In his book The Checklist Manifesto, surgeon Atul Gawande asserts that checklists are a “cognitive net,” a mechanism that can help prevent experienced people from making errors due to flawed memory and attention, and ensure that teams work together. Or, as Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame put it, “the book’s main point is simple: no matter how expert you may be, well-designed checklists can improve outcomes.”
In a law office, checklists help reduce errors and increase efficiency. They ensure that work is done, and in an order that makes the most sense. They can also be used as part of a task management system, showing each person in the organization how her responsibilities on the checklist affect the entire procedure. Two collaboration tools that specifically focus on lists and tasks were recently launched online. One, Asana, created by former Facebook employees, provides a web-based “to do” list for up to 30 people to share. The other, Trello, lets users create shared boards with task cards. Both are free.
So which one is better for task and project management based on procedural checklists? Let’s compare.
Both Asana and Trello are appropriate for creating checklists for single users or creating shared checklists for small groups. While these tools could be used for more complex projects, for this review let’s assume the firm’s needs are documenting a checklist or task list, assigning the task with a deadline to someone on the team, and making sure that task has been completed.
- After getting an Asana username and password, you create a workspace and invite members (up to 30 for free) if you like. Within the workspace you can set up projects and within the project adds tasks. Tasks can be prioritized, tagged, assigned to someone, assigned a due date, and have files attached. Each task has a checkbox to show if it has been completed, and each task has an activity feed. Users can subscribe to tasks via email or RSS. Projects can be duplicated and archived. The interface is simple, clean and intuitive.
- In Trello, you set up a username and password to get started, then create an organization and invite members (as many as you want). You create a board for each project. Each board is made up of lists, and each lists has “cards.” Cards are equivalent to tasks. Cards can be assigned members, color-coded labels, due dates, attached files, subtasks with checklists and more. Cards also can be dragged and dropped to different lists. An activity log shows recent changes, and the board, lists and cards can be searched and filtered.
Verdict: Feature sets are roughly the same. However, the terminology and interface of Asana will be more comfortable for word-driven lawyers. Those who have worked in project-driven organizations or like a more-graphical interface will feel more comfortable in Trello.
Both products provide options for adding collaborators at multiple levels.
- Asana limits workspaces to up to 30 users for free. Pricing from there is from $100 a month and up, but is by group instead of per user per month; 30 to 50 collaborators is $100 a month, 50 to 75 is $300 a month and so forth. The premium workspaces also afford project-level permissions and priority support. Asana workspace collaborators have full access to all tasks, though you can add guests with limited access.
- Trello offers access for an unlimited number of collaborators at the organization, boards, lists and cards levels. Access is granted at each level as well. Simply click “Members” to choose who has access to each discrete point of the project.
Verdict: Trello’s granular access and unlimited collaborators will make it appealing to firms looking to invite other parties to participate in taking part of assigned responsibilities in the checklist.
Most lawyers are not looking for yet another site or application to check constantly. Fortunately, both of these tools offer some integration with software and services attorneys already use.
- For each task in Asana, a user can choose to sync with MS Outlook, Google Calendar or any calendar that uses iCal. However, this sync will only include tasks with due dates and will not include tasks marked as completed. Users are automatically following each project and each task they are collaborating on, unless they choose to unfollow. Asana will send activity messages and daily reminders to your email address. Users can also send email to a project dropbox in Asana to create new tasks for themselves. Asana has a mobile app for iPhone, and a mobile site for Android or iPad.
- In Trello, there is a “Subscribe” option to see when a collaborator changes a card or updates a task. Notifications will then appear in the “Notification” button in the top navigation bar. Unread notifications will be emailed to you. Users can have notification levels set at “never,” “periodically” (once every hour) or “instantly.” Google Apps integration is on the development board. Trello has full apps for both iPod/iPad and Android.
Verdict: Currently Asana has more options for working within your email and calendar apps, and you can receive notifications and send tasks to the system without logging in.
Both applications have the usual privacy/security expected from free or freemium web applications.
- Trello’s privacy and security policy is short and simple. They commit to making privacy a default, and the user must actively add others to share information. The member profile is public, but not your email address. Trello claims its staff can only view and access information you make public. All traffic runs on SSL/HTTPS, which is standard security protocol for secure information transfer, and they back up data hourly, with copies stored offsite. All data is entirely portable, with a “share, print and export” button for each board and card. The export is to JSON, which cannot be opened in Excel or other spreadsheet software.
Verdict: Trello’s refreshingly short, jargon-free policy leaves some gaps regarding security protocols but provides comforting assurances about data portability and ownership. Asana’s policies are more similar to what is found in boilerplate cloud provider language for freemium services.
For lawyers, Asana edges out Trello only because of the familiar terminology (workspace/project/task), text-driven interface, and more options for integration with tools lawyers currently use to manage tasks and communication. Trello has almost matching features, but for those without a project management background, the “card” paradigm may be too unfamiliar to get started quickly.
Others have weighed in, with a Quora board discussion concluding “it’s like BMW vs. Mercedes. Taste plays a role.” There are other shared checklist tools in abundance, such as Workflowy (reviewed by Jeff Krause) and Remember The Milk, that offer a few options, but for free full-function workgroup collaboration Asana and Trello are certainly worth a look.
Catherine Reach is Director, Law Practice Management & Technology for the Chicago Bar Association. A popular speaker and author on law technology, she was Director of the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center for over 10 years, providing practice technology assistance to lawyers. Follow her @CatherineReach.
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