through the Apple and Google Play stores for iOS and Android devices.
From the Asana homepage (Figure B), users can select the “Get Started” button at the top right and input their business email. After verifying your email, users are redirected to Asana to complete the registration process, including the user name, password, team, type of work, and primary objective of using Asana.
For new users, these initial questions are a nice touch to drive recommendations for roles, teams, and projects. While the top PM tools, including Asana, speak to general project management needs, users can choose from a handful of other niche use cases like IT, marketing, and finance.
Users then choose a core purpose from the types of work that they want to track in Asana:
- project and process management
- personal task management
- portfolio and workload management
From there, users can input the first few tasks and categories for the project. When those details have been entered, the first step inside the platform shows your initial project (Figure C) and the few details included in the previous step.
Asana features and workflows
Importing existing project data
Users have the option to import project data through a CSV file, email, or Wufoo. CSV is the most popular import method, but Asana offers additional guidance on how to import data from other apps like Airtable, Google Sheets, monday.com, Trello, Smartsheet, and Wrike.
For our ongoing PM software review series, I was able to download our Google Sheets template as a CSV and upload it to the Asana space. From there I saw a clean preview of project data to double-check before I confirmed the import.
Upon first look (Figure D), imported data looks very similar to our original spreadsheet with minimal exceptions. Asana recognized deadlines, team member names, task status, completion percentage and duration. However, it did not include the start date column or percentage complete and failed to recognize the relationship between parent and subtasks. As seen below, all tasks imported were put under the initially submitted category, “Not Started”.
To ensure project data on Asana reflects our legacy Google Sheets file (and before the rest of the team joins), I moved columns into similar locations and hid irrelevant columns.
The process for indenting tasks into their sprints as subtasks was a tad more involved. Users must first double-click the intended parent task, in this case each sprint. This will open an in-app window on the right-hand side (Figure E) showing task details and tools to attach files, create a subtask, copy and share task link, add a comment, and more.
To create a subtask from existing tasks, I opened the intended parent sprint and dragged each subtask from the left into the parent tasks’ details section. Most PM tools struggle with the parent task and subtask relationship, however, I found this process less intuitive and more tedious than most.
SEE: Wrike vs Asana | Project Management Software Comparison (TechRepublic)
Manage project data
A shortcut to managing project data, including columns, across the platform is the “Customize” button seen in the top right of every project view. When selected, an in-view window (Figure F) opens on the right-hand side with controls for field data (columns), rules, applications, forms, and task templates.
Custom controls for project data
Through the Customize window, users can manage some of the top-level controls for all data related to the project.
Fields: Set values for project data inputs
In List view, fields are the values featured in each column with corresponding row tasks. In Figure F, a handful of columns are selected to show in the List chart, while Tags, Projects, Dependencies, and other fields are hidden. Users can select “Add a custom Field” and choose between single-selection, multi-selection, text, or numerical values for a new column. However, options that you might find in other project management platforms like checkboxes and formulas don’t appear here.
Rules: Automate common workflows
With the Rules component (Figure G), users can choose from a list of common workflows or create a custom workflow to automate tasks. All automations are made up of triggers which initiate one or multiple actions. Examples of triggers include when a task is added, updated, or overdue, while actions is an even longer list that includes:
- Moving or updating a task, and creating new subtasks or approvals
- Sending notifications to Slack or Microsoft Teams users
- Creating new issues in Jira Cloud or Jira Server
Asana’s deep partnerships with other applications is evident from the wide array of connections with popular industry applications including Zendesk, Bitskout, Jotform, PageProof, and Flowsana.
When creating a new rule, users’ options include 17 triggers and almost 40 actions teams can use to build workflows. For Premium plan holders and above, Asana’s rules engine can ease workloads for team members while maintaining communication between stakeholders and moving tasks along in the project pipeline.
Apps: Connect critical integrations
In addition to the automation-focused applications listed above, users can explore Asana’s extensive list of integrations covering file sharing, reporting, sales, operations, and software development. If you don’t spot your favorite app in the in-platform window, check out Asana’s complete Application Directory.
Figure H highlights a number of popular connectors while other notable enterprise IT applications include:
- Azure Active Directory
- Google Workspace SAML SCIM
Forms: Convert survey responses into project data
The Forms engine gives clients a user friendly form generator with a custom cover image, form description, questions, and settings. A common feature among the top PM tools, forms are a convenient method for service teams to collect data, and Asana automatically places responses into task data of a project.
Task templates: Simplify task creation
Teams that regularly execute similar processes like fulfilling an IT service ticket or tracking application bugs can convert workflows to task templates for consistent setup. Like any other task details, users can set up the data that repeats from task to task (e.g., assignee, project, description, and files) and re-use the template with adjustments when organizing future sprints.
While tasks are easy enough to create, capabilities like this decrease the overall number of clicks and effort a project lead or team member needs to appropriately arrange data. Like so many features available on Asana, these tools can directly reduce time spent on monotonous tasks and give more time back to stakeholders.
Visualize and modify project data
To help project stakeholders gain insight into the status of their projects, Asana offers a handful of visualizations to view and interact with project data. While one team member can stick to the familiar List view that resembles an Excel spreadsheet, other users can change task data through a Kanban-style board or calendar. Changes are pushed to each of these views in real-time.
