A framework to evaluate Asana systems

Hi,

:question:I often have the opportunity to evaluate my client’s Asana “systems” and share my insights: do I believe their system is good? Can it scale? Are they gonna hit roadblocks soon? Can I suggest better?

For years, I based my judgment on my personal experience and my gut feeling. I never had the intention of formalizing that approach. But after all, that makes sense. If I could turn that gut feeling into a real framework to evaluate someone’s system, then I would be able to give actionable feedback and compare systems!


What I am calling a system is the way a specific workflow is organized in Asana with projects, tasks, custom fields, tags, and best practices.

:man_technologist: My “biggest” system in Asana is to manage my client pipeline with opportunities and deals, as well as the actual work with them (sessions and tasks) and the billing. Do you decide to have one project per client or just tasks? Are invoices subtasks or actual tasks themselves? Are you able to see all the pending invoices or all clients you haven’t talked to in a while?


:mega: In my opinion, a system should be evaluated against 6 criteria: Balance, Search, Navigation, Export, History, Setup. The perfect system does not exist, but with these criteria, you are able to clearly decide.


:balance_scale: Balance

A system needs to be well balanced. Your projects need to be filled with tasks, not just one or two. If you are using subtasks, you shouldn’t have to need too many of them on a single task. Also the system should be able to scale and not produce data expontentially.

Components of an unbalanced system:

  • projects with one or two tasks
  • tasks with more than 20 subtasks
  • a new project created very often without the possibility to archive it

:mag_right: Search

A good system allows you to search for information easily. You should be able to extract almost any piece of data only using the advanced search, like all the outdated invoices, all the prospects you are discussing with, all the tasks related to a client…

Components of an unsearchable system:

  • information stored in task descriptions
  • information stored in project or tasks names

:world_map: Navigation

In a well-designed system, you can move around easily and navigate between entities with as little actions as possible. You should be able to search for a client and then go to their invoices, back to the client, dive into the history of your discussions…

Components of a system with difficult navigation:

  • having to find a linked entity by running complex search (like "search for invoices for which the custom field “Customer” is “…”)

:arrow_heading_down: Export

Not all businesses require that part, but a good system should allow you to export data in a structured way. That means being able to move your entire system content into a spreadsheet and run filters and sort. Usually, if a system is good with the Search part, it means it is underlyingly structured and the export will be easy to work with. With the exception of subtasks, that could be hard to work with once outside of Asana.

Components of an unexportable system:

  • information stored in task descriptions
  • information stored in project or tasks names
  • several layers of subtasks

:mantelpiece_clock: History

In a well-designed system, you should be able to go back in time and analyze data from the past. New information should not erase previous information. If you do regular events with the same partners, you should be able to access previous events for example.

Components of a system without history:

  • recurring events are setup/discussed on top of previous events
  • tasks are not part of any project and basically lost

:package: Setup

A good system should be easy to set up and maintain. Relying on complex multi-homing, or many steps that can’t be automated is a no-go.

Components of a system not maintainable:

  • a new entity requires several projects and tasks
  • any task needs to be multi-homed into several projects, and forgetting one would be detrimental

Let’s analyze my own system against this framework.

My prospects are represented as tasks in a dedicated project. Once they become a client, the task is moved to the project with all the other clients + I create a project for that client based on a template. The client task is multi-homed into its project, and stays as the first task. Each client’s project has a section for sessions I have with them, and invoices. Sessions are also multi-homed into a session project, and invoices multi-homed into an Invoice project.

:white_check_mark: Balance: one project per client is acceptable, since I archive the project when my work with a client is done. My clients project hold many important information, and I barely use subtasks.
:white_check_mark: Search: thanks to the split between several projects and the heavy use of custom fields, I am able to run complex search.
:white_check_mark: Navigation: from a client’s task I can navigate to the client’s project, then into the sessions or the invoices
:white_check_mark: Export: I am able to export all my clients, all my invoices, all my sessions, easily
:white_check_mark: History: each new session with a client is a new task, and the client’s task holds comment about the history of discussions
:large_orange_diamond: Setup: creating a new client from a prospect requires a bit of work, but that takes a few seconds and that is acceptable given the amount of clients.

