Trello versus Asana

Posted on Aug 14, 2012 | 94 comments


For the past several years I’ve undertaken many initiatives to “get more organized,” which basically means to make another attempt at implementing and running a solid task list that I can share with others with whom I collaborate.

 I seem to be really good at kicking off well-structured lists, but less good at “working them.”

I know there’s no real point in creating a task list if you’re not actually going to open it up and parse through tasks.

My working theory is that the best task lists would be fully integrated with email since that’s where we spend much of our working lives anyways.

I guess I should therefore check out Streak, which several people have suggested.

And I’ve promised myself that I would sign up for Boomerang, which I’m genuinely excited to give a go at. I think I’ll add that to my to do list.

But my latest fascination has been with Asana and Trello.

It started simply enough. Like most products, I heard a lot of hype about Asana so I thought I better check it out to see what it was all about.  I enjoy playing with new products and figuring out how I might use them to make my life – or the world – a better place.

Asana is a group collaboration tool. I built two companies around this concept so I know a thing or two about them.

I set up some simple tasks in Asana and then invited my small work group at GRP to share some tasks. I didn’t want to roll it out too broadly in our organization until I had tested it.

It worked well but it felt like a bit of a souped-up online spreadsheet task list to me. I think it would work really well in an 8-10 person team (or more) and where you had a lot of process-driven people. It might go really well on a product team or in a marketing department. But I never really collaborate with more than a handful of people on any given project.

And I’m not much of a process weenie so unless somebody else manages to keep updating the tasks and working the lists it was going stale too quickly. I found myself not really using it enough.

Then I heard about Trello, built by Joel Spolsky’s team.

I thought I’d give that a whirl. I knew Asana was getting rave reviews from friends but maybe there was something not quite working there for me.

Trello is essentially trying to solve the same problem. But Trello is quite visual. It’s build around the concept of boards (projects) and cards (grouping of things you need to do).

I found Trello a bit more intuitive for the way that my brain works. I’m quite visual and having things organized into cards (containers) that hold tasks was a good metaphor for my way of organizing. And I love the idea that I can then invite in my colleagues into certain co-working spaces and assign tasks, keep track of progress and have people assign me work to do. Mostly I like assigning work ;-)

But Asana is built by a clever team and I noted that they raised $28 million from a-list investors and I generally like to think about where the puck is going rather than where it is today. And that’s a lot of dosh to build a killer product roadmap.

And I do like the fact that Asana is only in one business whereas the Trello team seem to have a few projects.

What to do? I wanted to double-down somewhere and roll out a collaboration tool more broadly at GRP.

So with this to-do list malaise I set out to Twitter to find out what I was missing from people more process driven than I.

And here’s what I found:

  • There is huge support for both tools. All of the Asana feedback was “we love Asana” (try searching “@msuster asana” in Twitter and you’ll see … at least for the next day or so) and similar for Trello (“@msuster trello”)
  • For fans of Trello they seemed to be like me – visual thinkers in search of simplicity
  • The score was about 60% Asana, 40% Trello – but again very solid support for both

Then I realized that I should have just gone to Quora, which for tech answers usually seems to have an answer waiting even before I’ve asked it. This chap Gudjon Mar Gudjonsson has totally nailed it for anybody looking for a great overview.

In short he says

It’s like BMW vs. Mercedes. Taste plays a role. ;-) In a nutshell my personal view is that:

  • Asana is the perfect tool for the CEO and the product manager
  • Trello is the perfect tool for the team and individual team members

And when I read his well-thought-through descriptions of the pro’s / con’s I found myself nodding a lot.

I think I’m going to stick with Trello for now and keep an eye on the UI evolution of Asana. Hopefully some enterprising entrepreneur will build a tool to port between the two in case I ever decide to change ;-)

I know there’s other tools, too. A few people mentioned Do.com and tech teams seem to use Pivotal Tracker much.

What do you think? Are you using one of the tools? What is working well for you and why? If you switched from Asana to Trello or vice versa and have experience with both – why are you happier with one versus the other?

