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Asana Review 2021

Productivity enthusiasts love Asana—and for good reason. It’s a collaborative tool that helps teams track work, from tasks to workflows to even some types of projects. Don’t confuse it for a full-scale project management platform, however, because it doesn’t have resource management tools, budgeting and expense tracking, or other features you might expect in that type of app. Yet Asana is one of the best apps for managing tasks, workflows, and certain kinds of projects. In recent years, it’s added more structure and templates for teams that want more guidance in setting up and using the app. It’s flexible, elegant, and can bend to your will. Because Asana is one of the best apps for collaboration and productivity, it’s an Editors’ Choice winner.

Asana doesn’t easily compare to other collaboration and work management apps. Still, if you were evaluating it as a tool, you might also consider Basecamp, Airtable, Wrike, and a few other apps. Deciding among these tools is less a question of which one is best and more about which one is best for handling the particular type of work you have and all the steps or workflow it goes through.

Asana interface

How Much Does Asana Cost?

Asana has four tiers of service: Basic (free), Premium ($13.49 per person per month), Business ($30.49 per person per month), and Enterprise (contact the company for a price quote). You get a discount if you pay annually. Formerly, small teams were eligible for an upgrade discount, but that offer is no longer active.

In Asana’s early days, the free Basic account gave you pretty much everything the app had to offer. Now the free account misses out on a couple of useful features, such as Timeline view, dashboards, custom fields, forms, rules, and milestones. Some of these features are explained later in this review. Free accounts also don’t get start dates, task dependencies, milestones, progress view, or advanced search and reporting. Free accounts do come with all the core task management features, although each team is limited to 1,000 tasks.

The free account still gives you a good understanding of how Asana works at the core level. I recommend using it for at least a few weeks with a small test group before upgrading to a paid tier of service.

Asana Premium includes everything in the free account plus all the features I mentioned were missing. There’s no limit on the number of tasks either. Premium accounts come with administrative controls, priority support, and the ability to create private teams and projects. 

Asana Business is billed as for groups that “need to manage work across initiatives.” Think large organizations. With this tier of service, you get everything in Premium plus Portfolios, Goals, Workload, Proofing, integrations with some otherwise restricted apps (such as Salesforce and Adobe CC), and a custom rules builder, also sometimes called automations. An example of an automation is, “When a due date changes, automatically add the team manager as a follower on the task.” Automations eliminate routine tasks, so no one has to remember to do them.

How Do Asana’s Prices Compare?

In 2019, Asana’s prices went up. They’re now slightly higher than several competitors’ prices. For example, Trello costs $12.50 per person per month for a Business Class account, which is a little less than Asana Premium. Trello’s Enterprise plan has a sliding scale, but the most you’ll pay for it is $17.50 per person per month. Wrike has a variety of plan types and pricing schemes, but it starts at $9.80 per person per month for Professional and $24.80 per person per month for Business. Airtable costs $12 per person per month for Plus and $24 per person per month for Pro.

Basecamp has a good free tier of service and its paid Business plans cost a flat $99 per month for as many members as you need.

Asana app rules automation

What Is Asana?

Asana is a work management tool for managing tasks and other work among a group of people. In more specific terms, Asana keeps track of who is responsible for what task and all the information related to it, including all the necessary steps, due dates, and so forth. 

One of its signature traits is its flexibility, meaning you get to decide what kind of work to track and exactly how to use it (more on that point in a moment). In the last few years, the company has added more options and templates to provide structure for teams who don’t want complete flexibility. In other words, subscribers have the option to use Asana in a wholly unique way or in a more guided way by making use of options that Asana provides.

Think about the difference between playing a tabletop board game and having a deck of cards. Asana is like a deck of cards, whereas project management software is like a board game. Board games come with rules. It’s unusual for players to stray too far from the included instructions, although players might agree to some modifications from time to time.

With a deck of cards, however, all the players first have to decide what game they want to play and which rules to follow. You could play a well-known game with established rules, such as five-card draw, or invent your own game. Even with a predefined card game, everyone has to agree on which version to play. There’s a general understanding of how the game will go, but it’s different from a board game that includes a set of rules. 

With Asana, there are just as many predefined ways you can use it, like card games with rules, as there are custom ways, like making up your own card game or adapting an existing game.

One more point of distinction is that Asana is designed to handle ongoing work and certain types of project-based work, whereas project management apps are built specifically to handle complex projects. What makes projects “complex?” Let’s say a company builds 50 houses a year. A project management app can map out each stage of construction for all the houses so that they happen in the right order and that the equipment and skilled labor are available at the right time for each building. Project management apps manage schedules and resources in that way, and sometimes budgets, too. Asana doesn’t quite do that, but it is adept at handling less complex projects where managing resources and schedules aren’t as integral to the work. Some examples are a marketing campaign, product launch, or a fundraiser.

