The Problem with Many Task Management Solutions like Asana |

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The Problem with Many Task Management Solutions like Asana


Posted by on August 20, 2012

There are many task management solutions on the market today such as Asana, Producteev, HiTast, and dozes of others.  My team happens to use Asana which is why I mentioned them in the title of this post (and is hence the one I am most familiar with).  The goal of all of these solutions is to make it easier to get work done, especially in teams, without relying heavily on email.  However the problem with all of these task management solutions comes down to getting notified about tasks, which inherently comes down to email.

I’ll use Asana is an example.  When someone assigns me a task or if I assign someone a task, the only way they get notified is via email.  Actually email is the way you get notified about anything including if someone comments on a task you assign.  The problem with this is that you only know about an update when you check your email.  This means that either you need to check your email very often or you don’t check your email often and don’t get to stay up to date on what’s going on around tasks and projects.

If I’m supposed to use the task management solutions as a way to reduce my reliance on email then why do all of them force me back into email?  Again, this is common with every platform I have seen today.  There needs to be a way to notify users of task updates which does NOT rely on email.  I think the best way to solve this is via a desktop application (perhaps build on Adobe Air) which you can always have open.  It’s a bit like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, you open it once and it just hangs out on your desktop and when relevant updates come your way they just pop up.  It’s easy to update content or share information and keep in touch with people, why don’t we have something like this around task management (or even collaboration?)

Here’s what I would want to see:

A desktop app which I can just click on once in the morning when I start my day.  This app will notify me anytime a task or project has been updated in anyway (for example if it was completed or if someone left a comment).  I also want to be able to assign tasks and view tasks in a very simple way.  The app should also notify me with reminders if tasks are due that day or if they are overdue.    Finally, I’d like to be able to reference people and other tasks in that app much the same way I do within Twitter (using the “@” symbol).  Some of the solutions today allow you to do this but you have to be logged into their web-based site to do so.  The key here is not just to notify me about things but to provide context around notifications.  For example, if someone on my team comments on a task I assign them I don’t just want a pop to say “someone commented on your task,” I want to be able to read the comment and have it threaded or linked to the task so that my response falls under the same thread and in the same context.  It would also be great to have some sort of notification system letting me know if someone has seen or accepted the task.  I can’t tell you how may times I needed to follow up with my team because I’m never sure if they see a comment I leave on an assigned task.

This doesn’t appear to be that complicated to create yet nobody has created it, why?

Mobile notifications are another option here but more applicable when on-the-go, if I’m sitting at my computer I don’t really want my phone buzzing with updates, I’d rather seem them on my computer.

Task management providers need to solve this problem, I’m looking at you Asana!

On a side note there is also no way to just put up some sort of a status update for asynchronous communication, meaning you can only talk about tasks and projects but if you want to have an update saying you are away for a few hours or traveling, you can’t.

I have plenty of other ideas and suggestions but let us start here.

What task management solutions do you use or recommend and why?  What else would you like to see offered?

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  • http://twitter.com/SamJacobs18 Sam Jacobs

    Jacob, great post and I agree with your observation completely. I am using a project management application, called binfire.com. It has many of the features you mentioned here, just on the web (you can add status updates, or have group chat etc). If they make a desktop as you suggest here, their app will become real awesome!

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com/ jacobmorgan

      Thanks, I will check it out.

  • http://schultzter.ca Schultzter

    As much as we all love to hate Microsoft I have to say that Outlook pretty much covers everything you ask for. Admittedly the desktop is Windows only (OS X maybe?) but it’s also available on-line in various forms and on every mobile platform! You’ve got your e-mail but you also have collaborative tasks, calendars, and notes. Plus a few other goodies.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com/ jacobmorgan

      Sadly I agree with you. If something like that existed around task and collaboration solutions outside of Outlook that would be great. I think the problem with Outlook though is that it still very much centered around email as the primary way to get work done. But in all fairness I haven’t used Outlook in quite some time. Thanks for the comment!

  • Graham Ridgway

    So the question I would have is what’s wrong with being in the App (in this case Asana) itself? Why do you want to be notified outside of this?

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com/ jacobmorgan

      Hi Graham.

      Because it’s not efficient or productive, I might as well be staring at email all day. At least with outlook I get notifications on my desktop when I get a new email. The whole point of a notification is to make so that I don’t need to stare at their application every few minutes. Not only that but Asana doesn’t even really provide effective notifications within the app as far as I know, email is the primary way to get notified with updates.

      • Graham Ridgway

        So that kind of outlines the actual problem of how we organise the time we spend, spread it between our jobs and see when there is something inbound that needs our attention. It still think it’s the job of the app to solve that for you. If each vendor provides their app and a “notify” app, then you just have twice the places to go to. With email at least it’s in one place. What we need is a new “one place to go” to see what’s inbound across all products and sources of interrupts.