  • http://www.tbkconsult.com/ Hans Peter Bech

    I am somewhat surprised that no one is mentioning Basecamp. We are a consulting startup (disrupting the management consulting industry!!) with people spread all over the globe. To run this business we use Basecamp for project management, Highrise for contact sharing and CRM, Google Apps for mail, calendar and Intranet, 14Dayz for time tracking, SurveyMonkey for questionnaires, MailChimp for e-mail lists and XERO for financial management. Basecamp is working really well for us in the project/task management area. We had a go at Podio a year ago (because we also need a conference management tool), but gave up because of the initial investment needed to setting up the system (may have changed since then).

  • Erina B.

    We’ve tried both tasks lists and Kanban boards (that what Trello is) through 5pm (www.5pmweb.com) and smartQ (www.getsmartQ.com) – developed by the same company, and depending on the project and team one or another concept would work better. smartQ approach with adjustable workflow works much better for multi-stage processes, like handling support tickets. While 5pm is better for types of tasks that just need to be completed, with no extra stages involved.

  • http://byJess.net/ Jess Bachman

    Truly mindboggling how many services there are of this type, GTD, tasks, team collab, etc. It’s clear the event horizon is that everyone will just develop their own service. It’s quite detrimental, as it creates such fluidity from one product to the next. “Oh XYZ is only usefull in 97% of cases, I’ll try something else.” In other software, if something works in 51% of cases it’s what you use. Im not sure how large the market is, or if there is enough revenue to go around, but surely the customer base is way oversegmented.

  • http://www.blossom.io Thomas Schranz

    Hey Stefan,

    enlightening way to compare lightweight tools like trello, blossom, agilezen to Jira & Co. Makes absolute sense and even while I spend a lot of time thinking about the space I never saw the bottom-up/top-down distinction that clear.

    kudos!

  • http://www.mealdrop.com Michael Zaro

    I’m an absolute trello addict. I, like you am very visual so it mimics my past efforts at to-do lists grouped into projects. Moving cards from one list to another is for some reason so much easier than updating a spreadsheet and gives me so much more insight than just crossing it off.
    Personally I have 5 lists in each board. “To-do, Getting Started, Doing, Finishing Up, and Done. I use the due dates for when it needs to be in the next section and notes to record any blockers if my progress is impeded for some reason.
    No joke, if they had a referral program I would quit my job and sell Trello all day. I’ve hooked at least a dozen different people/groups in the last couple months.

    PS. Boomerang is also an absolute must. I’m a paying user and couldn’t be happier with how much more efficient and responsive it makes me. I would go so far as to say that I have not spent $5/month more effectively on anything in my company. For the impact it makes and the increased amount I’m able to do, manage and track it’s priceless.

    Hope it helps!

  • http://modeista.com/ Martin Wawrusch

    Seems that the atlassian stack has been a bit ignored here. (http://www.atlassian.com/software/jira), they significantly improved their product line in the last year and now offer it on demand for a very affordable price. It is actually so good in terms of making us productive and getting shit done in our mid-sized distributed teams (10 to 20 people) that we replaced both trello and asana with it.

  • http://www.blossom.io Thomas Schranz

    Hey Jess,

    I think you are spot on. The ‘ideal’ GTD/task/teamcollab tool is a myth and the market is very crowded. Still the market itself is incredibly big as almost every group of people who pursue a common goal are looking for ‘the right tool’ to support them.

    I actually am glad that there are many tools that aim to serve a certain well defined niche very well while there are players like asana and trello that are trying to stay general-purpose (which is much harder to get ‘right’).

  • marketrealist

    I prefer keeping it simple. Google Tasks for myself. Email when it is a specific assignment. Assigning a Google Doc when there is a project with lots of details. Pivotal tracker is pretty good for keeping track of tech progress, but I still like to keep the development specs meat in a Google Doc with the table of contents feature.

  • http://mikebracco.com/ Mike Bracco

    @google-764a1ee84259681e2b19cce405c1eed4:disqus ahh cool..you’re right. The UI to get there has been updated but you can disable it. Thanks :)

  • http://www.totally.me/arjan Arjan de Raaf

    We have used Asana but switched to Basecamp which is really the best tool we ever users for tasks, projects, to do’s etc.

