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Back to Basecamp ; Asana No Longer Viable

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That didn’t take long.   After spending a few days with Asana my team decided that they could not work with that project management tool.   After spending several hours on training email, live screen casting, and phone calls I agree.

Deal Breaker : No HTML Formatting

One BIG issue was the complete lack of HTML formatting including inline image retention and CSS styling of content that is pasted into discussions and descriptions.  Asana has the annoying habit of stripping any-and-all HTML elements down to bare text.    Cleaner and more consistent interface?  Sure?  Boring as heck, hell yes.  LOSING CRITICAL ELEMENTS like charts and graphs that were part of the original content?  A deal breaker.

Asana’s response to that issue:

Chris
NOV 11, 2014  |  05:23PM PST
Hi Lance,

Thanks for the request for HTML formatting and hyperlinks in discussions of Asana. We don’t have these additions planned for the near term, but we will note your suggestion to help inform future product developments.

We appreciate knowing what you think about the product. Let me know if I can help you with anything else.

Thanks,

Chris

No Project-Level Documents or Discussions

I told my team that EVERYTHING needed to be attached to a task.  It is the only way to get documents into the system or to hold discussions.    After a few days it became clear that this is a really horrible design flaw.   A perfect example, creating the pitch deck.   That was the first task “Finalize Pitch Deck”.    It had all sorts of relevant comments and discussions.   Most importantly it had the in-progress and eventually FINAL Pitch Deck attached to it.
Guess what?  You CLOSE tasks when they are finished.
Guess what else?   My team started asking almost immediately “where the hell did that pitch deck link go”?   Now try explaining “go find completed tasks, it is hidden in there, no go find the task that is one of hundreds completed this month to find THE task with THAT document”.    A nightmare.
One of the things we need is place to store and find final versions of documents.  You know… the type of documents that perpetual beyond the life of a single task.    Things that are project-level or even corporate-level documents.      Asana completely fails in this regard.
Asana’s response to that issue:
Terrence
NOV 10, 2014  |  03:39PM PST
Hi Lance,

Thank you for writing in with your request for project-level attachments. We don’t have that functionality at this time. I will note your feedback for the product team to consider.

As a workaround, you can also find all attachments across multiple projects using Search Views (https://asana.com/guide/learn/basics/search#gl-search-views).

Please let me know if you have any other questions or suggestions.

Thanks,

Terrence

The Other Stuff

There were also the “smaller” issues.  Important but not deal-breakers.  Things like…

Calendar Times

Adding times to event due dates so that the “Meet with Cecil and execute contract” task will be USEFUL when syncing to Google Calendar.  Without a time you end up creating TWO calendar entries, a day-long entry from Asana (the only option) and a time-specific entry in Google.   Asana’s response:
Terrence
NOV 11, 2014  |  11:45AM PST
Hi Lance,

Thanks for the request for time options with due dates. We don’t currently have this on our near-term roadmap, but might consider adding this in the future.

In the meantime, I would suggest including this information in brackets at the beginning of task titles for visual clarity (see attached screenshot):

[2:00 – 4:00PM] Long walk on the beach.

Let me know if you need anything else.

Thanks,

Terrence

Markdown

The ability to add [My Website](https://www.storelocatorplus.com) to make simple text links would have been nice, especially for the 255 character URLS some sites create these days.   The response?
Chris
NOV 11, 2014  |  05:19PM PST
Hi Lance,

Thanks for the detailed request for markdown support in Asana.

While we don’t have related changes planned for the near term, we will consider it and note your suggestion.

When we receive a request for a feature that’s not on our current roadmap (usually because we’ve discussed it and decided to save it for later), we label the inquiry so that when we next set priorities or decide to work on that feature, we can easily find customer requests. We prioritize on a number of factors beyond the number of requests (including staffing, cost, overall product goals), but that is certainly valuable information and we appreciate hearing your case.

We appreciate knowing what you think about the product, and your experience as a new user.

As always, you can review existing functionality in the Asana Guide:
https://asana.com/guide/learn

Let me know if I can help you with anything else.

