Asana: Free Project Management for Teams

Project management can be the hardest part of executing on your goals. Sometimes it’s easy to dream up the next big idea, but without the discipline to get things done, you are going to be left sitting around telling everyone that you meet about how you could have created the internet. For many, project management is at once personal (pick up flowers, take out the trash, etc.) and professional (file that invoice, draft new ideas).

Asana, the next big project from one of the team members at Facebook, is a free solution to managing your tasks as a team. Is it worth using, or is it a dud? Read on to find out.

That ‘Free’ Thing

The first thing that you’ll notice is that I said that this is a free project management tool. In a world crowded with other options, small business owners might be tempted with having another tool at their disposal without the costs associated with that tool. In that sense, free is a good thing.

On the flip side, free services that aim to be an important tool for businesses worry me. While there aren’t any ads at this point, and the service has just recently launched, the lack of a clear business model makes me believe that this startup might be another service that disappears just as many users are finding it useful.

We can discuss the benefits of free versus paid another time, but it’s important to consider before placing all your eggs in one basket (or, tasks in one list) whether or not the tool you’re using will continue to be around. Moving between management applications is difficult, and there’s nothing more frustrating than learning the ins and outs of a piece of software and then having to switch to another solution.

Capabilities

Everything that you’d expect from a decent management app is present, including the ability to add tasks, create lists, and organize groups. By themselves this isn’t exciting, but Asana does some cool things that I haven’t seen in a webapp before: the ability to use keyboard shortcuts.

You have tasks. Asana tracks tasks. What a coincidence.

You have tasks. Asana tracks tasks. What a coincidence.

I’m running a Mac, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a bar running along the bottom of the app showing me all of the cool things that I could do via the Command key. I know that there are plenty of webapps that make use of Shift and Enter/Return or Tab, but this is the first time that I’ve seen something use the Command key. Each of the keyboard shortcuts that they outline work the way that they’re intended to, which was even more surprising than the fact that they might be included in the first place.

In which I'm happy that I can see all of the details.

In which I'm happy that I can see all of the details.

The app responds well to the resizing of the browser window, so I never felt cramped (I tend to keep my window smaller than most people) and was able to make out what the app was saying whether I had an app as small as I like or in Full Screen mode. I’ve seen too many sites fail to scale well, so Asana’s ability to do so was refreshing.

Look and Feel

I’m just going to say it: Asana was very clearly designed with businesses in mind. While there are a lot of nice touches in the app, the overall look made me feel as though the life were being sucked out of me. Everything is greyscale (with a dash of steel-blue) and looks much the way I would expect a 90’s-era Windows app to look.

I hope you're a fan of greyscale!

I hope you're a fan of greyscale!

We’re living in a time where people are placing more and more emphasis on design, and Asana simply can’t compete in that regard. Apps like Orchestra and Flow are absolutely gorgeous, offering many of the same capabilities as Asana but with compelling user interfaces. While your task list should be about the tasks, there’s one thing that I’ve noticed from playing with so many of these apps: looks matter.

If you aren’t drawn in to your task list, or you don’t feel some form of connection with the application, you’re less likely to launch the app and actually see what needs to get done. It’s the application’s job to keep you focused and working, yes, but it’s the interface’s job to make sure you don’t feel drained every time you look at the app.

Competitors

Asana’s case doesn’t get any better looking at its competitors. Sure, many of them are paid applications, but if that’s the cost for an enjoyable interface with many of the same features I’m sure most people would be willing to pay. Flow, mentioned above, immediately comes to mind; it can get expensive quickly, but it works well, has further functionality, and has an interface that goes miles beyond Asana’s dull greys.

Rule.fm feels more powerful and has a much, much better interface.

Rule.fm feels more powerful and has a much, much better interface.

On the free end of things, users might be interested in Rule.fm. It’s free for up to ten users, useful if you’re a small business with a few employees that wants a project management solution without the costs attached. There are also paid plans if you have more employees and want to insure that your tool will continue to be around years from now.

Speaking of, there’s the ever-popular Basecamp from 37Signals. These guys pioneered the project management space, and their apps straddles the line between simple and powerful, giving you access to the tools you need without a lot of the crust attached. They even have a free account for one project, thought it’s rather well hidden on their signup page.

