Photo courtesy of helloquence.

Custom Fields in Asana Make it a Contender for Best Project Management Tool

Continuous process improvement is a cornerstone of project management at Crema. It has enabled us to collaborate effectively with numerous clients and has empowered us to make custom tweaks to our overall project management system on a per-client basis.

Asana is currently beta testing their “Track Anything” functionality, more technically known as Custom Fields. We’ve had access to the beta for a little over a month now and can confidently say Asana has developed a feature that has already dramatically improved projects at Crema.

Before diving into how we are using Custom Fields, I want to emphasize the nature of Asana as a project management tool. While there are many excellent tools out there, Asana’s core benefit is its flexibility and customizability. Most project management tools tend to force the team using it follow specific project management processes, with little room to flex. Asana’s customizability when it comes to crafting our tailored processes has enabled us to collaborate with our clients on a variety of different types of projects. From strategy work to user testing, design to design prototyping and user story writing to development, Asana has empowered us to customize our needs, as we see fit.

When a team member is working on a task, all the context they need should be associated with that one task.

Asana empowers teams to make these robust customizations without fear of the lack of adoption since all work in Asana revolves on the concept of a “task.” Tasks in Asana may be tagged, added to multiple projects, have files attached to them, commented on, as well as a myriad of other detail. When a team member is working on a task, all the context they need should be associated with that one task.

Custom Fields significantly evolves the one task context by allowing teams to create and use Custom Fields. There are three types of fields a team may create:

  1. Text
  2. Number
  3. Drop-drown

Teams may apply fields on a per-project basis. Any tasks in projects with Custom Fields turned on will have the associated fields added above each individual task description. If a task is removed from a project with Custom Field data entered into the task, the data will remain in the task for context, albeit in an un-editable state.

Custom Fields may be enabled or disabled, on a per-field basis to be shown on the Asana project view. Essentially, this adds customizable, spreadsheet-like viewing functionality to Asana projects. It can quickly get cluttered, so use this feature carefully; however, as we’ve found it can be beneficial to quickly and visually show the current state of approvals on a task.

Custom Fields we Use

After experimenting with Custom Fields, we’ve landed on a core set of fields that we use on our development “priorities” projects. Our priorities projects essentially follow a kanban flow of work for development. Ideas start in “Later,” before moving into “To Finalize” to get defined, estimated and prioritized into “Up Next” where they await being worked on in “Current,” pending availability. “Ready for Deployment” is our top project header where we call attention to tasks that have passed internal quality assurance and are ready for the client to approve the tasks to go live.

With Custom Fields, we’ve started using the following fields in our priorities projects to supplement and enhance reporting on each individual work-in-progress item:

Points

  • Number field
  • We add our story point estimate for a priority, to this field.
  • These number fields have the added benefit of adding up together, should you select multiple Asana tasks. It’s a quick way to total a story point estimate for a set of priorities.

Design

  • Drop-down field
  • We populate this field with “Not Needed,” “Design Needed,” and “Design Ready.”
  • During definition of the priority, we determine if we need design and update the field accordingly.
  • Because Custom Fields are searchable via Asana’s powerful search functionality, our designers are able to have a saved search that returns all priorities that require design at any point in time.

Environment

  • Drop-down field
  • We populate this field with “Staging,” “Testing,” and “Production.”
  • During development, the developer working on the priority updates this field according to the latest development environment the priority is present on.

Version Number

  • Number field
  • If this is a mobile app, during development, the developer working on the priority updates this field according to the latest development version the priority is deployed to.
  • Should we need to identify a change log for an older release, we can use this field run a custom search in Asana and generate that specific report.

Build Number

  • Number field
  • During development, if this is a mobile app, the developer working on the priority updates this field according to the latest development build the priority is deployed to.

QA Pass

  • Drop-down field
  • We populate this field with “Pass” and “Fail.”
  • This field is updated during internal quality assurance testing. Once this field is designated “Pass,” we assign it to the client for their approval.

Approved for Production

  • Drop-down field
  • We populate this field with “Yes” and “No.”
  • This field is reserved for the client to approve priorities to be deployed to production, our live environment.
  • Since Custom Field updates also get timestamped on the task, this format provides a valuable paper trail for tracking approvals.

Additional Custom Fields

Outside of our core “priorities” projects, we use additional Custom Fields, such as the following:

Type

  • Drop-down field
  • This field is populated with “Bug,” “Crash,” “Optimization,” and “UX.”
  • We use this field to organize and filter issue and feedback reports.

Priority

  • Drop-down field
  • We configure this field with “P1,” “P2,” and “P3.”
  • In practice, priorities such as these are used to prioritize significant amounts of feedback.

Since Custom Fields exist across our entire Asana workspace, some of the use cases may be slightly different on a per project basis.

Custom Fields Drive Productive Teams

Around a month into using Custom Fields at Crema, the feedback is extremely positive from team members and clients. The clarity these fields have added to our tasks was largely the missing component we needed in Asana, especially as we’ve grown our team in recent years since adopting Asana as our core project management tool.

I hope Custom Fields is setting up the foundation for even more power from Asana in the near future. Because of the way the data is presented, I can imagine a future where Asana empowers users to make use of the data logged in these fields. For the time being, being able to use Custom Fields in Asana’s powerful search is wonderful by itself.

Do you have a project you’re working on that would benefit from a fully-focused, collaborative and creative product team taking a look at it? Reach out to me at michael@cremalab.com and let’s talk.