Struggling to keep your projects organized and on track? You are not alone—over 30 million users, out of which 1.5 million are paid subscribers in 2021, are trusting Asana to take their business and project management game to the next level.
Asana is an excellent project management software, but it has many features that may prove difficult to learn for a novice. So, if you’ve been wondering how to use Asana for project management, you have come to the right place.
Personally, I have been using Asana both with clients and to organize my personal projects for the last 5+ years. In this blog post, I'll give you a quick overview of Asana’s structure, show you how to use it, and provide some expert tips and tricks so you can hit the ground running.
Getting Started With Asana
The first step is to sign up for an account at asana.com. Once you've done that, you'll be able to create projects and add team members to those projects. To get the most out of Asana, I recommend taking some time to explore the various features and settings that are available.
The Anatomy of Asana’s Project Management Tool
Overall, Asana consists of workspaces, teams, projects, and tasks. Let me explain them briefly, so you get a better grasp of the setup:
Workspaces in Asana
Asana offers a feature called workspaces, which allows users to organize and manage projects and tasks in separate areas. Each workspace functions like its own mini work environment, with separate teams, tasks, projects, and conversations. Users can create multiple workspaces for different departments or projects, or invite external clients or partners to join a workspace.
In each workspace, users can easily navigate through tasks, assign team members to projects, track progress using dashboards, and communicate using the conversations feature. Workspaces offer a convenient way to manage multiple projects and keep them organized in one central location.
Teams in Asana
In Asana, you can create teams to collaborate on projects with other team members. Teams can have multiple members, and each member can be added to multiple teams. Teams are a great way to keep projects organized and under control.
An Asana project is a collection of tasks that need to be completed in order to achieve a goal. Projects can be broken down into milestones, sections, and tasks to make necessary actions easier to manage.
The project dashboard is your ‘control center’ as it provides an overview of all the tasks in a particular project, where you can also conduct task management activities like adding comments, attachments, and due dates to tasks.
In the project dashboard, you can also change the settings of your project and switch between the different sections and views like project view, list view, board view, timeline view, calendar view, workflow, dashboard, etc.
How To Do Project Management With Asana
In order to successfully complete a project, effective planning and management are key. The project management life cycle lays out the steps necessary for maintaining control over a project and achieving success.
Just as a quick reminder, the stages of the project management cycle, according to PMI, are:
- Project initiation
- Project planning
- Project execution
- Project monitoring & controlling
- Project closure
I will use them to navigate through the key Asana features from start to finish.
1. Project Initiation: Create Your Project in Asana
The project initiation phase begins with setting clear project goals and defining the scope of the project by creating a project charter, sometimes also referred to as project brief or project initiation document (PID), and holding your kickoff meeting. Let me show you how Asana can support you in this phase.
Creating a Workspace in Asana
To create a new workspace in Asana, click the "+" button on the left sidebar and select "Create new workspace." From there, simply follow the prompts to set up your desired workspace. You can also switch between workspaces by selecting them from the drop-down menu in the top left corner of your Asana dashboard.
Creating a Project in Asana
In order to create a project in Asana, navigate to the top bar and select "New Project." You can start with a blank slate or use a template to get started. Then you can name your project and add the required team members. You can also add descriptions and due dates under the "Details" tab.
Creating a Project Charter or Project Brief in Asana
In the project dashboard, select “Overview”. Here, you can add any relevant information for your project and create a project brief by clicking on the “Create project Brief” icon at the bottom of the page. The project brief in Asana is essentially the project charter.
Adding Team Members in Asana
To add team members to your project in Asana, click on the "Add Team Member" button and enter the email addresses of the people you want to invite. You can also choose to give them specific roles, such as "team member" or "project manager." Once you have added team members, they will receive an email notification inviting them to join your project.
Prepare and Document your kickoff Meeting
First, create a task dedicated to the kickoff meeting and invite all necessary team members. Next, add subtasks for each aspect of the meeting that needs to be addressed, such as agenda items, meeting goals, and individual responsibilities. As the meeting takes place, team members can update their tasks with notes or next steps in real-time.
This not only ensures that nothing falls through the cracks during the meeting itself, but also serves as a written record of what was discussed for future reference.
2. Project Planning: Plan and Organize your Project
Once you have received the approval to proceed to the initiation phase, you can begin to plan your project. This is the most critical phase in a project's life cycle.
Boards vs List Layout
Asana has two ways of displaying your tasks: in a board or list layout. The board layout is similar to a Kanban board, where you can see all of your tasks in one place and move them between columns. This is a useful view when you’re using agile or even Scrum to run your projects.
The list layout is more like a to-do list, where you can see each task one at a time. You can easily change the layout of your project in the project dashboard by clicking on the “List” or “Board” view.
Asana Gantt chart
The Asana Gantt chart is a visual representation of your project's timeline. It’s accessible under the “Timeline” ribbon in the project dashboard. You can add tasks and milestones to the chart, and then move them around to adjust the schedule and add dependencies where required.
The Asana Gantt chart is not available in the free version. If you are looking for a more advanced Gantt chart solution for your Asana projects, check out my recommendation for Instagantt below.
