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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.
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.
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.
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.
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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