Archive for the ‘Company’ Category
by Dustin Moskovitz
May 6th, 2013
As my co-founder Justin put it recently, “technology empowers small groups of passionate people with an astonishing degree of leverage to make the world a better place.” Like him, I believe that everyone should reflect carefully about whether they are using that leverage to the best possible effect, on something that matters to them deeply and that will have positive impact on the world. We’re not the only ones that feel this way.
There are so many vital and exciting projects that groups of people are working on and, frankly, I wish I could work on all of them. I’d love to connect people through software, find the cure for cancer, solve global warming, make government more efficient, and build art.
While I can’t do all of these things at once, Asana provides the opportunity to play a role in each of them. If we succeed at our mission, the work we do here makes every one of those groups of people — and millions more — vastly more leveraged and efficient.
We are building the tools that empower those teams of people to move faster, think bigger, and focus their energy on the real work, instead of just the work about work. At Asana, we get to work together to provide that kind of value to every connected group of people in the world. The rest of the post will touch on a few of the areas in which that manifests.
“We were quickly able to eliminate the drudgery of sending update emails and reporting on progress in weekly meetings. Now, if I want to know what’s going on with a project or what the status of anything is, I just look at Asana and everything is instantly clear. Asana makes our process so much more efficient. It removes all the waste in communication.” – Rian Hunter, software engineer at Dropbox.
Our software helps run some of the hottest internet startups: Dropbox, Pinterest, Uber, Quora, Airbnb, and Foursquare, to name just a few. We depend on their products every day and, similarly, the teams behind them rely on us to more effortlessly and efficiently coordinate the progress towards their goals.
We consistently hear from these organizations that Asana enables them to become more ambitious, confident that our product will ensure they follow through on a big idea. As Ankit Agarwal, the CEO of Micello put it, “The difference since using Asana is very black and white. Before, projects wouldn’t have happened, and now, with Asana, they do.”
“Asana has enabled BASES to coordinate huge projects involving dozens of students and many moving parts without having to meet in person.” – Charles Janac, Vice President of Stanford Bases
After software companies, the largest category of users leveraging Asana is related one way or another to the university system. We see a variety of groups:
- Student organizations, such as the Undergraduate Council at Harvard and BASES and StartX at Stanford.
- Teachers and TAs, who use workspaces to create and manage complex curriculums for their courses, as well as communicate with their students.
- Online learning platforms, like UniversityNow and Springest.
- Education vendors, like Pearson Education and Blackboard.
A few of our customers focus on curing diseases, like Emerald Therapeutics. One of the co-founders, DJ Kleinbaum, told us, “Thanks to Asana, I went from spending all of my time on management overhead to becoming a full-time contributor to the science.”
The world is better off with DJ leveraging his time on science, rather than project management.
The sustainability problems we face in the 21st century are really important and really, really big. So big that they can only be solved through the combined efforts of many groups working on different pieces of the problem.
One of our favorite examples among our customers is the team at Synthetic Genomics, which is developing new carbon-free fuels and environmentally-friendly pesticides and fertilizers. More locally, the marine biologists at Aquarium of the Bay work to raise awareness about threats to members of the S.F. bay ecosystem.
“We use Asana to organize nearly every critical function – from funding to communications to internal finance to program expansion. We’ve eliminated redundancy, miscommunication and confusion about priorities.
With Asana providing a clear trajectory for the work we do, we’ve become more disciplined in our decision making and have magnified the volume and velocity of our output. I have to say that the difference has been mind-blowing.” – Mark Arnoldy, Executive Director, Nyaya Health
One of the success stories we’re most proud of is Nyaya Health, an incredible organization that serves the poor in rural Nepal.
When Nyaya came by Asana to talk to us about how they used the product to manage a highly distributed team, we were puzzled by some completed tasks that seemed to correspond to patients. Justin asked about this in the meeting. “Oh, that’s easy to explain.” replied Mark. “Those people have been cured.”
Asana – The ultimate meta-problem
Finally, Asana helps Asana help our customers do great things. For everything from meeting agendas to bug tracking to the snacks we store in the kitchen, we depend on our own system to get things done. So when we make our product better, we feel the benefit immediately ourselves.
Every time we talk to a new customer, we learn a new way that we’re enabling a team to succeed. By helping people work together more easily, we make it more effortless for groups to coordinate their collective action, so that they can achieve their goals and manifest the missions that drive them. In the next few years, we’ll reach millions of people working in groups to improve the world we all share. Through them, we’ll improve the lives of every person on the planet.
by Dan Kaplan
April 5th, 2013
For any political organization worth its salt, the 2012 election was a rollercoaster ride. For NationBuilder, a Los Angeles startup dedicated to making American democracy more democratic, things were no different.