Thanks,

Chris

Summary

At the end of the day I did not find Asana a bad option.  I liked it better than Trello and Basecamp in many ways. However it is not about me, it is about making my team more productive and giving them the tools they need to communicate more efficiently.    The resounding vote was “use Basecamp it is far easier”.    That is saying something as they had used Basecamp for exactly two days and Asana for exactly two days and easily voted for Basecamp.
Given the fact that I spent a total of 6+ hours training my people on Asana and 15 minutes on Basecamp, the choice was clear.   If we are going to be productive Basecamp was the only choice at this juncture.
Sadly an easy-to-use yet full-featured project management and online collaboration tool has yet to surface.  I’ve tried dozens and none fit the bill of “easy enough for my executive team without lacking significant functionality”.
Do you have a project management/online collaboration tool you use and LOVE?   Tell me why!
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Asana Intro – Creating Tasks

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This article is from a note I sent to my team about a new project that I am helping drive forward.  Hopefully the post will give people that are considering Asana some insight on how to use the app despite the shortcomings I’ve noted in other articles.    Asana isn’t completely unusable, I just wish they would respond just once with something other than “sorry you cannot do that and is not being considered for development at the moment”.

On to the “task creation and management” cheat-sheet for my team:

 

First step – CREATE A TASK
This gives you a place to log / attach stuff.    If we are not trying to accomplish a goal (aka “a task”) in relation to what you are sharing then you need to ask if this truly warrants going in Asana.
There are about 20 ways to create a new task like this the 2 simple ways:
1) Team Discussions In Asana
BTW – this should be how we do ALL BASIC PROJECT COMMUNICATION versus sending email.  It keeps the project stuff out of my inbox and in an organized/self-contained/searchable space we can all reference (Asana).
Click “Team Discussions” in the left sidebar just under the team name “Executive”:
Team Discusions
Team Discussions

Now that you are in there start typing your message.
Use the AT SIGN TRICK (@) to notify Ed that the message is for him.  Whenever you type @Ed and tab-complete the entry it will put the message in Ed’s inbox on Asana as well as post it on the board for everyone to see.
Notifying A Team Member
Notifying A Team Member

As you enter the message use the at sign trick again to create a task.    When you type @do this you will see a drop-down where it will say “New Task “do this”.  Select New Task and fill out the pop up box with the task details.
Asana - adding a task
Adding a task from a discussion.

​Fill out as much of the dialog box as you can.    The more you add the better IMO.  Assign a person, assign a due date, attach to a project, attach any relevant files or screen shots, add a description.
Asana - adding task details.
Asana – adding task details.

When you are done you can go to that task and add your commentary to the task.
That is where Ed can paste his dialogue and where Vincent can add his notes.
Just remember to type @<name> when you are doing stuff like “@Lance – please check this out and comment”.  That ensures it appears on my “Asana Radar” under tasks, inbox, etc.
Where To “Attach The Task”?
The big question is often “where the hell do I attach this”.    The short answer: don’t worry about it.    Make a best effort to put it somewhere sane.
Asana search is pretty good at finding stuff.   To give Asana more hints attach tags when creating stuff such as tagging that message with “Mojo” (just click the sales tag icon).
If you put something in the “wrong place” it can easily be moved  by clicking the right-side of any task on the “box handle” and dragging it somewhere.
– Move to different project:  drag it to the project list on the left of the screen.   It will go to the very top of the task list for that project.

– Move it into an existing task as a sub-task:  click on the target task to open the right-side-screen (1), drag the task to be moved into the now-open details for the “parent task” (2 & 3):
Moving a task.
Moving a task.

Organizing Things
 
I don’t have the “secret formula” on organizing this stuff.     Should tasks like “Mojo Research” and all others like it be a whole separate project called “Competitive Research”?    Maybe.    Then the task would go there.
Should it just be under one of the tasks under the “Market Research” project?  That is how I started organizing that topic.   Maybe not the best fit.  Luckily you can easily drag tasks around should we create a new “Competitive Research” project, dragging the “About The COMPETITION” task under there.
SIDE NOTE : it just dawned on me…. this dragging stuff around means we should probably have created SUBTASKS under the “About The COMPETITION Articles” task.    One for each competitor:   “Mojo Research”, “Spojo Research”, “Pojo Research”, and “General Co. Research”.    The reason?   If we did create a Competitive Research project we could “explode” the subtasks by dragging them out of the parent project and making them individual entries under the new project. 
The last option?    Make it a subtask under Finalize Business Plan since that is why we need to do competitive research TODAY.
The question to ask is “Why are we doing this NOW?”   Why are we researching Mojo?  For the hell of it?  Or are we trying to accomplish a short term goal?   IMO Mojo Research is critical to answering questions from investors.    As such it should go under “Obtain Seed Funding” and further should be in the “Finalize Business Plan” task.     That is our “guide to answering investor questions”.
By asking “Why are we doing this NOW?” and “Where does this BELONG?”   we will avoid “going down too many rabbit holes” (to steal Kent’s expression).
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Asana Project Management, Close But Not Perfect