      • Graham Ridgway

        So that kind of outlines the actual problem of how we organise the time we spend, spread it between our jobs and see when there is something inbound that needs our attention. It still think it’s the job of the app to solve that for you. If each vendor provides their app and a “notify” app, then you just have twice the places to go to. With email at least it’s in one place. What we need is a new “one place to go” to see what’s inbound across all products and sources of interrupts.

  • http://kenschafer.me/ Ken Schafer

    In fact Asana supports @ references (to people and projects). They also have an inbox within the app that does exactly what you want, other than notifications (since it’s a web app).

    I run Asana in a single-site browser (made using Fluid) and check it regularly throughout the day. At some point I’m sure they’ll get notifications straightened out.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com/ jacobmorgan

      Hi Ken,

      Yes Asana does support that but you need to be in their web based solution to do it. This means that the only way you get notified is that you either have to check your email every few minutes or you need to check Asana every few minutes, neither of which is a good solution. Not sure what you were referring to re: the inbox though. With the people behind Asana I honestly thought they would have been farther out with their product then they currently are.

  • http://twitter.com/mediamutt mediamutt

    The Lotus Notes “To Do” app and the IBM Connections Activities features do much of what you’re thinking, depending on the context you prefer: starting from your desktop (To Do) or your social portal (Connections). For example: To Do allows you to assign actions to others using your Lotus Notes directory. You not only get email notifications, but a To Do dashboard to manage your actions, what’s current and what’s overdue, etc. The same for Connections Activities: you see a quick-hit list of Current and Overdue To Dos from your homepage left nav, can assign To Dos to others using your Connections profiles directory, etc. Many of these features are also available through mobile devices. And because of open APIs, you can create additional integrations such as assigning To Dos from business process events (like requesting an approval for a submitted form).

  • Harvinder Kandola

    To be honest there are all the same. Little innovation in terms of handling notifications and the approach towards managing different types of projects.

    How about we have alerts built into these types of apps?

    See here for a completely different take on tasks & tracking:
    http://www.geminiplatform.com/tracking

  • Bruce Cannon

    I recently evaluated MangoApps and was impressed with the breadth of collaboration across that platform: native applications for Mac and PC, with notification popups; in the web app there are instant messaging, conversation streams, videoconferencing, etc. Their PM approach is far too agile for me: I am old school and need to see some portfolio-level gantt. But as far as collaboration goes, they nail many of the other issues you discussed in your post.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com/ jacobmorgan

      Hi Bruce,

      Sorry for the late reply here. I use Mango and am a fan of theirs. They have a new release coming out in a few weeks, I know that they do over a GANTT visual in their project/task management feature, that’s been there for a long time. Maybe check with them?

  • Dan

    http://www.getflow.com has iphone notifications and a desktop plugin for the mac that notifies you….you can turn off email 100% and still stay on top of things. But…you have to pay for it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/domonkos.hamar Domonkos Hamar

    I used Producteev for half a year, now I’m shifting towards Asana. But in Producteev you can set alerts as an IM notification Gtalk/Jabber. https://www.evernote.com/shard/s91/sh/46c601d9-a307-4398-bf43-470dbc5d9b96/c17f9a3d2bd0e30bb864e4de2ebd2fed
    (So for example if you use the new OSX Mountain Lion Messenger application with your Gtalk account it is the solution you want, isn’t it?)

    And producteev also has a great iPhone notification on the iPhone app. Maybe Asana as well, I do not know yet.

  • Kjetil Bjørnsrud

    Do anyone of these have a better, “real” iPhone (and android) app – like Things or OmniFocus?

    • Alex

      Asana does, its pretty nice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Escalante/524011930 David Escalante

    “This means that either you need to check your email very often or you don’t check your email often and don’t get to stay up to date on what’s going on around tasks and projects.”

    Uh? I never heard of such complain, unless you don’t take your job very seriously or you are a mess with your e-mails.

    If you use software such like Outlook, Mail (osx), Thunderbird I don’t think the “check your email often” would be a problem, also it helps to be very organized with your emails and information.

    I have set mail to move automatically all the asana and producteev emails in a designated folder and make Mail to “beep” and “bounce” each time I get assigned a new task, I’m sure you know about this since anyone I know in my work does.

    The good thing about emails is that you get the notification, doesn’t matter if you are in home using the computer or outside in your cellphone, you get the same notification at same time.

    But again, I just stated the obvious, still I don’t know where the complain about emails come from. While yes, a integrated OS notification would be useful, it would be a lot notifications coming from everywhere, and most OS nowadays use built in notifications to inform you about new emails and it’s content (at least, OSX does).