In the lead-up to the election, the company was pursuing an ambitious goal: to build an accurate nationwide voter database and make its data widely accessible. Candidates for office rely on these kinds of voter files to build their campaign strategies, and historically, reliable access to them has only been available to political campaigns with deep pockets.
Though it may sound simple, the goal of creating a comprehensive, easily-accessible, and trustworthy database of voters is actually a bit insane. The United States has 3,100 different counties, and each and every one of them has its own unique process and standards for collecting and maintaining voter records.
To build a national voter database, NationBuilder would have to comb through unbelievable numbers of files, aggregate their data, standardize them and make sure the end result was accurate: After all, you don’t want the candidates who rely on your data to find out later that, thanks to you, they wasted precious resources on outreach to dead people.
As Adriel Hampton, NationBuilder’s VP of Community, points out: “When standards don’t exists to dictate what happens to a voter record when someone moves, dies or leaves the country, it can lead to a big mess.”
This mess is compounded by the widely differing needs of all kinds of campaigns.
“We work in all 50 states doing data work with customers that range in the size and magnitude of what they do,” says Nate Murphy, a Data Manager at NationBuilder. “The data needs for a state senator seat are very different from those for a school board seat.”
To have a real shot, NationBuilder needed to grow its team fast, onboard new hires at breakneck speed, and make sure everyone stayed organized and on the same page at all times.
This is where Asana came in.
Getting Fresh Talent Up To Speed
Murphy (the Data Manager) joined NationBuilder at a uncommonly crazy time. The company was in the middle of designing the Election Center, which would become the public face of its voter database. Without access to both historical context and a team-wide view of priorities around this project, Murphy says he would have been at a huge disadvantage.
“When coming into a new company, there are times when you need information, but would have to pester someone and take up his or her time. Using Asana, I could see all of that information, allowing me to read the history and get to work right away,” says Murphy.
Murphy says the speed at which he was able to contribute was “absolutely incredible,” and that without Asana, he wouldn’t have been able to dive into the customer base and understand customers’ needs at all. Because all of the history of NationBuilder’s work lived in Asana, Murphy was able to get up to speed, and to prioritize and delegate work right off the bat, as if he had been a part of the team for months rather than days.
By giving new hires a crystal-clear understanding of their jobs, Asana allowed each of them to hit the ground at a sprint.
A Better Way To Communicate
Avoiding the black holes of email inboxes and messy spreadsheets is important to any modern team. But when your team has to respond to tons of incoming customer requests in real time, frictionless communication is even more important.
As the VP of Community, Hampton, points out, “Managing the status of one State, while coordinating customer requests from politicians mid-election, is incredibly challenging if you don’t have a system to understand where each request and project stand.”
Managing candidate’s data requests in real time, understanding the full scope of the issue and resolving it at a moment’s notice simply isn’t possible if there are barriers hindering communication. But thanks to Asana, NationBuilder’s team’s communication, organization and execution became dramatically more efficient.
As Murphy says, “Being able to stay on top of tasks and not having to constantly think about organizing yourself; knowing you can put your heart and soul in your work and provide a more direct means for using your labor, is important when your plate is so full.”
Because of Asana’s transparency, everyone at NationBuilder had an understanding of where a task or project stood and what the next step entailed — eliminating long-winded explanations and redundant conversations. Asana let NationBuilder’s team more easily collaborate, ensured everyone stayed organized, gave them confidence that nothing would slip through the cracks.
The fruit of their hard work was recognized when the team could finally sit back and take in the finished product.
“I remember the day we finally cleared out the total backlog and had zero pending 2012 data requests,” Murphy said. “When that last task was completed there was a moment when we unarchived every task in Asana and stared at the computer in utter joy.”
by Justin Rosenstein
March 21st, 2013
Doing great things takes more than a great vision and a great team, it takes great execution, down to the nuts and bolts of day-to-day organization.
Meetings get a bad rap, and deservedly so — most meetings are disorganized and distracted. But they can be a critical tool for getting your team on the same page.
Over years of iteration while working at Google, Facebook, and Asana, I’ve found a way of doing meetings that ensures we discuss the most important things, quickly and efficiently, and that things never fall through the cracks.
1. Know when to email vs. when to meet
Logistics are best done over a non-immediate communication channel like email or Asana tasks. Detailed status meetings will suck the life out of your day.
But when topics are complex and meaty, don’t create a never-ending email thread. It’s amazing how much time people waste composing and reading carefully-worded essays, when a 5 minute in-person chat would resolve the whole thing.