  • http://twitter.com/jpatil JP Patil

    Hi Mark –

    In talking to many companies and developers on their use of Trello vs Asana, I would have to disagree with Gudjon’s answer on Quora. While his pros and cons list for both is good, it seems that the general consensus is that Trello is good for the CEO/ product manager while Asana is good for the team member/ engineer.

    We make a Kanban product called Swift-Kanban, think Trello on steroids, and one of the issues I have been looking into is user adoption. Part of that is to study tools that are not direct competitors but can be used for similar situations. It turns out that from whom I have talked to project managers love Trello because of its visual nature, like most Kanban tools. Project managers can quickly look at the kanban board and see what the status of projects are. When you are trying to digest a lot of information quickly, a picture is worth a thousand words. Project managers would rather look at a dashboard view rather than stream of issues. In addition, in advanced Kanban tools, project managers can see where blocked work items are and resource constraints (through WIP limits).

    Another aspect about Kanban is that it is not process specific. You can use Kanban with whatever process you are currently using. So from a project manager/ process manager perspective, Kanban does not require you to adopt a new process. In fact you can put Kanban on top of Scrum or XP or whatever. Moreover, with advanced kanban tools that provide metrics and cycle time or if metrics are tracked offline/ in excel, project managers can actually actually improve performance my making incremental improvements. This is where CEOs love Kanban tools. Rather than estimating when a work item will get done, using past performance you can predict when it will get done within your standard deviations.

    Developers on the other hand like Asana because how quick it is. Using a few key strokes they can quickly create a new task or update a task without touching the mouse. Also the email integration with Asana is good and that means less switching between applications in actual use. Asana also has a much better consolidated view for the individual. It is a pain to go from project to project to figure out what your tasks are. However, this is not an issue in more advanced Kanban tools like the ones listed below. Lastly, cloning a task is harder in Trello versus Asana which means for repetitive tasks, Asana will be faster and less of a pain in the…

    In terms of addressing some of the comments on lack of features in Trello, several Kanban tools like ours are pretty advanced and have solutions to those issues raised. However, with that said, somethings can get complex. We are trying to tackle that. Portfolios of Projects or Board on Boards has been released or is being released by the big three Kanban players (Swift-Kaban, LeanKit Kanban, Rally (AgileZen)). In Swift-Kanban you can assign cards to multiple people and have the card split/ merge and move independently in different lanes (card hierarchy) and still visualize both on the parent and children. Currently Swift-Kanban is the only tool that supports Scrum-ban or Kanban with Iterations (Scrum and Kanban joined). Most of the tools provide a range of integrations and are adding more quickly. Card clone is also available or is becoming available. SK also has built in to-do lists (exit criteria) and complete traceability built into each card.

    We started learning about Kanban as we were trying to become more Agile and Lean. We are a globally distributed company and in learning about Scrum and XP, we found those methodologies had problems scaling in distributed organizations. As we learned more about Kanban, we thought it would be perfect for distributed teams like ours but at the time Kanban tools were in their infancy and just getting started. The features did not match what we needed and therefore we started to build Swift-Kanban. We use SK for our own internal development as well as for sales, HR and finance.

    *Edit – Lack of paragraph spacing makes my eyes burn.

  • Shane

    For small teams, try using TaskShot http://www.taskshot.com/

  • Madhawa

    I’m using Kanban method with https://kanbanflow.com which is not visually pleasing, but gets the job done. But I use Asana as well to keep myself alarmed at an abstract level.

    Plus, it has a built-in Pomodoro timer.

  • Hamid Shojaee

    I think Trello and Asana both do a great job for small teams, but most of these tools fall apart for specific types of team management, especially on larger teams. Even Trello’s parent company wouldn’t recommend Trello for software dev teams of say 10+ people – instead, they would recommend FogBugz.

