Taking a seat with Asana

Roughly a 9 minute read by Heidi

01

Our successful migration to a new scheduling system

Asana

noun

  1. a posture or manner of sitting (as in the practice of yoga)

Perhaps only very small teams can work cohesively without task management software; for those of us with more than a handful of colleagues, using a professional tool is essential.

Finding the right fit can be tricky, there are a few dozen well established systems which purport to do everything - with matching price tags - and plenty of sideline offerings, making it difficult to know which to choose!

Depending on your requirements, a good choice can negate much of the heavy lifting in the daily organisation of a studio, creative or digital.

Here at Engage, we rely on this type of application to manage the workload of our 34 strong team, from department to task level.

TLDR;

In short, we moved our entire operation from a bespoke system to Asana in just a few weeks. Three months of research followed by three months of trialling multiple options prior meant when we migrated over, we were confident Asana would meet our needs. That we’re fast approaching a year of smooth sailing is testament to the preparation phase being invaluable!

Asana manages everything from our most complex, full service transformations to ensuring we have enough coffee.

As one of the team described, it’s “easy to use, feature rich and continually evolving”!

02

Why though?

If you’ve worked in a commercial environment for even a brief period of time, you’ve probably encountered a few different systems which aim to organise shared workloads and streamline projects.

Shortly after Engage celebrated its 10th birthday, we moved into a much larger studio as our team continued to grow. The bespoke application which had sprung out of necessity in our early years wasn’t quite meeting our expanded needs and we decided we’d rather spend our time on exciting client projects than maintaining an outdated build. We needed a new approach to tasks, teams and projects as strong and shiny as our new home.

Eyes wide for a cutting edge contender, we decided to try every single task management system out there rather than reinvent the wheel by building our own from scratch again (as fun as that can be!).

Choice may be the enemy of happiness but it certainly makes for a buyer’s market; as industry demand for these products has increased, competition to develop an all-singing, all-dancing solution is high.

Requirements at the ready, we began looking for a full featured application with a great reputation. After some time toiling in the digital mines, we found one! And we want to share our experience in the hope that it might make yours easier…

The how

A quick web search for ‘task management system’ can be overwhelming!

Already a fan of a few of the recommendations (Trello, Evernote, TeuxDeux), it was tempting to dive right in and try the one with the best logo… but if you’ve realised your current application is inadequate then there’s no time to waste - we needed to sort the wheat from the chaff by aligning our requirements with their features. Spreadsheet time.

We began with an audit of our current system, listing the functionality we wanted to retain (task status’, attachments, filtered views), alongside new features (mobile app, sub-tasks, calendar views).

After a short while reading reviews, we identified 15 applications and set up user accounts to test and score them accordingly. This research phase was time-consuming yet essential, as it allowed us to get a ‘feel’ for the UI and to test user interactions.

With several departments and more than 30 people on our team, the product would need to be both versatile and structured; ideally, with some basic processes straight out-of-the-box and the option to customise them or create our own to fit specific use cases.

The competition

Scoring the comparators against our criteria gave us a good indication of their suitability from the outset; we measured their compatibility by assessing factors such as ease of use, customisability and available integrations.

A small test team lightly trialled a handful, and rigorously tested two (Asana and Quire) before the decision was made. Lots were in close contention and difficult to find fault with - here’s a summary with one or two reasons they weren’t right for us:

Application Cons
Wrike Intensive setup necessary (zero sum game!), limited task status’
Trello Too few options to facilitate our use cases (board style display only)
Podio Significant customer configuration required (as with Wrike), inadequate filtering, not intuitive to use
Jira Too web development focussed
Monday Unreliable/glitchy, no calendar view of users
ProWorkflow Overwhelming UI, over-complicated interactions, invoicing focus
ActiveCollab Emphasis on client communication/invoicing
Taskworld No task update email notifications
Producteev Promising but unfortunately withdrawn from service after its new parent company (Aurea) discontinued support
Scoro No task update notifications
Neetrix No file upload functionality
Quire Too few predefined processes, ‘Smart’ folders only hold up to 5 projects
Flow Lack of task status’ and notifications, tags need to be configured for each user
Todoist
No sub-task functionality
011

Crunch time

Asana ticked all the boxes and then some, plus it also felt very intuitive. In fact, some of the team were already using the free version for personal organisation.

