One of the paradoxes of today's digitally connected work is that it can lead to disruptive fragmentation. We use more and more apps but they aren't well co-ordinated; we can interact more easily with co-workers yet we are separated across time and distance; we can react to what's happening in real time but struggle to prioritize what's important. We need some way of joining up all these different fragments and putting them in order. This is the gap that work management vendor Asana aims to fill with a set of features announced last week called Asana Flow.
Asana sees its sweet spot in co-ordinating work that flows between different functions in an organization. This kind of cross-functional teamwork is where the fragmentation is greatest, with awkward hand-offs from one team to another and each team using different digital tools to do its work. Alex Hood, Chief Product Officer at Asana, explains:
All these teams need to work together, but they don't have a standard method of doing it. It's sort of a low-trust environment, where somebody does some work, people don't know that that work is done, so there's a lot of email and chat messages to say, 'Hey, is this done? Why does this not look right?' ...
You don't have transparency into how the work is actually coming along, and you don't know how your pieces fit into the broader scope.
Track and manage work
Growing awareness of these challenges has intensified in the wake of the pandemic, and finding solutions has become a much bigger priority for IT leaders. Hood says:
Before the pandemic, IT was only involved in maybe 20% of the deals that went on with Asana customers. And now let's say they're involved in the vast majority. I think that shows that CIOs are seeing this as a real focus area in order to modernize their business.
What Asana offers is a place where people can track and manage how their own and others' work fits into all of the tasks and projects they're involved in across an organization. It is able to do this because its Work Graph data model acts as the system of record for key metrics about projects, teams, workflows and company goals, coupled with an accessible but enterprise-scale workflow builder. Hood explains:
We have the power of the work graph, with lots of different views into how work actually gets done. Because we have this, we're able to democratize what was offered to only larger organizations for their most core workflows, and we're able to make it flexible and easy to use for teams, small and large, no matter where they're working — at home or in the office — and connect up all the tools that they use to do that job well.
Last week's announcements introduced a new intelligent dashboard called Asana Home, which presents upcoming work in the context of projects, dependencies and goals, and uses the work graph data to help prioritize what to do next. Hood explains:
The time-tested best practice for an individual to prioritize their work is on the axis of importance and urgency. We, in software, are able to bring that to life, because we have a view on both of those pieces now. That is the inspiration for Home.
The customizable dashboard is set to add more features in the coming months, such as recommending projects to follow and tracking tasks that have been assigned to colleagues.
The second element of the announcement is the addition of new UI components to the workflow builder. Whereas most of the existing third-party app integrations connect workflow and data into the platform, these new App Components connect third-party apps directly into the Asana user experience. The first integrations available at launch are with survey form builder Jotform and virtual whiteboard app Miro, while Google Drive will follow soon. Once an expanded developer toolkit ships in the coming months, partners and customers will also be able to add their own apps. The library of reusable workflow templates is also expanding, with contributions from a number of Asana's enterprise customers and partners.
The final feature in last week's announcement brings trend analysis to Asana's reporting tool. This can now be used to measure and optimize workflow performance over time, so that teams can identify where they can smooth out bottlenecks and achieve goals more effectively. Giving teams shared ownership of how they work together is especially crucial at a time when many co-workers no longer share a workplace, says Hood. He believes Asana can play a role in shoring up that sense of belonging:
I want Asana to be the tool that teams use to continually improve and have that be part of the culture. Almost like, pre-provide the information that you would get in a sprint retrospective, but not just for engineering teams, for all teams.
The work graph capability, universal reporting, and the workflow element along with intelligence, those are the magical elements that allow us to help a team understand how they're doing and how they can improve over time ... getting better together and having shared victories.
Fragmentation isn't the outcome you'd expect from forging digital connections across the enterprise, but this friction comes as previously hidden inconsistencies and disconnects are exposed by the technology. Going frictionless requires a far more fundamental transformation of business processes, operations and culture.
An important part of that transformation is adoption of digital tools to help teams work better. It's a welcome sign that IT is increasingly involved in such decisions, suggesting that enterprises recognize digital teamwork as a strategic priority.