The implementation of new software in a company is always a hard challenge. No doubt!
I felt I should write about this topic, because I have implemented Asana in a couple of companies over the last years, from very small startups over SMB to big corporations with several thousand employees.
During these implementations I had to handle many stakeholders and all had their own concerns and requirements. Making the implementation an interesting and challenging endeavour.
After studying Industrial Engineering and Management in Germany and at Dartmouth College/ Tuck School (USA), I worked as Head of Performance Marketing in several companies and consulted many ventures for Rocket Internet, a startup incubator based in Berlin.
Usually the organization in online marketing departments is very poor, especially in South East Asia and Latin America and therefore a lot of power is lost and not brought onto the street. To change that and to unleash the power of these teams is one of my challenges
To help you out there I want to share some of my best practices and lessons learned.
I know it is a long article, but trust me, you will find some good points in here and it will save you a lot of hassle.
Outline of the implementation process:
There can be two reasons why a software like Asana should be introduced:
The supervisor/manager wants to improve effectiveness and efficiency and therefore, wants to introduce a project management tool like Asana.
The employees themselves have realized they need a project management tool to enhance their teamwork.
The first case has the advantage that you have the support of the supervisor, but usually they have expectations which are not in line with reality. My supervisors often thought, we just subscribe to the premium Asana, send out an email to the employees and they will teach themselves how to use Asana, meet each other to come up with a convention how to work together etc. When I worked in startups, at least a few employees read a bit of the Asana guide and tried to improve, even in their free time but it was a small minority and in a big corporation I worked in recently, nobody was willing to read about Asana by themselves, these people need personal trainings. Do it or fail.
To implement Asana in a company, does not matter the size, it is important to have a responsible implementation manager and a thoughtful implementation process. Countless IT implementation projects fail, because they lack it.
I will mention examples especially from two companies I worked in. Home24, which is the leading European e-commerce shop for furniture with around 500 employees. Around 3 months after starting the implementation, more than 200 people were using Asana. The other company is REWE Digital, a subsidiary of the REWE group which has more than 300.000 employees in Europe and is mainly active in the grocery industry as well as the Do it Yourself industry. REWE Digital is responsible for all digital activities of the REWE Group. I started implementing Asana in April 2016 and around one year later, there were also close to 200 employees enjoying it. In both companies I managed to convince far more than the marketing employees to use the tool resulting in a very efficient cross-department work.
So how did I do it in the past and introduced Asana successfully to many companies, improving the work life of hundreds of people.
1. Kick-off meeting with manager/supervisor who wants to introduce Asana
First of all, I always clarify the objectives. What does he want to have in the end? Which pain points shall be solved? Only if you know what your objective is you can be successful and measure it.
Secondly, I clarify what the current status is of project management. Which tools are used? Has every team their own tools? This was for instance the case in most of the bigger companies, and therefore I needed to put in much effort to convince and show the different teams the advantages of Asana for them and for cross-department work. Starting from a green field is much easier, than convincing people to let go the tool they are used to.
I also clarify what the requirements are. Until now all requirements of the supervisors like reporting, Gantt-Charts etc. could be solved with Asana.
Next thing I discuss is the scope. How many departments are supposed to work with Asana? What kind of work shall be done in Asana. For instance, at Home24 in the beginning the scope was just the marketing department with around 50 employees, but we figured out that there are numerous projects with the Onsite department (A/B testing, UX, UI), the Category Management department and of course the IT department. So there was a scope and an extended nice-to have scope, because the manager who wanted to introduce Asana was the CMO of Home24, so he could not decide for the other departments of course. Since we got the support of one board member later, it was easier to convince the other department heads (read more about it in the next chapter about “Meetings with Stakeholders”).
Another very important point is, which past attempts have been happened regarding software and especially project management implementation. Why did it fail? What were the learnings? In the case of Home24, it was difficult. There have been numerous attempts to introduce software, project management as well as generic online marketing and data analysis software. For reasons like, bad implementation process, a lack in responsibility and trainings, it usually did not work, and once you come up with the agenda point “we introduce a new software” most employees were just saying “it will not work” and you have no support. Such an environment is more often than you might think - but, it is still possible to convince these people, and after they had realized that this time with the Asana implementation we avoided all these common pitfalls, there feedback was overwhelming.
