University research lab use challenges


#1

I am currently testing several different project management software suites (e.g., Trello, Freedcamp) to help with team collaborations. I’m leaning toward Asana, but there are a few challenges I’m having difficulty overcoming for my particular use case: I’m a university professor who directs a research lab with several doctoral students who each lead multiple projects, and each of whom supervises a number of undergraduate research assistants on these projects.

Because we have .edu email addresses, we must use a Workspace and we cannot convert to an Organization. My university does not allow the creation of email addresses with subdomains, and it is against our IT policy to create an email server with new domains. As such, I cannot create multiple teams where each grad student is a Team, and their projects are nested in these Team.

To get around this, and continue to test Asana for my needs, I created a Workspace with a single Research Lab Team—in case anyone asks, I am continuing to test Asana because it is the project management software with the least compromises for my use case, with Freedcamp being a distant second place. In any case, this setup is problematic because everyone on the Research Lab Team will get bogged down with information overload as every project, task, due date, etc. is viewable and people can go in, edit, re-assign tasks, and whatnot in other projects. This looks like:

Workspace
-Research Lab Team
—Grad Student #1 Project #1
—Grad Student #1 Project #2
—Grad Student #2 Project #1
—Grad Student #3 Project #1

What would be ideal is a setup like:

Organization (Research Lab)
-Grad Student #1 Team
—Project #1
—Project #2
-Grad Student #2 Team
—Project #1
—Project #2
-Grad Student #3 Team
—Project #1
—Project #2

Is there any way to achieve this setup or improve upon my current setup? Multiple Workspaces doesn’t work as my tasks are then spread across Workspaces rather than being centralized, and I cannot move tasks, research assistants or projects to different Teams. Right now, despite my setup being too cluttered, it puts all of the tasks assigned to me in the My Tasks list (which I can then organize and prioritize) and it allows me to move tasks, research assistants and projects as needed. I also thought about upgrading to the Premium plan so that I could just make certain projects Private and only invite select people to view them. While this solves the clutter issue, it opens other issues (e.g., project ownership within Asana) and my university simply won’t pay between $1,000-$2,000/year for this for me just…and just so I can assign private projects to select students.

On a side note, Asana is missing a huge potential user group due to this .edu email issue. We’re a massive user base. But, we also cannot afford these prices. Academics don’t get massive discretionary funds, we’re often constantly applying for research grants to fund our research, and university funding is being cut dramatically all over the world. The median discretionary budget of a university faculty member is $0 so the academic/non-profit discount is nice but doesn’t really help much when we have close to $0 in organizational funds to spend.

It would be nice if even more affordable options were provided to educational users. For instance, the premium plan is $10/month/member. For educational users, I think $10/month irrespective of the member number is fair and reasonable. Or, if Asana gave us this software for free for educational use then they could request that we note on our university webpages or scholarly presentations (e.g., conference presentations) that we use Asana—note: lots of services do this (e.g., DataCamp). So while this option might seem cheap, it’s basically very cost-effective marketing at the same time.


#2

Hi @DR3

I’ve been pondering this for a while and I really can’t see a way around this. We currently operate a similar set-up to the one you’ve been testing. We have one team, and within that team there are many individuals all working on separate projects. Each person has their own projects in their favourites list and everything else is collapsed. We do have a premium subscription but almost all of our projects are public to the team, and we generally don’t have issues with people editing tasks in other people’s projects.

I think that as long as you establish a climate of trust and mutual respect, and show people how to manage their notifications and favourites to avoid the clutter, it’s worth the drawbacks in order to take advantage of the benefits of using Asana.


#3

Mark, how do you suggest people manage their notifications? I am trying to get into the habit of checking Asana each morning or evening to set my workflow for the day. Because of this, I turned off all my notifications. And, I get annoyed by constant reminders and notifications.

Is there a project naming convention that helps identify projects more easily in Asana with your setup? I tried “LastName - Project Name” but then in my Task List I only I only see "LastName - ". I know this one is a bit nitpicky but when students meet with me it would be nice if I could quickly navigate My Tasks or Projects lists to find projects when they are meeting with me and quickly moving from project to project. While favoriting projects is helpful for each “team”, for me this wouldn’t solve much as I’d then just be favoriting every on-going project in my research lab–that is, my favorites list and project list would be the same.

And, I think you’re right about the benefits of Asana. There are drawbacks, but Asana has fewer drawbacks than other options I tested. However, I don’t think I could pay for a service that doesn’t give back to educational institutions and treats us like for-profit organizations. If it meets my use case, then I will use the free level of service until they offer something unique for non-profit and educational users (e.g., education/non-profit discount, free support for education/non-profit users, the ability to convert into an Organization with Teams while using .edu emails, etc.). It’s not like we’re using this service to make money. We’re using this service to give back to society and our communities in some way with very limited budgets.


#4

@DR3 - for identifying projects easily, we use color coding of the projects instead of naming convention. This allows me to assign a color by topic or team, and easily organize or spot what is what in my favorites. The color coding by project is also something that carries over to calendars, which lets me see my team’s workload in a calendar view as well. See below:

For notifications, I’ve turned mine off, and tend to default to my asana inbox first for communication. To transition the team to this, I first started by responding to questions or asking for status updates directly in asana, and then following up with them to make sure they saw it. Eventually that translated into them looking there regularly as well.


#5

Hi again. I advise people only to have ‘Activity updates’ ticked in their notifications. That way, they only get notifications about the things that matter most. Of course, as you said, checking within Asana itself is probably the best habit to get into.

We develop technical qualifications, so our titling convention puts the subject first - Safe Handling of Medication, Level 2 Certificate, for example. Otherwise, we’d just see a long list of ‘Level 2’ or ‘Level 3’, without knowing which was which. What might be more useful for you is using sidebar headers and colours. I read about it here and have used it in our team:

I can appreciate what you mean about having special rates, or even free offers, for charities and educational organisations. Hopefully that’s something Asana will consider for the future.