Within an individual project, users can explore the tools listed below or add files and send team-wide messages for ongoing communication and updates.
List view: The advanced spreadsheet
For the population of professionals comfortable with the classic spreadsheet, Asana’s List view (Figure D) offers a similar feel without the formulas and functions that sometimes bog down newer spreadsheet users.
Field values are determined by column conditions while rows represent tasks with the additional option to divide rows into separate sections. Whereas spreadsheets are all rows, it did take me a moment to adjust to this initial division of tasks into sections. Otherwise users can view and change items easily or add a new column.
Board view: Cards across a whiteboard
The Board view includes a Kanban chart featuring cards and tasks split across lanes based on a set condition. Users can easily drag-and-drop these cards vertically (in-lane) or horizontally (between lanes) to change a card’s status.
In Figure I, my Board view shows lanes split by section names (Sprints) previously set in the List view. This offers another nice way to see project tasks over each sprint, but Kanban charts really shine in displaying the concentration and movement of tasks based on progress status.
In its current state, my Board allows me to move tasks from one sprint to the next, but I don’t want the expectation of delaying tasks or shifting them to future sprints. To make the ideal arrangement of lanes, I need to adjust sections and tasks. Sadly, I didn’t find an easy or intuitive way to make this shift for the project data.
During the onboarding process I selected the above background, however, upon seeing my project in Board view – I was not a fan. After several minutes looking for a way to change the background, I gave up and embraced the forest where my project’s board would reside.
Timeline view: Tasks over time
In a Gantt-style chart, the Timeline view offers the rows of tasks seen in List view across a timescale. This perspective gives a solid overview of how long each sprint lasts and the dependencies between tasks.
In Figure J, I switched the view to “Quarterly” to see the entirety of the 3-month project and connections to each. The thin blue line between Sprint 1 and 2 marks the current date for considering progress to goals, and users can filter the view through start date, due date, and assignee. Like List and Board views, the Timeline also allows users to open and modify task data reflected across the entire project.
Calendar view: Mark the date
Calendar view can be another useful feature for seeing project data on a standard web calendar. However, relative to other calendar components in PM tools I was underwhelmed by Asana’s version.
Users can scroll through the calendar to see pertinent task dates and add new tasks, but they don’t have the option to import an existing calendar or export the project calendar to a preferred calendar application.
Dashboard view: Break down data with charts
The Dashboard view is another convenient way to visualize project data through familiar charts and graphics. Whereas other views are all-encompassing for project data with the option to filter, Dashboards give users the ability to add charts based on project data points and improve observability for team members.
In Figure K, I set charts to display task data by sprint, status, assignee and completion rate. These charts and the option to create others with a range of conditions based on project data, means teams can quickly break down data into insightful charts for team access.
As the project moves forward, my selected charts will help inform decision-making around team-member workloads, project progress analysis, and planning ahead.
Overview view: The homepage of the project
For every project, the Overview page seen in Figure L offers a home for users to see project status, roles, milestones, goals, and key resources like pertinent documentation. Project managers can add a personal message and configure remaining sections to give team members a full view into project guidelines and progress in day-to-day workflows.
Asana use cases and audience
Asana has over 126,000 customers across a wide range of industry and team needs. The project management leader highlights its core use cases and target clients as:
- Agile management
- Automated localization
- Campaign management
- Content calendars
- Creative production
- Event management
- Project management
- Request tracking
Roles and teams
- Company-wide and managers
- Designers and design teams
- Engineers and software development teams
- Event planners
- Finance teams
- Human resources teams
- IT departments
- Product management
Pros & cons of Asana
For more on the pros and cons of Asana, read the review on Project-Management.com
Asana advantages and benefits
- Plenty of import options for migrating existing project data to the Asana platform.
- Tools and features for addressing a number of niche team workflows.
- Several ways to view, adjust, and analyze project data.
- Free integration option for time tracking to quantify time spent on project tasks.
- Extensive access to critical third-party applications and connectors.
- Initial learning curve for new users adjusting to a feature-full interface.
- The GUI can feel less intuitive relative to other top PM platforms.
- Tasks are limited to one assigned team member.
- Even steeper learning curve for deploying advanced features and tools.
- Additional reviews highlight occasional error messages, lagging when switching between project views with a large data set, and affirm the need for training.
- A leader in workload management fit for small teams up to enterprise organizations.
- Vast feature set providing project managers plenty of tools to enable collaboration and project momentum.
- There’s an evident learning curve but climbing it opens the door to automating workflows and optimizing productivity for teams.
Asana is indeed one of the best choices for project management with a friendly enough user interface and the advanced capabilities for general to niche team needs. Interested customers will find Asana’s pricing plans are similar to competitors allowing for a true feature to feature comparison with platforms like Smartsheet and Wrike.
With a robust free plan, team leads and smaller teams can’t go wrong giving Asana a try. The 30-day access to a Business plan (before reverting to the free Basic edition) is enough time to explore the platform, utilize premium features, and consider the long-term benefits of adopting a project management application.
For PM needs across different industries, Asana offers something for every team to enhance portfolio, project, and process management.
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