Make sure to also read @lpb post on balance Architectural Balance in Asana (Ebook Free Chapter)


What do you think? Any suggestion on how to improve the framework? Any cool name for it? :slight_smile:

9 Likes

@lpb given your many thoughts around balance in Asana, what do you think?

Hi Bastien! That is a REALLY useful framework - thank you for sharing it! Our customers (we resell Asana in Russia and the Nordics) often ask about Balance and Navigation related issues, and the framework may definitely be used not only as a guide for us, but also for them. Hence my question - may we translate it to Russian and use to create a sort of guide to building a good Asana system in the future?
We have recently created a video about 10 most common mistakes in Asana, based on what we have seen when “tidying up” in the customers’ orgs and workspaces. It kinda looks into the same direction, but is about smaller things :slight_smile:

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Thanks Victoria for the kind words.

Of course, go ahead. If you can just credit me and include the link to the original post. If you improve it, I’d love to know how so I can update my copy.

I’ll watch this with great attention.

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@Bastien_Siebman, another great post and list–well done!

As usual, I don’t concur on all things, for example some of the limits you indicate; often it depends.

My main suggestion would be first to establish context, before all of these audit points listed are even considered:

I like to precede a review/audit of a client’s Asana usage by understanding what they see as 1) their objectives, and 2) who their users are (that may be easier to discuss as “personas” as in UX). I often challenge one or both for different reasons; perhaps the client was unaware of what Asana can do and set their objectives way too low.

When I have that info, then I feel I can begin looking at their Asana content.

You list is certainly helpful. Maybe my take on some of these, and perhaps others, can be gleaned from topics covered in my chapter in your ebook:

Thanks for doing this,

Larry

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I agree “it depends”, I wanted to build a “shared foundation” on which you can compare two systems. If you don’t care about exporting data for example, or don’t have a Premium account, the list needs to be adapted.

I also agree: knowing the objectives, the user persona… is important and that is obviously part of the discussion.

I’ll add your chapter in the post!

2 Likes

Bastien, your incredible posts convince me on a daily basis that you understand Asana and its potential (and pitfalls) better than almost anyone (excluding a few other superusers in this forum). Thanks for all the time and headaches you save us all on a daily basis.

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Great Post @Bastien_Siebman

Simple and informative way of working through if the project/mix of projects makes for a workable System to help a business move forward.

I just applied your Framework on a set of Projects I have setup for my Wife’s business with Clients and Prospects. Similar to the way you have setup your prospects and clients we have the same approach with Prospects in one Projects and the Clients having a dedicated project with Sections and Multihoming utilised to hold key information…

Two aspect I would be interested in is your thought on is when evaluating the system are;

  • Use of Rules either Asana based or tools like Flowsana?
  • Use of Integrations from other Apps into Asana like Zapier etc.

I worry I have two many Rules 9 Flowsana rules on 1 project.
I worry I have over complicated by try to automate integrations to external systems (Accounting for Client and Invoice Creation, Word for documentation/schedule and terms & conditions.)

Jason…

Whaaaat I am not #1 for you? :thinking: :slight_smile: :heart:

Did it help in any way?

I don’t use Rules (because that requires a Business account to have great ones) that explains why this was not part of the framework. That being said, I had a talk with Alex Bass, an automation expert (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKR7AlQVn9c&list=PLcTg3sLrKX01vgSuxVWWbGWDhr3OY7eS5&index=5&t=0s) and from what I understand he was saying that he was trying to have less automation these days rather than more, because that makes everything hard to maintain. My point of view: automation should really save time. One second here and there might be worth the trouble…

Thanks @Bastien_Siebman

Yes it did help thanks… Was good to review what I thinking in the way the projects where setup against a defined criteria and anothers view point. Agree with @lpb about adding a clear objective of the System as the first step was useful when doing a review.

Will watch the video with interest around Automation…

Jason.

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If you haven’t yet check out Part1-PeacefulHub Asana System-Framework Evaluation from @Jason_Woods, it’s a good read!

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@Bastien_Siebman, in the export categorie, I definitely am missing a decent export for a timeline…