  • http://serialsmallbusiness.com/ Graham Hunter

    I bet with asana’s “let’s kill email” campaign they will implement this in no time. Genius idea.

  • ScottP

    Email is (slowly?) on its way out as a primary mode of communication for project teams. A bunch of good reasons for this in term of efficiency and project management. Take a look at Do.com (owned by Salesforce) or Kona.com. If I recall, one of them may have social communication features. Asana is pretty quick at implementing new features though.

  • Peter

    Many of your disposition for Asana can be taken away by a combination of tools.
    We use Fluid for creating a desktop app from the asana web app. And use Insana notifications that connects to asana via their api. Total cost. $6,50

    Hope that helps.

  • Daisy Lara

    br {mso-data-placement:same-cell;}Great post. Nice to hear others having the same issues. We too got sick of asana and in the end moved over to profhub (www.proofhub.com). It was easy to move over for us and more importantly our clients as they are similar in workings and layout to a point. But proofhub has far more improvements and handy feature over asana.

  • Phick Steven

    Emails will all the time be a must in all task tracking tools. I have been using softwares for my company from a very long time and I have been getting email notifications and yes I think that is a good way altouhgh. But the alternative to that may be a mobile SMS or even more simpler if some one wants to go then they can opt for apps rather than using task tracking tools but that is not preferable all the time.

  • Sam Vargas Balignasay-Blanquer

    Great post! Adding to these list is workinspire.com. What makes it unique with other project management tool is that Email is integrated on the system, and you can just convert the email to a task, convert that task into a time sheet and generate a PDF Invoice. All in one, right?

  • Mark Twin

    I’m a long-time asana user and I agree with many of your findings and essentially came to the same conclusion that it seems to be the best tool out there, but not perfect by any means. In particular, I’ve found asana’s inability to provide a team overview really frustrating as well as the limited functionality of its Calendars. To overcome this, I’ve been using proofhub (www.proofhubcom) which I can say that it is the best alternative to asana. It has both free and paid packages. You can test drive the service free for 30 days, then pick a plan (starting @ $15/month) that best suits your needs.

  • Victoria Reznov

    ROFL – do.com by sales-force has everything you mentioned – literally everything – and they’re CLOSING DOWN IN JANUARY! RAHAHAHAHA THAT’S HILARIOUS!. You made my day.

  • Victoria Reznov

    If you had even bothered to research task management on google for more than 60 seconds, you would’ve come across do.com straight away. How about you stop whinging about inefficiencies that don’t exist and do something useful for society.

  • Jonathan Burns

    I run Asana on my Mac using an app called Fluid which can take any web app and allow it to act a bit like a desktop app so that it has an icon and can be toggled to using Cmd+Tab (same as Ctrl Tab in Windows). This way it always open and easy to check. So far the app icon doesn’t display notifications but perhaps that will come in the future. I understand your frustration around email notifications. Overall I love Asana – it’s the best task and project management app I’ve found for my teams.

  • Jimmy

    In case of proofhub.com there is no interference. You can enjoy uninterrupted services with less cost.

  • Jimmy

    I appreciate with this article. I am using proofhub.com and i think it has the least number of problems (like no problem).

  • Lorrin

    I use Asana, but I haven’t these issues by simply turning off email notification and checking the Inbox folder in Asana. Asana is basically always open because I use it regularly as part of my workflow.
    Maybe this was changed since the article was written, I wouldn’t know.

  • Sital Chouhan

    Asana is one of the most recommended tool for task management but the pricing policy is bit weird. Only for that very reason I have skipped my choice to Replicon. The tool is almost same with the features like Asana. Along with that the time management, project management and expense management also are being the key integral part of the tool.

  • carl mason

    I must admit, we use Asana and it works perfectly for us…http://southernselectrical.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/fabiobracht Fabio Bracht

    I don’t want to be one of “those” commenters, but your whole writing seems to ignore the fact that Asana is exactly what you wish, based on what you wrote.

    The only difference is that it’s a tab on your browser instead of a standalone app. Other than that, Asana has a whole screen called Inbox that works, again, exactly as you want. Everything that happens with your team/workspace turns into a notification on that page, it’s as good and complete as Facebook’s notifications.

    “But then I’ll have to keep checking Asana’s tab all the time!” Well, if you commited yourself to use Asana as a task management system – and you did – you’re already bound to come back to it a bunch of times everyday to keep track of your tasks, to add new tasks and mark others as done. Just get used to take this as an opportunity to throw a quick glance at the Inbox screen (which calls for your attention just the same as Facebook’s notifications do, so it’s not like you have to make an effort to remember to check, you just have to look).

    I can’t really see how Asana fails to deliver the functionality you seem to request.


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