2. Capture goals ahead of time
Throughout the week, as you find those meaty topics, don’t keep everything in your head. Remembering is stressful, and you’ll forget important questions. Just add it to the agenda, in a shared Google Doc or, better yet, an Asana project.
Everyone can do this. By the time the meeting starts, the agenda already includes everyone’s ideas. No more wasting the first 10 minutes figuring out what to talk about.
3. Timebox aggressively
Establish how long you’re going to spend on each topic, and stick to it. Talking about a topic for 20 minutes will probably lead to a better decision than talking about it for 5. But if the topic only deserved 5 minutes, you’re not gonna have a chance to talk about all the other important items. Or, worse, you’ll spend all day in meetings. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the great.
4. Make each agenda item a race to clarity
Go through each item: Extract information and perspective from the team, identify next actions, and owners for each action — as quickly as possible. If you’ve extracted all the perspective but it’s not clear what the right decision is, don’t debate or ruminate. Assign someone to think about it and trust them to make the decision — even if it’s not how you would have made it.
5. Guarantee follow through
By the end, you should have a written list of every new action item. Each should have one owner (not two) and a timeline. Keep that list in the same place you’re keeping the running agenda.
Then, when it’s time for the next meeting, you can immediately see all the items from last week. Hopefully each owner will just nod that they did what they committed to. Now things won’t fall through the cracks, and you won’t spend the first 10 minutes remembering what you decided last time.
The bottom line
When leaders know how to lead great meetings, there’s less time wasted and less frustration. We have more energy to do the work that matters, realize our full potential, and do great things.
What’s worked for you for having great meetings? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
by Andrew Watterson
February 27th, 2013
We’re thrilled to announce that we’re participating in DesignerFund Bridge, a program that offers a three-month design residency to people outside the startup world. We’re joining a number of other design-savvy startups in this venture: AirBnb, Dropbox, Stripe, Path, and Pinterest (many of which use Asana).
As part of this program, we’ll be hiring an experienced designer this Spring to lend us fresh eyes and outside perspective. In exchange, we’ll offer a true look at the joy of designing – and shipping – experiences that have a deep positive impact on those who use them.
Asana is in a very solid place – the number of teams that use us is always growing and we have a large number of passionate users, but there are an endless number of things we’d be excited to pick up and work on next:
- Can we bring you a whole new way of looking at tasks, that’s simultaneously more powerful and more approachable?
- Now that we’ve got a great iPhone app and will be on Android soon, what’s next for mobile?
- Your email inbox and calendar have a lot of useful information about things you have to do that may not be in Asana yet – can we leverage them somehow?
We’re full of ideas, and the thing that allows us to get the fruit of these ideas to you is to hire engineers fast and hire designers almost as fast.
Along with DesignerFund, we’ll take good care of our Designer-in-Residence. It’s a paid position, we offer relocation benefits, and you’ll be able to take advantage of the great programming that DesignerFund has set up. DesignerFund Bridge is accepting applications through March 10, after which we’ll begin an interview process with selected candidates.
You might also check out co-founder Justin’s post on what it’s like to work with at Asana on the problem we’re trying to solve: Come Design the Future of Work.
by Jerry Sparks
February 26th, 2013
Asana’s customer experience is make-or-break. If our customers love and evangelize our product to their colleagues and friends, we get a chance to win our market. If they have a bad experience, we’re in trouble. Because Asana is so intensely focused on the experience of our customers, we’re trying a different approach to customer and product support. We call it User Operations, or UO, for short.
In this approach, we strive to strike a balance of daily customer interactions – like answering tickets – and longer-term projects – like writing help documentation and building reporting systems. We work with engineers to design and build tools that help us do our jobs. We reciprocate that help by using these tools to investigate bugs and other product issues that might otherwise take up a lot of the engineers’ time.
The way we do things helps to avoid UO burnout, but the main benefit is that we can collaborate closely with the Product Team, ensuring that the customer voice plays a key role in product development.
Becoming an invaluable source of product feedback
When I talk to other people who work in support, I often hear complaints that the product team doesn’t listen. For example, the Support Team will have taken a week to put together a huge and thorough report on issues customers are having with the product. This report will include detailed solutions, and the Product Team will ignore all of it. Then the Product Team will go and do the same kind of research all over again.
One interpretation may be that the Product Team just doesn’t trust the Support Team’s analysis, but I think it’s actually because non-product teams find it easier to suggest solutions, rather than frame problems in ways that help Product do its job.
