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.

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