How we build products at Asana — The Product Process: From Inception to Launch

On the PM team at Asana, we’re always thinking about how we can create a great working environment that makes the best of everyone’s super powers. We want to be fast moving and open to risks while also maintaining a high quality bar and consistency across the customer experience.

It’s easy to design a product process that optimizes too much for one extreme or another. If all you care about is the quality bar you can have rigorous reviews where a Steve Jobsian executive micromanages all the important decisions. If speed is #1, you can set teams free to launch whatever they want with minimal oversight. Some processes are too cumbersome, but without any guidelines new people have trouble figuring out how to get things done.

At Asana we try to balance all of these by standardizing our best practices, but allowing PMs to use their judgement to skip or shorten steps. We have several key milestones (marked by ** in the template) that can help a team feel confident that they’re on the right track before increasing their investment (eg. before starting design, engineering, a/b testing).

We use Asana’s custom template feature to make a repeatable checklist. Each PM creates a new project from the template, and then they’re off to the races. Here’s the template we use:

There’s so much I could say about this template, but here are a few of the most interesting points.

  • We’re loosely following the Double Diamond Model with 2 rounds of expansive thinking, one for the problem and one for the solution. This separation is hugely helpful in getting everyone on the same page. Our first milestone is largely about reviewing the goals and scope of the project, before we get into the details of the solution.
  • When our PM team was smaller, every PM wanted to be involved and giving feedback on every project. This was time consuming, and could get frustrating when someone would give feedback without really understanding the context. Now, each PM has a primary buddy who’s a great thought partner and support. It’s so good to have someone in your corner when you’re making tough calls like launching a bare-bones MVP without someone’s pet feature.
  • We work with User Research everywhere in this process: at the beginning when we’re doing exploratory research, in the middle when we’re testing designs & prototypes, and near the end when we’re running beta programs to get detailed feedback from customers. User Research is critical to how we feel confident in our scoping & design decisions.
  • We have an Asana Project called “Shipping & Launches” which is the source-of-truth for all our upcoming launches. The task template has auto-assigned subtasks for all of the cross-functional partner work & we centralize all launch communications on in that one place. This makes launching so easy.
  • Product Forum is a weekly meeting where teams can collaborate with and learn from the senior product leadership. It covers many steps of the development product process: from brainstorming ideas, to getting spec & design feedback, to getting final sign-off before a big launch. It’s designed to feel collaborative and mentoring. Product leaders could veto a plan, but we almost never do — most of the time we just give suggestions and leave the decision in the PM’s hands.
  • If you’re designing a product process at your company, feel free to copy this one!

Want to know more about how things work at Asana? Check out How we build our Product Roadmap at Asana and follow me on Twitter.

Got a question about the process? Ask me in the comments!