Conclusion

I just can’t recommend Asana. If you’re comfortable using a free, dull tool that happens to have some keyboard shortcuts or you can’t afford a different tool for your business, I can see you being content with what Asana offers.

For many of us, though, I don’t see a compelling reason to sign up or switch from other solutions. As a personal task manager it feels even more dull than it would with a larger team, and there are so many options out there if you’re only managing your own tasks that I can’t see a single compelling reason to use the app.

There’s some promise here, but until Asana matures and gets a new coat of paint, I’m going to recommend that we stay away.


Summary

Asana is a new project management solution from one of the people that brought us Facebook.

5
  • http://ossoft.ru/ Denis

    I’m using Asana, and yet all happy.
    In my opinion, the project has good prospects of.

    • Nathaniel Mott

      I don’t know. I could see it being useful, and I meant to convey that in the review. It’s a functional application, but I think that the UI and UX, in this case, can make or break an application when there are so many options on the market.

  • Gail

    I would have to completely disagree with this review. I use Asana everyday and don’t give a rats a$$ what color it is. I need it to keep us organized and going down the right path in the right way. Asana does that, and then gets the heck out of my way. Love it!

    • Nathaniel Mott

      I’m glad that you enjoy it. That’s why I gave it a 5; personally I didn’t like the app at all, and I enjoy many of the other offerings much more than I enjoyed this app, but I can see why others might use it.

      It does everything that you can ask it to, that’s for sure. If that’s all you’re looking for then I hope you enjoy using the app.

  • http://fb.me/happyoink Gemma

    The colour scheme didn’t bother me, it’s different, but in no way did it make me feel like I was using Windows 95 or 98, and I’m old enough to remember using these. It’s modern, but it’s not following the visual trend the others have. Many webapps and websites use a LOT of greys and whites. So the reviewer was grabbing at straws with this.

    I left in the beta with the intention of coming back later when Asana has improved. I do wish they allowed me to completely delete my account rather than just deactivating it. That was annoying. The one thing I liked was Asana’s method of keeping the clutter tucked out of the way. At first I was like, “Where is everything?!” but within 10 minutes, I’d pretty much figured out the UI.

    Asana’s business model was fairly clear to me when they were in beta. They will be going straight for the big teams in order to make money. In fact, their tagline is Task Management For Teams.

    I get the feeling this reviewer hasn’t done his homework. This review feels poorly done and biased.

    • Nathaniel Mott

      I’m sorry that you feel that way. I understand that they’re going for teams, but what’s the pricing model like? Are they specifically going for the big-leagues like Sony or Disney, or are they meaning ‘big teams’ as in groups of 50 people or more?

      I’m not denying that the app is functional; I tried to make that clear in the review. Unfortunately, besides the keyboard shortcuts, I don’t see a mind-blowing product that really does anything new. I understand wanting to keep the app simple and easy to use, but I just don’t see many people preferring this over other options.

      I recognize that a lot of websites and webapps use greys and whites, but I’m saying that even a little splash of color would have helped make the app stand out. If it isn’t enjoyable to use I don’t see it making a big difference in people’s productivity when there are apps that *are* enjoyable to use out there.

      And, believe it or not, I’ve used Windows 95 as well (relatives really need to update their operating systems) and I’ll admit that there is a difference between that aesthetic and Asana, but the idea that I was going for is that I can see this being used by large teams, but it feels like a management app for a hospital; sterile, and something that doesn’t give even the slightest hint of enjoyment.

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  • Antonio

    This review feels poorly done, really.
    Asana has a decent interface and a more than decent feature set.

    5 of 10 is not enough in my opinion because it means insufficient.

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      Asana might just be the perfect tool for some, and we’re definitely hearing that a lot of readers are enjoying it. In this case, it didn’t fit the writer’s needs and expectations, and he rated it accordingly. We need to be a bit subjective (I personally am about Instapaper versus, say, Read it Later), and I think that’ll help our reviews be more useful overall. Basically, for him, he didn’t see why you would replace an existing tool with it, either for free usage (where there’s many options for individuals, including Wunderlist), or for bigger teams (Basecamp’s the 800lb elephant in the room, but there’s tons of other options too. It’s a crowded space, and Asana didn’t seem to stick out to him). That said, if you’ve found Asana really useful in your work or business, we’d love to hear more, too!