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After spending the past 2 weeks looking at Project Management tools as a replacement for the overly simplistic Trello, we settled on Basecamp.   Within a week of using Basecamp and not being able to find the content and documents we were looking for in the deluge of newly-added content to the project we decided it was making the team LESS productive.    Time to move on.   After reading another half-dozen articles on Project Management software and what other people found and liked/disliked we decided to give Asana a try.

It looks promising out of the gate, but it is not without its flaws.  Some of those flaws are significant but not significant enough to make it unusable.   Overall we decided that Asana was better at finding and referencing information.   We also liked the near real-time chat feature called “Team Discussion”.  Thus, we are moving to our THIRD project management app within 90 days.   Sadly we are doing so knowing we are making compromises.    For something this important it feels wrong making compromises, but we have yet to find the right app for us.

What We Like

Everything is driven primarily by tasks.    That keeps all content emanating from a single objective-based origin.   However projects are not always so well structured and team collaboration often needs to be more fluid.     Task-centric project management is both a blessing and a curse for Asana.   It is a blessing because you always know to look under a task for most discussions and to find a related document.   It is a curse because some things, like an over-arching project document should not be buried deep inside a task.

The near-real-time updates on the screen are helpful when multiple team members are working on a project.  You can see what other people are saying without refreshing the page.  That is nice.

It is easy to move to other projects or tasks without having to always go back to the main starting point.  Basecamp always seems like you have to “jump back to the beginning” to find what you are looking for.

The search engine and tags are great.   It is far better, and faster, than Basecamp at locating relevant items.  The personal tags on items makes it even easier to find stuff you mark as important to a specific keyword. Very nice.

Tasks can have subtasks.    That is a great feature as the main project can stay focused on primary objectives.  Subtasks and their related commentary get buried in the main task, which we feel is a good thing.

 

The Shortcomings

NEARLY ZERO HTML formatting in discussions    Grab an article and paste it into Asana; goodbye images, text links, and most of the text formatting.    That is a good way to make most research articles useless as graphs, charts, and related hyperlinks go away.

Asana v. Basecamp Copy and Paste Content
Asana v. Basecamp Copy and Paste Content; Basecamp is the clear winner here. We can live without out this feature, but it will be painful.

Inability to create text-based hyperlinks.  Paste in a full HTTP address and you get a nice link.   Have a long link like this: https://basecamp.com/2785054/projects/7505219/messages/33557010  and that creates a long sucky message in Asana.  Especially if you have several such links.    Something like this Basecamp Ed Sheeran Article would be far nicer.  Markdown anyone?  Not in Asana.

You can close a parent task even if the subtasks are not completed.  No warning.  Nada.  It just closes out the parent task.    I guess that can be good in some cases, but I would like to at least have a warning come up saying “you are closing this while sub tasks are not completed, is that OK”.

You cannot assign a task to multiple people.    I guess the Asana folks subscribe to the same flawed thinking that Basecamp subscribes to when it comes to project management.   One person is responsible for a task.   That may make sense, such as setting a project lead, but smaller companies often assemble teams where any member can work on, and close, a task when completed.     I want several people to have responsibility for a task.  ESPECIALLY when you have parent tasks with subtasks.

You cannot attach a document to a project.  You can only attach documents to tasks.    That means there are no over-arching project documents.  That is just not reflective of how the world works, even in a pure Project Management sense.

You can only email content to add a task not augment a discussion.   Yes, they are trying to eliminate email.  However when I am traveling the best and fastest method to communicate on my tiny phone screen is a simple email app.   I should be able to subscribe/unsubscribe to  a task or discussion and thus turn on/off the “email spigot”.    However it should be a two-way spigot where I can reply and have it append the ongoing discussion in Asana.

 

Summary

So far it seems better organized than Basecamp, but this is our first 24 hours with the app.    Having already discovered some major shortcomings makes us nervous.    Hopefully we don’t run into many more issues as we’ve already burned enough time on the team switching project management apps.    That is what happens when you are a lean & mean startup that is trying to move quickly.   No time to thoroughly review and test project management apps while we are already speeding down the runway for takeoff.