Detailed Review of Asana for Project Management

Asana is reviewed against 200+ project management software requirements on a downloadable spreadsheet. Asana is scored overall for each of the ten project management processes. This post provides a summary of the key strengths and weaknesses for each of the processes.

Download Asana Scoring Spreadsheet

Click here to add the Asana Excel spreadsheet to your basket and continue reading. Visit the basket page to complete the download.

Asana Summary Findings

Asana is one of the project management lite cloud-based tools that have been popping up like mushrooms for the last few years. It is a nice-looking collaboration tool for simple projects. However, it could not be used by a professional project scheduler on complex projects.

After using it, I sense that it is really just SmartSheets with a prettier user interface. The ‘projects’ are really just sheets with some custom scheduling functionality. They aren’t tables in a relational database, which limits Asana from being a robust tool. The ‘projects’ can be bastardized by hiding existing fields and adding custom fields to make almost any spreadsheet list you want.

Total Score37%
Communications Management14%
Cost Management14%
Integration Management55%
Procurement Management13%
Quality Management8%
Resource Management31%
Risk Management0%
Schedule Management61%
Scope Management25%
Stakeholder Management13%

Asana Pricing

Asana has six levels of pricing:

Plan$/User/MonthKey Differentiators
Guest$01) Guests have email with a different domain.
2) Can view project info and update task status.
3) Can’t create/edit projects or tasks.
Free$01) Can create projects and tasks
2) Can’t access the following key functionality:
i) Timeline/Gantt view
ii) Forms
iii) Dashboards
iv) Task dependencies
Starter$10.991) Can’t access the following key functionality;
i) Portfolios
ii) More than 250 rules
iii) Approvals
Iv) Workload
Advanced$24.991) Can’t access the following key functionality:
i) More than 100 portfolios
ii) Single sign on
EnterpriseCustom Pricing (rumored to be $44 – $49)Basically, all functionality
Enterprise +Custom Pricing1) All functionality
2) Unlimited seats

Asana Scoring Methodology

I signed up for the Asana free trial and built my own project. I also reviewed Asana demos and documentation. Finally, I reviewed various forums on the Internet for customer insights.

I’ve been evaluating project management software and sharing the results to help others save time in making an informed decision. I started the evaluation as marketing research for the Salesforce project management app I built: Project Lifecycle Pro. I’m doing my best to give a unbiased review, but you can download the detailed Excel spreadsheet to perform your own analysis. Here are detailed instructions on how to use the spreadsheet to weight requirements and compare multiple software packages side-by-side.

I structured the analysis around the Project Management Institute’s (PMI)© project management process. This is outlined in the PM Book of Knowledge (PMBOK)©. First, I listed the project management processes and then the activities within each process. Finally, I developed a list of requirements related to each of the activities. The list of requirements is based upon my thirty years of project management experience and having evaluated more than 30 project management tools. When I come across novel functionality in the software I’m evaluating I add it to the requirements list. Of course, I’m sure I missed some requirements and welcome any suggestions.

I gave all processes and requirements equal weights, but you can adjust the scoring weights in the Excel spreadsheet to suit your needs. Each requirement was rated as either:

  • Yes – As Is – Meaning, the requirement is met with out-of-the-box functionality. This rating is awarded four points.
  • Yes – With Configuration – Meaning the requirement can be met with minimal configuration or no-code updates. Since, Salesforce is highly configurable I used this rating for simple things like changing picklist values, adding a field to an existing data object, creating a report, etc. This rating is awarded two points.
  • No – Not Available or Requires Customization – Meaning the requirement cannot be met without significant investment of time or money. I assigned this rating if custom coding would be required, or a new custom data object, or a new custom flow. This rating is awarded zero points.

Finally, the scoring spreadsheet totaled the ratings by process to show how the apps compare by process. Therefore, you can assess the apps based on which processes are the most important to you.

Here is the spreadsheet used to score the app:

Download Asana Scoring Spreadsheet

Click here to download the Asana Excel spreadsheet for $19.99.

Communications Management

Asana doesn’t contain any change management or training functionality to speak of. You can communicate within the project team using a message board. If you have any significant volume of training or communications you’ll need a learning management system (LMS).

Forum discussion about using Asana as a learning management system (LMS)

Cost Management

Asana doesn’t have any real budget, cost or expense management functionality. You can create custom cost fields on the tasks and have them roll up to the project. But, this is a far cry from a true cost management system.

Asana also lacks any invoicing functionality. So if you are professional services firm, you should consider a dedicated professional services automation (PSA) tool.

Forum discussion on lack of invoicing functionality

Forum discussion on lack of budget/expense tracking and add-on apps

Integration Management

As a collaboration tool, Asana does have some decent integration management functionality.

Strength: Goal Statements

Asana is one of the rare project management tools that provides any functionality to document the business case. You are able to document the project goals, supported by sub-goals. This allows you to explain the project purpose to the team and stakeholders, as well as, track achievement of the goals.

Strength: Robust Project Security

The project manager has lots of control over access to the project:

  • Projects can be made public or confidential.
  • Users can be given read-only or various levels of edit rights.
  • External users (i.e. clients or vendors) can be given limited access to the project.