If this still sounds confusing, just know that you can turn to Asana’s Guide for help, which includes webinars, tutorials, and more.

Asana project overview

What’s New in Asana?

Asana has a recent history of rolling out new major features at least once a year. One of the most recent additions is a Project Overview tab. It’s a landing page with a summary of information for projects created in Asana. It shows all the team members on the project and their roles, milestones, important documents or files related to the work, and so forth. With app integrations, you can embed videos and other kinds of media on the Overview page, too.

Another new feature, called Asana Goals (for Business and Enterprise accounts only), helps teams and organizations set goals and track progress made toward them. The idea is to move OKRs out of a disconnected spreadsheet or app and into the context of work management where it’s easier to understand how individual tasks contribute toward a goal.

Other fairly new features include a custom rules builder for building automations; changes to the List View that make it easier to work with; and updates to the Admin Console that give managers quick insights into which team members have been most active or influential on moving work along.

Workload and Portfolios (for Business and Enterprise accounts only) are also somewhat new features. Portfolios are similar to dashboards in that they provide quick stats and progress updates to people who need a bird’s eye view of some set of work. Workload is another view designed for high-level team members, namely managers. It helps them see the distribution of work to keep workloads balanced.

Asana new project blank

The Basic Structure of Asana

Before rolling out Asana to everyone in the organization, decision-makers need to figure out how to implement and use the app. While some collaboration tools tout simplicity, that’s really not the case with Asana. It’s reasonably intuitive, but each team needs to put in a good amount of thought regarding the processes or work they want to track with Asana and how they will do it. For some teams, Project Templates help, but generally speaking, it takes a little trial and error to get it right.

When you create an Asana account, you can join different Workspaces and Organizations. An Organization is an Asana account that connects everyone with the same email domain. A Workspace is a collection of people who work on something in common. You might, for example, join your company’s Organization and be included in Workspaces based on your department, committees you’ve joined, brands you work on, and so forth.

Within a Workspace, you and your team members create Projects, which is where you log and track work, have discussions with colleagues, and so forth. As mentioned, you can use Asana’s templates as a starting point, make your own template, or get going from scratch.

Asana’s Apps and User Experience

Asana is available on the web and as an Android app and an iOS app. There are no desktop apps. Asana’s web interface is efficient and responsive, with enough color and design flair to keep it interesting and useful without looking too cluttered. It has some surprises as well, like celebratory animations that appear on screen from time to time, although you can disable these extra effects if they don’t appeal to you. Asana also includes a series of keyboard shortcuts called Hacks in its settings section. Hacks add various kinds of functionality and personality. For example, hit TAB+B for a bit of feline fun after enabling the related hack.

The web app is divided into three areas. There’s a left-hand rail, a main window that changes based on what you select from the left, and a right-hand information box that drills down into whatever you’re viewing in the main window. 

In your profile settings, you can add basic account information; control notifications; adjust display preferences and the aforementioned visual effects; and configure integrations with other apps such as Harvest, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Figma, and others. See Asana’s full list of supported apps and integrations.

In the mobile apps, you can do nearly everything you can do in the web app, although depending on the volume of work and comments your team generates, looking at Asana on a full-sized screen may be preferable. That said, it’s definitely possible to be productive from a phone, and I appreciate that you can access Asana from anywhere you have an Internet connection. Notably, the mobile apps have a good deal of offline capabilities, too. When you work offline in the mobile apps, you see gray clouds indicating that the content hasn’t synced yet, so none of your collaborators will be able to see it until your device reconnects and syncs.

Asana automation timeline view

Layout and Main Features

Asana is easy to navigate. The left rail that shows your list of Projects, Workspaces, Reports, and so forth is always within reach, and you can collapse it to make more space. 

The main window has tabs across the top for getting different views, such as the Overview, a List of tasks, Board view (a kanban board), Calendar, Messages, and Files. These options may differ,tpc depending on how your team sets up and uses Asana.

You can customize your view at any time or filter and sort lists of tasks by various criteria, such as due date or assignee. Clicking on a task opens a secondary window to the right that shows all its details.

Task Tracking

At the heart of any Project (or any set of work, even if it’s ongoing work) are tasks. Each task can have subtasks, as well as an assignee, due date, recurring due date, attachments, comments, tags, and followers. Followers receive updates anytime a change occurs to the task. Comments are particularly useful because they support rich text formatting, editing after posting, and @ mentions.

A single task plus all its subtasks and customizations can become a workflow. For example, if a common task for your team is signing on new clients, the subtasks would cover all the steps, such as confirming the client’s interest, sending them any necessary paperwork, receiving the returned paperwork, sending them a welcome email, and so forth. Different people might be responsible for each step, and with Asana, you can assign each step to the appropriate person and add the corresponding due date at the right time.