Next point I discuss with the manager, is which Asana model is the best. It is usually Premium in the beginning, for corporations with higher security demands it is the Enterprise edition. If managers hesitate and are not sure about the tool in the beginning, I go with the free version as long as possible. But usually money is not the problem as long as you can convince your manager about the benefits.
One of the most important topics to discuss with the manager is the stakeholder management! I discuss deeply, which stakeholders are in the company regarding a project management software implementation. Since everyone has its own requirements and concerns. It is very important to discuss with all of them to have them on your side and to have their active support during the implementation process. More on this in the following chapter.
2. Meetings with Stakeholders
As mentioned, invest the time and speak to all stakeholders to get their support! If these people try to sabotage you, your Asana implementation will fail.
So here is a list of some key stakeholders you need to talk to:
Employees in your teams:
Before communicating anything like you want to implement a new project management software, ask your teams: How do they think about current project management? What are the pain points? How would an ideal solution look like? Why has a better solution not implemented yet? What do they see as obstacle on the road to implementation.
At Home24, I did this first with the team leads, e.g. Head of SEA, head of SEO, head of Display Marketing and so on. After ensuring I had their support I went on to their employees. This way I ensured, that the team leads were already on my side, supporting me when their team members were complaining about the next software implementation
IT/ data protection officer:
The bigger the company, the more guidelines are there. For instance at REWE Digital, no new software could be introduced without the approval of the data protection officer. Especially for cloud software were the data is stored in the United States it is very difficult to convince data protection officers in Germany. Moreover, there was a recommendation of another project management tool for marketing. So I needed to show them that the current tool does not meet the requirements of my departments in order to get the IT approval to introduce Asana.
Moreover, I explained how to connect their tools like JIRA to Asana.
At Home24 I implemented a companywide process between all Product Managers and marketing managers. The current feedback and request process was like not existing. If a marketing manager needed the help of a programmer, he send an email to the PM or the developer himself, ending in chaos. I implemented a shared Asana project with a template task, which needed to be filled from marketing managers. Every new request was prioritized from PMs and it was transparent for everyone which request would be solved in which spring. This was a release for all involved people and saved countless complaints via email and in personal form.
Management Board of the company:
At REWE Digital I even needed to present why we need Asana in front of all directors, because the IT department said, they do not want to have an additional project management software in the company, since we had JIRA, Trello and some other smaller tools. Such a meeting required a lot of research about the directors (which position do they have, what is important to them, how to best convince them with what kind of arguments). Usually, something like this is not needed in a tech start up since people know about the importance of the right software for every department, but in big corporations, this step is crucial. Try to get 1on1s before with key directors to get their support.
Other department heads your teams work together with.
Like mentioned, meet with the other departments you have shared projects and ask how they organize the project management. Are they satisfied with the current collaboration? How would the ideal situation look like? And then present Asana as the solution, explaining detailed how it will solve every single issue.
If you have there commitment to support you and to work also with Asana, it is much easier to convince your own team!
If some of them do not want to collaborate, usually for political reasons you can still go the way via their supervisors. At REWE Digital I could convince one managing director that many departments would benefit if this one department would also start using Asana. Afterwards he sent an email to the department head letting him know he needed to start using Asana and improve collaboration with other teams. Of course, use this as last resort, always try to convince people in the beginning without using pressure.
In the end you need an Asana Champion in every team and department. For instance, at Home24 I defined an Asana Responsible manager in the IT team, the Onsite department as well as the Category Management team. I developed the solutions and processes in Asana we needed and these people convinced their teams about Asana.
3. Meeting with manager/supervisor who wants to introduce Asana or a project management tool
Present your findings and your implementation roadmap to your supervisor. Show him the key obstacles and tell him how he can support you. It is also good to manage expectation. Given the amount of stakeholders with all their concerns, you know by now how easy or difficult it will be.
You also need to agree on a communication plan with him. What shall be when and how often via which medium communicated. A software implementation is a crucial process and it is very important to inform your employees properly about what is going to happen and why.
I usually do a kick-off with all employees in person, where I mentioned detailed why we are introducing Asana, how every team member will benefit and how we ensure a proper training and support. Afterwards I send out a weekly newsletter with a summary what has happened, some key successes to inspire people how other employees saved time with Asana, which trainings will come next week and of course always mentioned the Asana Champions which are the first contacts for employees if they have a question.
