Asana moves beyond simple task management with new update

Productivity company levels up its capabilities in busy enterprise collaboration market

One of the key problems with doing work in a group is managing who's doing what tasks when. In a traditional workplace, that's often handled with status meetings, email chains and layers of management to help wrangle what everyone is doing. That's the problem that Asana originally set out to solve with the product it launched first in 2012. 

The company's core product allows business users to track tasks for teams and projects so that it's easy to see what people are working on and how progress on key tasks is going. 

Asana made a three announcements on Wednesday morning that the company says is a major evolution of its product -- including one that vastly expands the product's capabilities. Co-founders Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein took the stage during a press event at the company's offices to unveil a new design for their company's eponymous product, along with new group messaging capabilities and a Track Anything function that lets users expand tasks beyond how they were traditionally used. 

Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein Blair Hanley Frank

Slack co-founders Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein announce updates to the company's product on Sept. 30, 2015.

One of the most frequent requests Asana received from its end users was the ability to tweak the service's task list functionality to support tracking other things, like software bugs and strands of DNA. While customers were shoehorning those sorts of things into Asana's existing task interface, there wasn't a great way to track all of the different types of data attached to things that aren't traditional to-do tasks. 

That's why Asana announced new Track Anything functionality that lets users add fields to a traditional task. Using that functionality, venture capitalists could use Asana to track startups, and add fields for the amount of money the firms have raised from them, what partner is working with which startup and what stage of funding each startup is in. 

Moving forward, Asana plans to open its Track Anything functionality to developers, so they can build applications on top of the company's platform to provide customers with specialized functionality like job applicant tracking. In addition to laying out new fields, developers will be able to pull in data from other applications like LinkedIn and add interface elements to Asana. According to Rosenstein, the goal for Track Anything is to make Asana a central experience for everything business users are tracking.

Finally, Asana is also rolling out a new Conversations feature that makes it possible for teams to discuss their work within the task management software and easily create tasks from those discussions. It's not designed to replace person-to-person email, or a real-time chat system like Slack, but it could be a useful replacement for something like group mailing lists where people decide on what to do. 

Users can start a conversation with either a team of people, or the people who they're grouped together with on a project. The discussion can, of course, include tasks which will then show up in a relevant task list for a project or group of users, in addition to appearing in the personal to-do lists of the person who's assigned to them. According to Rosenstein, it's a better method of collaboration for those customers who would ordinarily be doing the same thing through email or chat.

"Because when companies use email or chat to have conversations about their work, action Items fall through the cracks," Rosenstein said. 

The new Conversations functionality seems like a direct competitor to what Microsoft is trying to do with its Groups feature in Office 365. That functionality creates a shared place for a group of Office 365 users to work together on tasks, calendar items and more.  

The service also got a new design that's rolling out to users today. It's cleaner than Asana's old look, and designed to make it easier for companies to work together. The redesign is focused on looking calm when users are working, with a lot of black and white interface elements on a white background. When users do things like complete tasks, they'll light up with a splash of color.

Asana's new interface is reminiscent of other "flat" redesigns that have been sweeping the tech world, like Google's Material Design and the redesigns Apple pushed out with iOS 7 and OS X Yosemite. 

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Blair Hanley Frank

IDG News Service
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