It would be helpful if Asana let you turn a task and all its subtasks into a template so that when you create a new task in that Project, you’d get it by default. That’s not an option, but there’s an easy workaround which is to make the template you want and label it as such in the task name, then make sure everyone creates a duplicate of it when they need it. There’s a button to duplicate a task, so that makes it easy.

Asana search reports

Context and Perspective

Comments and other data that you can attach to tasks help you understand what’s happening so that you don’t need to discuss matters with your colleagues separately. All the information is right there. As tasks and subtasks are completed, their history and everything that occurred ends up being attached to the task itself. Thus, every work action has meaningful context. 

In addition to its ability to keep track of minutia, Asana is also useful for getting a broader perspective on the responsibilities of each team member. 

For example, with the right permissions, you can look at all the tasks assigned to a particular person to see how much work they have on their plate. It’s an at-a-glance assessment, however, not the quantified information some project management apps give you based on the number of hours per week an employee is assigned to work and the expected number of hours of work they have assigned to them.

Additional Features and Use

Tags help make tasks more searchable, and the advanced search function is quite good. Interactive checkboxes let you tick off tasks as you complete them—and just as easily untick them if you or another Asana member strikes something off in error. 

With custom fields, you can add detail to a task that’s important to you and your team, such as a task’s priority (low, medium, high) or its progress state (pending, in progress, awaiting approval).

Another useful feature is Asana’s ability to create dependencies between tasks. If you have task A and task B, and task B can only get started once task A is finished, then you can add a dependency between them to express that relationship.

To visualize such dependencies, a Gantt chart comes in handy, which is what you get with Asana’s Timeline. Here, users can see every one of their tasks laid out in a Gantt chart format. Dependencies are represented by lines between tasks and you can make changes at will. Gantt charts are particularly helpful for seeing how a delay in one task or an extended absence of a team member can affect target dates of task completion down the line. Asana also lets you organize tasks in the view into sections.

While Asana is flexible and feature-rich, it isn’t adept for graphics-intensive projects. Asana’s Board view is your best bet because you can set cover images for each task in a column, but you don’t get markup tools or other proofing tools to collaborate, discuss, and view changes to graphics files.

For teams whose work revolves around graphics and other images, it helps to have a full suite of tools for that job right inside your work management system. A few examples are ProofHub, Smartsheets, and Wrike, which are all project management apps that offer some type of proofing, markup, and discussion for images. Other online collaboration apps handle proofing specifically without being project management apps, too, such as Filestage and InVision.

Asana goals

Privacy and Security

Asana secures connections to its site using at least the TLS 1.1 protocol and hosts its data in “secure SSAE 16 audited data centers via Amazon in the US.” Asana also offers a bug bounty program for disclosing vulnerabilities with the service. The company has completed SOC 2 Type I and Type II audits, which, in brief, means an independent third party has validated Asana’s security and ability to keep them up. As with Slack, you can also check Asana’s status via an online dashboard.

At the usage level, Asana gives you ways to keep some information private from others without impeding collaboration. You can keep projects and tasks private to just you or private to an invited group. You can also set projects so that people may comment on them only and not edit them, as well as assign a comment-only permission level to members.

For teams who do use Asana as an open platform, it’s very important to maintain dialogue about the rules of engagement to ensure everyone agrees to use the app in the same way, not overwrite one another’s work, and so forth. At the enterprise level, Asana has some additional security options, including the ability to control which apps are usable across the integration as well as restrictions regarding who can add guests.

Advanced Search and Reports

Asana includes excellent advanced search functionality. At the top level, when querying for a term, you can specify if you are looking for a task or conversation. Other default fields include: Assigned to, In Projects, and Followed By. Further, you can specify whether a task has an attachment, if it is completed, as well as its due date. To drill down even further, you can add Filters for custom fields, People, Tags, Dependencies, and even Subtasks. If you can’t find what you are looking for with these tools, it likely did not exist in the first place.

Asana makes it easy to save any of these complex searches as interactive Reports, which live in the left-hand menu for quick access. These reports update as new items match the terms and you can edit the terms of the search at any point. I appreciate this feature as it can be invaluable for managers who are looking to figure out who is being productive. Even for individuals, it’s a good way to track individual progress over time.

A Deck of Cards

Asana’s thoughtful design and flexibility make it a powerful task-management app for many kinds of team-based work, as well as personal task management. Its extensive feature set and variety of workflow views are also commendable. For all those reasons, Asana earns an Editors’ Choice award for collaboration apps.

Pros

  • Flexible, fast, and modern design

  • Capable free version

  • Feature-rich

  • Timeline view makes it easier to manage dependencies

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The Bottom Line

Asana is an excellent collaboration tool that helps teams manage all kinds of tasks. Although it may be confusing at first, its flexibility and vast capabilities are well worth the initial effort it takes to get started.

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Further Reading