4. Setting up basic Asana workspace
Based on the collected requirements from all stakeholders I set up the basic Asana workspace. Usually this involves the teams which participate in the beginning and some projects like roadmaps and recurring tasks.
5. Training for Lead Users (future Asana Champions)
I found it very beneficial if you start rolling out Asana not to every employee in the beginning, but to start with some early adopters, where you can be sure they like the software and will be able to adapt their processes and migrate all their tasks to Asana. Especially in a big company, where you have older people, which are afraid of a new software, it is important, that you do not start with them because they will try to block the migration. They need to see, that other people made the transition to Asana, and they have no choice but to switch too. This first lead user migration is also your first success story you should use to promote Asana especially to stakeholders which are not convinced yet
More on how to do a training for Beginners later in chapter 7.
6. Feedback meeting with Lead Users
After around one week you meet your early adopters again. Gather all their feedback. When I did this, everyone of them had great ideas how to adopt Asana to the company processes. Try to integrate these already in Asana to make it as easy as possible for the other employees. Moreover, mention exactly theses examples, how Asana will work with and improve the current processes, when you train the other employees. This step will get rid of a lot of potential obstacles.
Tell your lead users how they can support the other employees in the future. Moreover, It is important that you as overall responsible implementation manager are always there for questions. For instance, at Home 24 I had numerous people at my desk every day asking me about to do certain things in Asana. If I would not have helped them immediately, they would have thought, that certain things are not feasible with Asana. But due to my immediate help, their work flow was not interrupted and they could improve their Asana use when they were motivated. It was very satisfying to see how the complexity of the questions improved over time, it started with how to create a recurring task, went on over multi-homing sub-tasks in different projects until using custom fields and so on.
The Asana implementation will take a decent amount of time, so tell your supervisor that you need to shift some other projects of your “normal“ work.
7. Training for every normal user
Once the basic Asana workspace is set up and the first feedback from your lead users is integrated you need to start to train employees. Do not expect, that people teach themselves, read the Asana Guide in their free time or anything like this. Most employees do not, if they do not find a way to do something in Asana, they will give up.
Therefore, and to guarantee that all people will use Asana, you need to train them. And it is crucial that you have the support of the managers in your company, that they agree to invest the needed time.
I did countless trainings in the past years and I suggest to do different trainings for certain user groups.
I suggest the following trainings: Beginners, Advanced, Experts, Team Leads, Asana Champions and Asana Admins.
A special training for Team leads and executives is required since they have different requirements like following-up on tasks and reporting and you need to emphasize that they shall not use Asana to “spy” on their employees, which is a major concern from employees.
I will write another post about the different trainings and the content in the future.
8. Workshop for Asana Convention
Once all employees are working with Asana you will realize that people are using it in different ways. For instance I found that some teams avoid using assignees are due dates, or they use duplicates instead of multi-homing tasks in different projects.
To ensure people get not annoyed about Asana, you should do a workshop to agree about an Asana convention.
These are points to agree about:
I will write a detailed post about this topic in the future.
9. Workspace Audits
It does not matter how many trainings you give, people are people and some will use Asana like agreed and some will not. So I found it helpful to run some Workspace Audits from time to time e.g. after 2, 4 and 12 weeks.
During this Audit I check every Asana Team how they do. Are they following the Asana Convention or not? Do I see common mistakes? I collect everything in a spreadsheet and later do 1on1s with the team leads to educate and help them.
It is important not to do this in public and let it become a public blaming event. Every team will make mistakes and I made the experience that most team leads were quite thankful for further tips about their specific issues and how to save time. Never forget, everyone is quite busy and getting used to a new software plus migrating the whole workflow costs time.
10. Best Practice meetings and celebrate success
After some time you should held a meeting where chosen people from different departments should present how they are using Asana and how it made their life easier. This has 2 functions, first it is good to celebrate successes and to share some beer with colleagues, secondly the teams will learn from each other and it will drive cross-team work.
At Home24 it conjured a big smile on my face, when the SEO team explained how much better their cross-department work was going on with Asana, 2 months before they had been the strongest obstacle in Asana implementation within the marketing team
I know this is a long post and I did not even mention all the details about how to do the trainings for your employees, but I think a good implementation process is crucial for the implementation of Asana and worth discussing here.
Looking forward for your feedback!!