Tasks can be dependent on each other, which means that one task cannot start until another task is completed. You can create dependencies by editing the task details and selecting "dependencies." This is also only available as part of a paid plan (view pricing here).
How to Create a Task
There are several ways to create a task in Asana:
- To create a task, go to the top left corner of your project and click on the "+" button. Enter the task details (name, description, due date, assignee, etc.) and press "create."
- Click on the “+” sign next to a section heading
- Click on a task in a list and press “enter” on your keyboard
Creating Recurring Tasks in Asana
Tasks can be set to repeat on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis. This is helpful for things like regularly scheduled meetings or deadlines that occur regularly.
To create a recurring task, follow these steps:
- Click on the “+” sign in the top right corner of Asana to add a new task (or alter the date in an existing task)
- Type in the name/description of your task and select the required project
- Under "add due date" (the calendar icon), set a specific start (and/or end date) and click on "set to repeat"
- Select how often you want your task to repeat
- Save your task via the “create task” button
Creating Subtasks and Task Templates
If you have a lot of tasks that are similar, you can save time by creating subtasks or templates for them. Subtasks are tasks that are nested under another task. For example, if task A is my main task, I could create subtasks called "task A-1," "task A-2," etc., which would be specific steps I need to take to complete my main task.
You can create subtasks for a task by editing the task details and clicking the "add subtasks" button. Add more subtasks by hitting “enter”. You can also create templates for common tasks by editing the task details and selecting "convert task to template." Templates are pre-filled versions of tasks that you can use over and over again.
For example, if you have a project meeting every month that has the same agenda items, like a steering committee meeting, you could create a template for it called "SteerCo Agenda." Then, when it's time for your next meeting, you can just apply this task template to your existing project and fill in the details like assignee, etc.
Adding Documents to Tasks
Another helpful feature is the ability to attach documents to tasks within Asana. There are several ways to do this, including through Google Drive, directly uploading the document, or using Asana's drag-and-drop feature.
This added functionality makes it easy for team members to access important files while also keeping everything organized in one central location. No more searching through emails or multiple different folders—all relevant documents can be found within Asana's task history.
3. Project Execution: Foster Communication and Accountability
Now it's time to bring your resources on board, brief them about their tasks, set ground rules and clear expectations, and introduce them to one another if needed. The same applies in order to manage client expectations. After that, everyone jumps in and works on the identified plan.
Comments and @ Mentions
Asana can help improve communication between team members tremendously. Your team members can leave comments on tasks and @ mention other team members to get their attention. This makes it easy to have conversations about specific tasks without having to send a bunch of emails back and forth.
Improve Accountability Within Your Team
With Asana, team members can easily see who is responsible for each task and when the task is due. This makes it easy for team members to hold each other accountable for completing their tasks on time.
Moreover, because all tasks are organized in one place, it's easy for team members to see what needs to be done and prioritize their work accordingly. And if a team member is falling behind on their tasks, the rest of the team will be able to see that and offer assistance as needed.
4. Project Monitoring and Controlling: Tracking Project Progress in Asana
As progress is made on your project, it is important to continually monitor and adjust the project plan as needed. This is known as project monitoring and controlling.
Tracking Tasks in Asana
You can use Asana’s desktop version, web app, or mobile app, to see at a glance what tasks have been completed and what still needs to be done. Asana also gives you the ability to add notes and comments to tasks. This means that if there are any changes or adjustments that need to be made, everyone on the team will be able to see them and get notified.
Reporting and Exports
Finally, Asana makes it easy to create dashboards so that you can generate reports and share them with stakeholders as needed.
Weekly Project Updates in the Tool
Another way to monitor the progress of your project is to submit weekly project updates in Asana. To do this, go to your “overview” tab and select the applicable status for your project this week (ex. “on track”, “at risk”, or “off track”). Create your weekly status update and save it.
This new status update will now appear on the right-hand side of the “overview” tab, so you can see at a glance how your project has been progressing week after week. It’s a great feature to keep everyone informed, from project team members to stakeholders.
Project monitoring and controlling is an important part of any project manager's job. By tracking progress and making adjustments as needed, you can ensure that your project stays on track and does not go over budget.
5. Project Closure: Wrapping up your Project in Asana
In the closing phase of the project life cycle, your project has been completed and your job as a project manager is basically done—but the project’s not over yet. By adhering to these best practices for project closure in Asana, you can ensure a smooth closing phase and avoid the pitfalls that often plague post-project reviews.
There are three main steps involved in closing a project in Asana:
- Prepare and document your post-project review meeting
- Document and assign tasks needed to bring the project to an official end
- Archive your closed projects and celebrate your success!
Prepare for Your Post-Project Review Meeting
The first step in successfully closing a project is to prepare for your post-project review meeting. This meeting should be held at the end of the project after all deliverables have been completed and approved. During this meeting, you will review the project's performance with your team and discuss what went well and what could be improved upon in future projects.
Making sure that everyone is on the same page prior to the meeting will make it more productive and ensure that it runs smoothly. To do this, start by sending out an agenda at least 24 hours in advance. Simply add a task or subtasks to the project in question and @ mention all relevant stakeholders.