I have found that the best way to approach this issue is to treat the product team like our client. When we, as a support team, adjusted our lens in this way, we (and the customer voice we represent) instantly became more integrated in the product development process. I believe that through this simple perspective shift (and a bit of empathy and understanding) any modern Support Team can become an invaluable source of input to Product.
At Asana, this collaboration has become a two-way street: we ask what the Product Team wants to know; they give us a heads up to look for specific issues that might come up around a launch. Later, when they are trying to figure out how to prioritize new features, they can come to us to get a sense of their demand.
This has became a continual process that happens on a weekly (even daily) basis. It keeps everyone engaged and flexible, and gives UO variety in our work.
How using Asana integrates UO with the rest of the team
Because our entire company uses Asana, our software provides us a way to distribute knowledge in any direction, to any part of the company. Whether it’s in reporting specific issues to the product team, helping engineers investigate bugs, or sharing ideas for help content with the marketing team, Asana helps UO offer our deep understanding of our customers’ experiences to every part of the organization.
UO can file customer bug reports with reproduction steps in an Asana task. PMs and Engineers can be added as followers and help prioritize the task. The bug’s task can then be Hypertext linked to other relevant existing tasks for more context. We can have discussions in comments about how we’ll fix the root issue and when we expect that to happen. UO can see the process and know exactly when we should follow up with the customers.
We also use an Asana project to distribute weekly reports of customer interactions to the product, sales and marketing teams. These reports come from a combination of automated scripts running on our ticketing system and manual interpretation. They contain both quantitative and qualitative information to give a more complete picture of the customer experience.
By using a combination of cross-functional teamwork, custom-developed tools and the Asana product, we have moved away from the traditional, isolated support model. We have become a more integrated and valuable support organization that has meaningful input into the product development process.
by Ryan Pittington
February 26th, 2013
At the end of December, we took a look at our existing help site and decided it was time for an upgrade. The original was hard to navigate. The design was getting stale. Newer articles were featured more prominently than older, but more important ones. The search experience was so-so, at best.
More than 15,000 words later, we are happy to announce the Asana Guide – the best place to go to learn how to use Asana.
The Asana Guide offers a comprehensive overview of the app, an explanation of its various features, and gives us a place to house the “how-to” content we are developing.
We’ve written it so you can read it from beginning to end, or in pieces. You can use it to get a broad understanding of Asana’s fundamentals, or just to find clear and quick explanations of specific features.
How it works
We’ve broken the Guide down into high-level categories and subcategories that match the breakdown of Asana’s interface. To learn about projects, for example, you’d navigate to the Projects section. If you wanted to learn how to duplicate a project to make a template, you’d click on the Projects section and then the section for duplicating projects.
Of course, you can also just search, which, thanks to the awesome Swiftype, features type-ahead capabilities to help you find what you’re looking for fast.
Each section of the Guide tends to follow the same basic structure:
- Why you might want to use the feature
- Click by click instructions on how to do so
- A note on the implications of the action
- An image illustrating how this looks in the app
We’ve also made each section of the Guide sharable, so you can tell your friends and followers how to set a task to repeat, proclaim your love for Subtasks, or link to a precise explanation of the differences between Workspaces and projects.
Writing the Guide
My goal was to produce each section after coming back from the Winter holidays. Some of the writing would be directly lifted from our previous help site, but much of it would be new. I thought of all the questions I had received when answering customer support tickets, and stuck to the essentials: what are the two or three most important things about this feature? What do people need to know?
I started each day with a meditation and a workout and then dedicated the first four hours of my time in the office to the Guide. I left my phone in another room. Part of me thought I would need to go off to a cave somewhere and emerge with a complete, flawless Markdown doc, to raucous applause. Maybe a lei or two. Some rice. Instead, I accepted the help that was freely offered by my co-workers. The project spanned User Operations, Marketing, Sales, Product, and Design.
Writing the Guide also brought a lot of new tools into my life. I learned how to use Markdown and composed all the first drafts in iA Writer. I used Mamp and Gitbox to stage changes before pushing them to the live site. As the Guide was starting to come together, we worried that we’d be slower at responding to customers without a direct link between our knowledge base and ticketing system. The solution was a Chrome extension. Now, a single keyboard shortcut opens a menu full of Guide links that we can quickly copy and paste into tickets.
The Asana Guide is a live document and will continue to grow and change. Let us know what you think of it, or what you’d like to see more of, in the comments on this post or by contacting us.
by Dustin Moskovitz
February 20th, 2013
At the end of every “Episode” at Asana, I write an “End Of Episode Summary” that I share with the entire team. In the spirit of transparency, we have started to make these summaries public. You can read more about why we do this here.