Strength: Status Reporting

You are able to publish a status report and it is displayed along with a history of the earlier status reports. There is even an AI feature which will supposedly draft the status report for you. I wasn’t able to see this in operation because my test project didn’t have enough history, but if your status reports are so cut-and-dried that AI can produce them, then maybe you shouldn’t be creating them in the first place.

Weakness: External Access to the Project

Providing a client or vendor access to the Asana is pretty much an all-or-nothing option:

  • If you give the client access to the project, they can view all tasks and all project information. This would include internal comments, internal tasks and any financial information.
  • You can block the client from seeing the project information by only giving them access to specific tasks. Then they can’t see any project information, just the tasks they are assigned. However, now they won’t be able to see the basic progress of the project.

Procurement Management

Asana doesn’t have any real procurement management functionality and it would be difficult to build. If you are capturing costs on the tasks records, you could also capture the vendor’s name and create summary reports.

Quality Management

Asana doesn’t provide any quality management (i.e. testing) functionality and it would be difficult to build.

Resource Management

Asana has some very basic resource management functionality which they call “workload management’. This functionality isn’t robust enough for a professional services firm. Because, it is based entirely on rolling up labor estimates for individual tasks it probably isn’t ideal for a company’s internal PMO, where that level of planning is rarely required.

Weakness: Only Task-Level Allocations

As a program manager on large company’s internal improvement projects, I rarely attempt to assign labor to individual tasks and use these for resource planning. Instead, I estimate at a deliverable level and then allocate people based on a percentage of their time. For example, John Smith is allocated to Project X for 50% of his time from March 1 – June 30. Asana does not support this approach.

Weakness: Can’t Plan Labor by Role/Skill

Asana doesn’t support:

  • Assigning standard skills to resources
  • Planning staffing based on required skills rather than individuals
  • Submitting resource requests based on skill

Risk Management

There isn’t any risk management functionality. You could create a separate project risk register by creating a new project, entering the risk under the ‘Task’ field and adding some custom fields. This is equivalent to the old approach of creating risk registers in Excel. There are several problems with this:

  • The risk register isn’t linked to the project in any way other than the name
  • You can’t create tasks related to investigating or mitigating the risks and tied directly to the risk

How to create a risk register in Asana

Schedule Management

The Asana scheduling tool is very simplistic. It would drive a professional project scheduler that has used Primavera or Microsoft Project nuts. You could not use it for complex projects like construction projects or large IT programs. It is basically a to-do list with a few added features.

Asana is fairly unique in that is allows creating task automations. However, you can only build workflows or rules using standard pre-defined triggers and standard fields. You can’t build workflows or rules with custom fields or custom conditions.

Strength: Inter-Project Dependencies

The good news is that Asana has the rare capability to create dependencies between tasks in different projects. The bad news is that Asana’s approach is screwy and very limited:

  • It only supports a finish/start dependency
  • It doesn’t allow you to define lag, but gives you an option to either keep lag constant or vary it when a predecessor’s schedule changes

Strength: Assign Tasks to External Resources

You can assign a task to a vendor or client that doesn’t have Asana and they can update the task without an Asana license. This is a nice feature that isn’t supported by all tools.

Strength: Recurring Tasks

You can create recurring tasks without having to copy and paste multiple times. This is a feature only supported by a few tools.

Weakness: Limited Dependencies

As I stated above the approach to dependencies is pretty strange. It almost looks like a last minute workaround because they couldn’t get a standard approach to dependencies to work. Here are the issues:

  • Only supports Finish/Start. Doesn’t support the others: Finish/Finish, Start/Start or Start/Finish.
  • Can’t define or edit lag. The lag is set when you create the start and finish dates of the tasks with a dependency. There is a project setting which sets your preference for maintaining the lag or adjusting the lag when you change the due date of predecessors.
  • Doesn’t support constraints and doesn’t use a default ‘Start as Early as Possible’ constraint. Because of the lag approach, if you create a dependency it won’t automatically reschedule so the second task starts as soon as the predecessor is completed.
  • You can’t define or view the duration other than setting start/finish dates. However, when a dependent task slips it appears to maintain the original duration.

Weakness: Doesn’t Support Effort-Based Scheduling

Most advanced tools allow you to use fixed duration or fixed effort scheduling. Meaning if you add a second resource do you want the duration to remain the same or do you want to be cut in half? Asana only seems to support fixed duration scheduling. This isn’t unusual for these project management lite tools.

Weakness: Can’t Assign Multiple People to a Single Task

Well technically you can, but Asana simply creates a separate duplicate task for each person you add. To make it worse it copies the effort so if you have a task that takes 10 hrs and you assign a second person you now have an estimate of 20 hours.

Scope Management

Like most of the tools I’ve reviewed, Asana doesn’t have any functionality for recording scope. You could add some custom fields to the project to track some scope information. You could also create a custom change request form and change request log to track scope changes.

Stakeholder Management

Like most tools, Asana doesn’t support any functionality for defining project stakeholders and change impacts to plan change management activities. You could add some roles to project team members to document the sponsor and steering committee members.

In Conclusion

You probably guessed I’m not a big fan of these cloud-based project management lite tools. It is a step backwards to thirty years ago when I was managing projects in Excel spreadsheets. But if you are looking for a simple collaborative to do list, then Asana is worth considering. You should definitely evaluate both Asana and Smartsheets, to see which you prefer based on your particular requirements.



Additional References

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