Additionally, it was extensible with integrations for other applications we use (Slack and Gmail). Being able to assign tasks to whole teams, rather than individuals, is useful. Permissions mean it’s easy to ensure that everyone only sees what’s relevant to them. Editable notification options allow for individual preferences. But, what really elevated Asana was its customisation potential - Custom Fields allow us to specify and filter by task attributes, and Reports make it possible to ascertain capacity and to audit.

Perhaps the most important factor in selecting Asana is that it felt easy. All of our use cases were straightforward to implement. Their documentation and guidance material is excellent.

The cherry on top is two-way data binding, so changes are instant and feel smooth. Thoughtful application of new technologies is important to us, and the Asana Communication Forum is testament to their commitment to evolving.

With that in mind, we’d love to see hyperlinks, disabling the return/create functionality, multiple assignees and a ‘Download all attachments’ button! A little more clarity on Today/Upcoming/Later would be useful too and keeping the contents of Sections within them when ordering by date.

Job ID

One crucial facet for us is being able to identify jobs with a unique reference. Our previous system created an incremental count but this time we opted to prefix the number with an acronym of the client name.

This functionality isn’t inherent in Asana, so we developed a tool which generates a unique code and copies it to the clipboard - then we use this in the Task Name.

Transitioning

In a fast-paced environment, there’s no time for downtime - keeping the wheels turning is the central responsibility of the Studio Management team.

We followed Asana’s onboarding plan, more as a compass than prescriptively; beginning with a company wide presentation to introduce the change process and then providing one-to-one training sessions, allocated time for experimentation and a dedicated Slack channel for ad-hoc help.

From a defined date, all new tasks were scheduled via Asana and a 3 month window outlined for the natural close or porting of tasks on the old system.

Feedback

With so much variety in our work, it can be difficult to imagine how others use the same system - our choice would have to satisfy diverse needs. Alongside the Slack support channel and conversations in person, we surveyed the team anonymously to find out more.

Positive remarks noted its general flexibility and how much it had improved individual organisation, making it easier to track to-dos and reducing the need to use ‘Follow up’ in Gmail. Many comments complimented the intuitive UI, speeding up of processes, filtering, increased visibility and collaboration, and the satisfaction of ticking a list off!

Sub-tasks, labelling, deadline flagging and the mobile app were mentioned as specific benefits.

Also favoured were the ‘Extra Delight’ and Tab+B hacks which users can select if they happen to like cute felines everywhere or unicorns dancing across the screen when they complete a task.

Most reported that they thought the onboarding process was excellent, with more ‘active’ learners commenting that the one-to-one sessions were useful. Over 83% stated they’d recommend it to someone else.

Problem solved?

In a nutshell, yes. But iterate, iterate, iterate…

There’s more we can do with Asana; we continue to expand our use of it and transfer as much functionality from any other systems we use into it. The Studio team have recently started to use the Gmail integration to update tasks and we intend to explore client access directly to Asana content and remote input via Jotform soon.

We chose the Premium plan and there has since been a Business version offered. In our opinion, the upgrade doesn’t offer enough to justify the price hike - we’d recommend Premium for most medium-sized businesses.

Tada!

Our move to Asana was as smooth as we could have hoped for and has boosted our productivity - in fact, we’ve just surpassed 10,000 tasks!

No doubt we’ll have missed something in our investigation (we’re still just about human) but for now, we’re enjoying Asana.

True to form though, we’ll be keeping an eye on what’s new and noting our learnings from this change experience just incase…

Heidi is the glue that holds the production process together. Supremely organised and always happy to help, she's involved from development to delivery. Nothing pleases her more than managing a project from start to finish, and the colour turquoise.