    One thing that tools like Trello and Asana have done is help push along the User Experience of other products. At my company, we create a dev team focused tool called OnTime (http://www.ontimenow.com). In the last few years we have really focused on creating an awesome UI and user experience while giving all the essential things that agile and scrum dev teams need, like backlog & sprint management, burndowns, release management, dashboards, etc.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cschwass Chris Schwass

    Asana is good for tasks, Trello is good for stories.

    We’re still in scrappy bootstrapping mode with just 4 people on the team at Campfire Creations (digital board game apps). We switched from Google Docs (ouch!) to Asana to Trello. We outgrew Google Docs for tracking, but a simple spreadsheet works great for some things (enjoying Grid beta on iPad this week). We learned about Asana before Trello, and for task management, Asana is ideal. However, it was hard for us to see how the tasks we were assigning fit together, especially as we started using SCRUM with our lead developer. He recommended Trello and we’ve never looked back.

    Asana looks like it can scale much bigger for enterprise, but for us, we value the flexibility of Trello over the scalability of Asana. Plus, with just a few people on our team looking at our needs from different perspectives, a unifying story helps immensely. Trello is intuitive, like placing sticky notes on a whiteboard.

    I also use Trello to plan my week outside work using SCRUM and it is increasing my productivity significantly over a simple to-do list (sorry Teux Deux). It helps me limit my ambitions to a budgeted number of story points per week, assigned to 5 life goals. Otherwise I accomplish the urgent before the important, or assume I can accomplish more than I have time for each week. So, thanks Trello.

    Can I also say how amazing it is that cash-strapped startups have access to all of these amazing tools for FREE?

  • nlmooney

    Though these tools can be valuable for particular individuals or teams, I do not recommend using either for software development (particularly agile development). Because both tools are “hot” in Silicon Valley, many early startups choose to manage their dev work using them, which you can get away with when there are only a handful of engineers.

    But as soon as a company is large enough to warrant a Product Manager (I am a PM), it’s important to shift to a tool that is explicitly intended for software development and supports niche use cases such as test cases, sub tasks, workflows and issue types, and is also highly configurable. If a tool would work for planning a vacation, it will not scale for managing several scrum teams.

    Knowing when to hire a PM and when to switch to a more hefty tracking tool is an important skill, and over-shooting this inflection point is really painful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/woutersmet Wouter Smet

    Can we have an honorable mention for Trello’s sillier (but in some ways better) little cousin Barlisto? :-)

  • Ram Subra

    My experience is that task lists provide limited value – Unless the team is really organized, task lists tend to get stale and stop delivering value. Plus the task lists are still “list views” that do not communicate all that you want to know about any project in just one look.

    I really like Kanban boards as they provide a visual view of where the work is and I seem to get the bigger picture very quickly. Again “Ready, in progress, Done” type simple visual queues deliver quick initial value – but very soon teams tend to want to extend these stages according to the actual steps the work goes through- this is where Trello and others that focus on tasks fall a really short and real Kanban boards like Swift Kanban / AgileZen excel.
    I am absolutely sold on the view that multi tasking is a major impediment to productivity – I have seen teams juggling with a number of parallel tasks- It is so counter productive and many times, teams fail to recognize this – Kanban tools like Agile Zen / Swift Kanban and others intuitively support Work in progress limits that are very important to increase team productivity by highlighting inefficiencies that task lists fail to identify.
    For a continuous improvement focused team, lead time / cycle time / cumulative flow type metrics that these Kanban tools provide are so helpful and objective.
    I am a convert from simple task boards to Kanban boards and I have got a ton of value.

  • Andrew Cohen

    What about mixing all portfolio companies into a single board (e.g. In-progress, Backlog, etc.), but just give a different-colored label for tasks assigned to each company?

  • https://twitter.com/tompark Tom Park

    Does blossom.io have a mobile app? I can’t find it in the App Store. Actually, the website isn’t mobile-friendly, so I’m taking that as a signal… Funny how the home page says, “Ideal for developing Mobile & Web Apps”.