  • http://www.novacore.de Novi

    This review is a shame, seriously. I think it should be deleted, or at least the rating should be removed.

    I looked at it when it was published and the first thing I do is to look at the rating, in order to see if it is worth reading the review. After all, time is precious. When I saw it, I closed the page.

    Today, I was looking for project-management tools once again – I have testet probably about two dozen so far, and have never been really satisfied. I ended up on the Asana page and it really looked interesting. I created an account and wasn’t disappointed. It seems really nice. The Interface is polished and clean, it looks very professional and usable.

    I’m using rule.fm for a few weeks now and find more and more issues. Asana seems so much more usable – far more organized and you need much less clicks to get around. If you like to waste your time in your task-management app, then rule.fm might be the better choice.

    I admit, that I didn’t thoroughly test asana yet – but the first impression is so good that I just had to get back here (as I remembered seeing it on here). And I really can’t understand how this well organized app can be dismissed solely on it’s optics. Which I and many others even seem to like. In comparison rule.fm has much more grey in it, some black and a few blue highlights. Asana is mostly white and not grey. Many of the big players have an ugly interface if I had to work with Basecamp for example, i probably would have to cry all day long.

    Just in the few first hours I found so many things in asana that are really cool. It’s fast to navigate, has keyboard shortcuts, adapts very well to the frame size. It’s really easy to get into as there are good help features build right in. It is free for up to 30 Users and will stay free. It will cost money if you want more users and advanced features. (some more http://asana.com/product )

    So, everyone reading this: check this app out, it looks really promising.
    To the author of this review and the appstorm team: I’m really disappointed by you. Seriously? 5 Points? … tons of mediocre apps get 8 or even 9.

  • GT

    I love Asana. Works quite well, easy to learn and pleasant enough on the eyes. Don’t be so tough on it. Should be rated at least an 8!!

  • http://rule.fm Patrick

    To be fair, we are not a GTD we are GWD (Get Work Done) app. More power to our Asana brothers and sisters for caring about how to make work better. We gave Rule away for Free for our first year and will probably do it again for individual professoionals wanting to Rule in the future, but for now here is a code for our friends at App Storm and Envato to have unlimited Rule up to 50 users for 50% off the premium plan: EnvatoRules88. Enter this code at http://rule.fm/pricing (beneath the paid plan options) to get it. Rule on!

  • http://www.ironbriefcase.com DiasterRecovery

    I found Asana a versatile project management App thats brings order to to projects.
    Asana’s tagging system is awesome. Though Asana is not perfect it is however a great tool that will serve most users and teams well. A big plus is the ease of use and the fatc it is free.

    I would give it a score of 7/10

  • Eric

    If you’re going to suggest any paid site it would be basecamp, which IMO is the best ever. Teamlab is a free clone of basecamp. I suggest teramlab for anyone looking for a direct alternative to basecamp. Asana is still the best free option and my team of coders and link builders are pumping out work like crazy.

  • Jim Spartan

    Reading this was like admiring a great engineering feat along with a stadium full of grateful users. As we all stand in awe at the productive usefulness of the product a little girl at the back cries out . . .
    . .
    “It would look better if it was pink and had unicorns!”

  • Cody Sayre

    Wow, this review is extremely poor. Asana is an amazing product, and is honestly the best project management application available and provides a lot of things the others don’t. This writer sounds extremely inexperienced with project management.

  • Gil

    In my opinion asana is not a good system for a company. It is really simple, it doesnt have many options like category of bugs or priorities in the tasks.. the interface looks like a copy of Jira but with fewer options…

    Besides, you can not delete your account… how is that possible.. a system that tells you to send an email to delete your account and then send other 2 mails for confirmation… this is not at all professional.

    for personal use i think people might like it but for me is not professional enough…

  • Frank

    You gotta be kidding…. ASANA is by far the best free tool I ever used, and being free does not limit the system in any way compared to others, after reading all negatives reviews I found a common factor, it is clear you have not used it the right way or you are not aware of the features and capabilities… what I like the most is that giving a previous good thought with imagination you can replicate almost any workflow, the system will not do it, it is how you configure the workspace and define the attributes.

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