One of the most difficult equations for a fast-growing business software startup to solve is the balancing act between functionality and price. A week after adding new features for tracking workloads, work management venture Asana is confronting that quandary. It has unveiled a 20% hike in pricing for its feature-rich Business edition, and a 10% rise for its Premium edition. The entry level Basic edition for up to 15 users remains free.
The price rises will take effect on September 5th and will only apply to new customers and to any customer who changes their plan from that date onwards. Existing customers — who number more than 70,000, up from 50,000 at the start of the year — were informed of the changes by email yesterday, so have nearly a month to avoid the increase by adding new seats or upgrades before it takes effect. Asana Head of Product, Alex Hood, spoke to diginomica exclusively ahead of the pricing news.
Asana has developed its offering considerably since it first got started, and therefore the company believes the new pricing still represents value for money. Last week's additions to Asana Workload, which is now part of the Business Edition, are the latest step in its long-term mission, as co-founder Justin Rosenstein told me earlier this year, to become "the core architecture for the future of work." This week brought a new analogy from Hood, who says Asana acts like a GPS to help map the landscape of work across an organization:
We're building a GPS not just for the individual, not just for the team, but for a whole company.
You can navigate to outcomes with less drama, more efficiency, better success.
Tracking resources and workloads
Workload, which first appeared in June, is designed to help distribute work more effectively across the members of a team. Traditionally, there's not been much visibility into how people are coping, explains Hood.
There's a lack of transparency about what's on people's plates and who's responsible for what, when.
The new features allow teams or managers to quantify the effort required to complete a task, measured either in hours or points, at the same time as assigning a capacity to each individual in a team. As soon as a team member starts to have too much to do, their worklines in the dashboard turn red, and you can drill down and see which tasks could be redistributed to other team members. It's much more immediate than traditional methods of tracking resources and workloads, says Hood.
What we're replacing here is spreadsheets ... This sets up a method that is more graphical, tied to the work in real time and collaborative between the manager and the employee.
Traditional resource management products — from spreadsheets and Powerpoint slides through project management and professional services automation tools — tend to disrupt the flow of work because they're a separate, standalone record, he argues.
Those resource management software applications require a lot of the painful steps where you're going around, seeing what people are working on, entering it into a piece of software, allocating it at a broad level, and creating an artefact that is then stale.
In Asana, people are doing work in Asana and updating it in Asana. This minute, I can go into a project in Asana and see the exact status without consulting anyone.
That's what's new in Asana's vision. The work, project and mission are all being tracked in one application rather than having to be re-entered as you move through the different levels of abstraction.
The new metrics in Workload represent additional entities in the 'work graph' Asana is building to systematically map, measure and manage work across an entire organization. As customers build up their usage of these new capabilities, that experience will be fed back into the graph to inform future recommendations.
The history of SaaS is littered with disconsolate customers who feel left behind as they find themselves paying more and more for functionality they're not taking advantage of. This to me is the big challenge for Asana, and it's amply illustrated by the Workload product.
To get the promised benefit of this functionality, someone has to be motivated enough to set up all these metrics for all of the tasks a team has to do, and then determine the capacities of each of the team members. In the future, that may be something that Asana can start to package up and automate based on the learning stored in the work graph, but it will take time to build up the knowledge to do that.
When I put my reservations to Hood, he insisted that the product is designed to be self-service, so that all of that should be intuitive:
We are very rigorous about removing clicks, not adding new complexity, protecting the things people need to get done, and making the product easy to adopt.
The product needs to be well designed and crafted. That's the focus of our energy.
That commitment to ease-of-use does give Asana an edge as these new capabilities allow it to start challenging more traditional project management and resource management solutions. When I spoke to Rosenstein earlier this year, he said Asana would replace all of those separate product categories as "the old dinosaur way of doing things." You certainly can't fault Asana's ambition.
But while good design can go a long way, my sense is that a lot of what's needed to get the full benefit of Asana happens at the change management level of helping people learn new behaviors. Larger customers will be able to achieve this, whether through their own internal resources or with the help of Asana customer success teams. The issue is always how to deliver that help in a more scalable way to the much larger volume of smaller customers. Those, of course, are the customers who are most price sensitive.