  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/114718778524214371963/114718778524214371963/posts kidmercury

    i dont know how people like this stuff. just install drupal or some other open source CMS that almost certainly has a good enough project management tool add-on and you’re good to go. for me all this stuff overshoots; the ugly ass stuff characteristic of the open source world is good enough, independent, and well-suited for fancy people who want to do deep integration with other technology used within the organization. but of course to each their own.

  • http://www.barryfogarty.com/ Barry Fogarty

    Be good to see a comparison of pricing too. Podio is another interesting project management and collab tool, but much more complex than Trello.

  • Parand Darugar

    I started with Trello but ended up getting lost in there. Being used to techie style solutions (bugzilla, trac, redmine) I found it a little too unstructured, and frankly struggled a bit with the UI.

    I’d also tried Asana and wasn’t crazy about it, but with the team growing we really needed a solution so I re-examined it. We’re now using it quite happily in a 10 person team with both technical and non-technical people.

    Btw, neither Trello nor Asana feel like Mecedez or BMW; I think Toyota vs. Honda be more apt.

  • Jmartens

    they are both completely free

  • Jmartens

    Do you have some sort of Trello/GDocs integration I am not aware of? Or are you saying you use them both, but independently?

  • http://disqus.com/ Daniel Ha

    We’ve been using Asana on the team for a while now, namely for higher level product management. This is, for the most part, focused on broader goals and user-facing features rather than individual technical tasks.

    We used Asana before I ran into Trello, but that looks great too. My limited impression is that Asana is more structured and thus process-heavy, but it helps for sprawling projects with a higher (10+) number of collaborators.

    I’d find it tough for personal use.

  • JohnSeiffer

    I didn’t like Asana – prefer the visuality (is that a word?) of Trello but I like kanbanflow better – like a simpler version of Trello. Disclaimer – I don’t use it for collaboration but for personal use.

  • Tom Mong

    our team been using asana for past two months. I see some teams are more willing to update and while other do nothing. I will definitely check trello out.

  • ykomada

    I’ve had a good experience with Pipedrive. If you are a visual person working in a deal-oriented environment, it may be a good choice. Kind of like pivotal tracker, but for sales teams.

  • AldenG

    When my team looked around for a good team task manager, we tried both of these and a lot more. But in the end, they all seemed to address organization, which when you look closely at what makes a team produce amazing and creative work, it has a lot more to do with the people and synergy and passion. Of course you need to be organized, but honestly, I know a lot of half-dead well organized teams just going through the motions. What we wanted was a tool that helped you organize, but also encouraged you to support teammates, celebrate your successes and failures and foster the kind of environment that genius comes from.

    Of course, we didn’t find it. So we left this table altogether and started our own. We recently released it to the public after having good experience with it in-house. The idea behind PropsToYou is that we watch you work in the background and call out amazing stuff you’ve accomplished and alert your team. We save all your achievements in a permanent profile, so your big moments won’t be forgotten. Especially when performance reviews come up :-)

    Find it here: http://propstoyou.com. Free of charge. And if this isn’t already obvious, I’m on the team that made it :-)

  • http://rendion.myopenid.com/ render

    These tools always tread the fine line between expressing your organizational skills or becoming a ball and chain. I liked that you mention that your working style has alot to do with how you perceive its usefulness.

    Having known habitual list makers all my life, I am not one of them and if a tool just wants to manage lists I quickly lose interest. I like tools that provide cool views of progress, not of backlogs.

  • Blcarey

    We have a team of about 15 in sales, execs, development, marketing and admin all using Asana. We seem to love the project frameworks, task lists and ability to create priority tags in various “to-do” items.

    We cautiously started with myself our CTO and the dev team to see how we could use a “passive” collaboration tool and reduce the number of interruptions and impromptu meetings. It seems to have worked well for this group so we rolled it out to most of the company. We have a few holdouts who don’t seem to want to understand how to use Asana or just can’t be bothered. but for me, this type of collaborative tool allows me to track multiple projects assigned to multiple individuals all at different priorities. And I can schedule my own priorities and integrate them into my own workflow.

    I have found that the easiest way to run Asana is to have it as one of my tabs that is automatically loaded when I turn on my browser (Chrome) each day. I can them move the tab over to another screen and track my actual work versus what I am working on at that moment in time.