Document Your Post-Project Review Meeting and Outstanding Tasks
This means recording minutes from the meeting as well as any decisions or action items that were agreed upon, like closing supplier agreements, signing off on contracts, and handing in all the necessary project documentation.
Having written documentation of the meeting will help ensure that everyone is on the same page moving forward and prevent any misunderstandings about what was discussed. Additionally, this documentation can be used as a reference for future projects.
Project Documentation in Asana
There are several different ways you can document your post-project review meeting in Asana. One option is to create a task within your project workspace with all the relevant information from the meeting (ex. agenda items, discussion points, decisions made, etc.).
You can also create a separate document outside of Asana and link to it from your workspace using the “attach file” feature. Whichever method you choose, just make sure that all stakeholders have access to the documentation, so they can reference it as needed.
Archive Your Closed Project
This will remove it from your workspace, so you can focus on active projects without being distracted by those that have already been completed. To archive a project, simply go to the projects settings menu next to the project name in the project dashboard and select "archive". You can always unarchive a project if you need to reference it at a later date.
Asana Expert Tips & Tricks
Now that you know how to master the basics of Asana, let me take your skills to the next level by sharing some expert tips and tricks, so you can get the most out of it right out of the gate.
1. Manage your Entire Organization
Asana is a great tool for managing projects, portfolios, and even entire organizations. Let me explain why.
Use Asana for Enterprise Project Management
Asana is a great tool for managing large/several projects with multiple stakeholders. By creating a project in Asana, you can assign tasks to specific team members and track the progress of the project as a whole. This is especially useful for complex projects that require coordination between multiple team members.
Read more about enterprise project management here.
Use It for Project Portfolio Management
In addition to managing large individual projects, Asana can also be used for managing your entire portfolio of projects. This is helpful for keeping an overview of all the projects you're working on and making sure they're all on track.
Simply create a portfolio in Asana and add all your existing projects to it. Then, you can use the portfolio view to see an overview of all your projects and their current status.
Read more about the differences between portfolio management and project management here.
Asana integrates with a number of other tools and services, which can be very helpful in extending its functionality. In order to get the most out of using Asana, I recommend the following integrations.
Instagantt is a great way to get an overview of all your projects in Asana. It's a Gantt chart tool that allows you to see your tasks, subtasks, related tasks, and dependencies in one place. This is especially helpful if you have multiple projects going on at the same time and need to keep track of them all.
Export your Gantt charts from Instagantt using an Excel or PDF format to easily share with team members and stakeholders.
Besides that, Instagantt allows you to create portfolios, which means you can see multiple projects on the same chart. It also has time-tracking capabilities to manage your team workload and lets you create a baseline of your project plan, so you can compare future iterations to your initial plan.
Integrating Asana with Google Calendar can be a game-changer for your productivity. By linking the two, you can see your tasks and deadlines in one place.
Slack is a great way to communicate with team members who are not in the same location as you are. With the Asana-Slack integration, you can create channels for each project and receive notifications in Slack whenever there is an update in Asana. This way, you can stay up-to-date on what's going on without having to constantly check both tools.
There are also a number of third-party integrations available through Zapier, which can be helpful for automating your workflow or adding additional custom functionality.
3. Taking Asana further
By taking advantage of Asana’s automation and customization capabilities, you can get the most out of the tool and make sure your work gets done more efficiently and effectively.
One of the best ways to optimize your workflow is by using automation. Automation allows you to create rules and automate repetitive tasks, so you can focus on more important things. For example, you can set up automatic reminders for yourself or your team members, so everyone is always on the same page.
Additionally, you can use Zapier to build custom integrations between Asana and other tools you use (like Dropbox or Evernote). This way, you can automate even more of your workflow and save even more time.
Use Custom Fields to Track Additional Data
Asana lets you create custom fields to track additional data about your projects and tasks. This can be helpful if you want to track specific metrics or add extra context to your data.
Use Views to Customize Your Dashboard
Asana lets you customize the way your dashboard looks. You can use views to organize your tasks in different ways, like by due date, assignee, or project. This can help you stay organized and efficient when using Asana.
Use Shortcuts to Save Time
Asana has a number of shortcuts that can help you save time when using the tool. For example, inside a task, you can use the "tab-M" keyboard shortcut to ‘assign a task to yourself’ or in the project dashboard press “tab-N” to ‘create a section’. Shortcuts can help you work faster and be more productive when using Asana. Find a comprehensive list of shortcuts here.
Bulk Editing of Tasks
If you want to edit multiple tasks at once, there are a few ways to do it inside the project dashboard:
- Select multiple tasks (a whole list of tasks in order) by clicking on the first one, then hold down shift and select the last one
- Select several tasks by holding down the command button on a Mac or the control key for Windows keyboard
Now you can make your required changes via the sub-menu that pops up.
10 Best Asana Alternatives
Not totally sold on Asana? Here’s a few other tools you might want to take for a test drive before you make your final choice.
Utilizing Asana for Project Management: Now It’s Your Turn
If you are looking for more information on Asana or other project management software, subscribe to The Digital Project Manager newsletter and stay tuned for upcoming posts!