In Episode 6, we finished the transition from executing a series of short projects to organizing into longer-running initiatives. In addition to the existing Performance program, we created roadmaps focused on Growth, Big Teams, and Mobile. Even though we may not have teams staffed for them in every episode going forward, these programs will endure and we’ve taken the first big steps down each of them.
We’ve also matured on the operations side. This is the first episode where we really had a complete marketing team, now that Justin K and Jim have joined us and ramped up. Together with Dan, Kenny, and a lot of outside help we’ve relaunched our marketing site, developed new tools, scaled up our SEM program, and more. We also kicked off a real, scalable account management program, with Michael and Jerry working closely with our best customers to make them even more successful and help them spread Asana to other teams in their company.
We experimented with our process this episode as well, holding Polish and Grease weeks for the first time and a longer hackathon too. In some ways, these were disruptive to our pace (exacerbated by being clustered around the holidays), but we’re excited to try again in E7 with an improved schedule. In spite of that drawback, these were periods of high energy and productivity and proved yet again that we can produce a lot of value in a short amount of time when we focus our efforts.
Finally, while the team did not grow very much larger this episode, we did grow closer together. We vacationed as a family in Monterey, we danced at Nihon, and – perhaps most importantly – we <3’d each other’s comments for the very first time.
by Dustin Moskovitz
February 14th, 2013
At Asana, we have a rule: no meetings on Wednesdays. In fact, we call Wednesdays at Asana “No Meeting Wednesdays” or “NMW” for short.
The high level goal of NMW is to ensure that everyone gets a large block of time each week to do focused, heads-down work. The justification is well articulated in a now famous Paul Graham article: Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule. The gist is that makers suffer greatly from interrupts in their flow time. Managers are generally used to having a schedule-driven day, so it’s easy for them to throw a disruption into somebody else’s calendar. Makers also do this to each other. And unlike many companies, at Asana we generally want our managers to be makers some of the time as well, so they need a structure that ensures they get some flow time too.
What are appropriate exceptions to the rule?
The exceptions that comes up most often are exogenous timing constraints of some kind. For example, a job candidate might only be able to do an interview on a Wednesday, in which case we’re willing to let their schedule take priority over ours.
Sometimes, people on the team may also decide they want to work directly with someone else on a project (e.g. pair coding). This may still be worth avoiding somewhat to achieve the high level goal, but not totally. Often, this is necessary to unblock someone else, which is another form of exogenous time constraint in the end. And sometimes teaming up is just what you both need to do to finish your highest priority work. That’s ok, too.
Essentially, we encourage our team to just use judgement, but please think carefully, and at least try hard to avoid meeting on Wednesdays.
What if people don’t want to participate?
This would be ok, except that by definition a meeting involves someone else, too. It’s tempting to say “well they can just push back if they want to”, but it is easy to imagine situations where it wouldn’t feel culturally acceptable to do so, or an individual wouldn’t feel confident enough (e.g. a newer asana). So basically there is a slippery slope here and thus we want to be very (but not 100%) consistent.
Fittingly, this article was written on a Wednesday.
by Justin Rosenstein
February 12th, 2013
When Nicole Lapin of Bloomberg TV’s reached out and asked for an inteview, we were exicted to share Asana’s story with her audience.
Nicole asked great questions, and over the course of the six-minute interview, we talked about the lessons Dustin and I brought to Asana from Facebook, the productivity challenges facing knowledge workers, the limitations of email, and why the future of business software is products people love, not products people are sold.
by Andrew Watterson
February 11th, 2013
One of Asana’s traditions is the Learning Lunch, where members of their team share their personal expertise with each other in a casual setting. We move fast at Asana, so I appreciated being able to take the time to put together a little talk on typography in between design projects.
Typography is the study of the way typefaces (or fonts) are designed. Pretty much all the text you see in the outside world has been consciously put together to communicate some concept or another: everything from the labels on the food in your fridge to the major advertising campaigns you see during the Super Bowl.
The fonts we use today have their roots in the earliest forms of writing: handwriting (which developed into calligraphy) and carving on stone walls and tablets. These beginnings have spawned a dizzying array of typeface choices, and the choice you make can have dramatic effects on how your writing is perceived: Do you use a showy font that will instill emotion – the way brands choose fonts in their logos? Or do you use a beautifully simple font that will keep the focus on your message – the way newspapers use the same font regardless of tone?
Share this video with anyone who would be interested in the personalities of different typefaces, and how to use them in compelling, readable text.
If you liked this video, I’ve also spoken about our design process at Asana