    I can see how a visual person might want visual tools to manage their workflows and thought patterns.. for those people, we also provide them with a copy of mindmeister.

    Love to hear more thoughts about how we can optimize our workflow as we continue to grow our various industry verticals.

  • http://about.me/martinvillig Martin Villig

    I think there is a difference if you need a tool for shared task list management or software development (workflow statuses: backlog, planned, in progress, testing, live etc).

    I have tested Trello, Asana and many more. In my case I am working with multiple projects in parallel, where every project has a different set of people involved. In Trello and Asana I tend to loose overview of multiple parallel projects. So the best solution I have found for running multiple projects same time is https://www.wrike.com/

    I like Wrike because it has:
    - Very simple and clear dashboard view (my tasks, overdue tasks, tasks I have assigned to others, …)
    - Tree view of all projects and sub-projects is very clear
    - Sharing privileges can be done on level of single task or (sub)project – can easily include freelancers, consultants from outside your team
    - Visual views for projects/tasks for resource planning

    So I suggest you have a look at Wrike as well, if you tend to “loose overview” in Trello or Asana.

  • Oliver Gassner

    Have you had a look at wunderkit? I lile the fact that I can add ppl to teams via Facebook & Twitter ;)

  • http://twitter.com/manidoraisamy Mani Doraisamy

    Task management is good for individuals. But not such a good idea for teams. It is adhoc & you lose big picture when your task is in free-form text & free-form assignment. Here it is from the workflow perspective: http://kissflow.com/workflow-task-case-management-comparison/

  • http://twitter.com/AydinG Aydin Ghajar

    I really love Trello’s lack of religion. Most tools in this space try to push you toward a particular methodology that may or may not work for you (PivotalTracker is a great example of that), but the agnostic “list of lists” data structure has spreadsheet-like flexibility for just about anything you want to use it for. We used Trello for everything from feature planning and bug tracking to our PR calendar & reporter list at Thinkfuse and loved it.

  • http://www.blossom.io Thomas Schranz

    Hello Tom,

    thanks for the question. The web app itself works very well on the iPad and many people use it that way in meetings/standups/teatimes but we are definitely working on even better mobile support for smaller screen sizes going forward :)

  • http://twitter.com/JordanMichaels Jordan Michaels

    I’ve been exploring a lot of these tools for quite some time for my team and company here at http://www.ringadoc.com. We’ve looked into Trello and also Asana. Has anyone used http://www.smartsheet.com?

    I actually really like the idea of using a Spreadsheet for all project management, bug tracking, and task lists and simply adding logic to it. Does anyone have any experience with it?

  • http://twitter.com/collabspot Collabspot

    Another tool that’s similar to Trello that uses boards and cards but in a slightly different manner is CollabSpot Boards, http://boards.collabspot.com. It’s integrated with Google Drive and Google Calendar. Right now it’s only for Google Apps users, but we’ll soon have it available for all Gmail users.

  • http://www.kylecooke.com Kyle Cooke

    Surprised no one has mentioned http://www.producteev.com/ . This article was timely (thanks Mark!) because I just researched various options and signed up for Asana and Producteev. So far Producteev looks more polished and the iPhone app has received better reviews.

    Any reason no one is using Producteev?

  • Rene

    You might wan’t to try out Breeze ( http://letsbreeze.com ). It’s a little bit different, a mix betwen Trello and Basecamp. It is focused on B2B and also include time tracking and reports.

  • ShaneDeax

    You should have comapred it with Bitrix24, because it has PM features that neither Asana nor Trello offers. Ands it’s free, too.

  • LeoWid

    Hi Mark, this is a great post, we’ve tried Trello for a long time over at Buffer and also looked into Asana. Still the UX and simplicity can’t be beaten by blossom.io, a somewhat similar product with incredible UX and attention to detail, we’ve left both and am using it daily now.

    Hope there will be a follow-up on this, very to interested to hear which product you end up using in the end to be most productive!

  • http://gplus.to/mrgenixus Benjamin West

    actually, integration was released last week.