Trello vs. Asana

By Chris, 06/23/2016, in Engineering management

In two totally different companies over the past 4 years, across different personalities, teams, and processes, I've seen Asana rejected no fewer than a dozen times in favor of Trello, in spite of multiple executive mandates to use Asana.

In both companies, management (of which I am a part) made a hard push to use Asana. Everyone gave it a shot, and then somehow ended up back on Trello.

I gave up on foisting Asana (or any other task management tool) on my teams in 2013, but I can't quite convince everyone else that it's a futile practice. I think all managers eventually learn this lesson though; it's hard to make teams use tools that don't fit their hands.

But that's something to explore another time. Here, I just want to think about why specifically Asana keeps getting surreptitiously replaced with Trello as soon as management stops paying attention.

Both tools aim to do about the same thing, and have comparable feature sets. They can both operate as Trojan horses; if a department wants to use it, they just start using it; there's no installation or setup period. But management seems to prefer one, and actual workers seem to prefer the other.

Here's what I think is going on:


There are projects, tags, sections, and subtasks. And they are all kinda-sorta similar and you can pivot tasks along any of those dimensions. On top of all of that, there are roadmaps, and pipelines. You can sort and filter and drill down and through and around on everything.

The result is great for managers. It's easy to see who is working on what, and how tasks are connected, and where things stand.

The result is terrible for employees. What am I supposed to be working on? Where are all my tasks? What is the top priority? Every view gives me a slightly different answer to these questions. I have a general sense that things are slipping through the cracks.


There are boards. Boards have lists. Lists have cards. Cards have a bunch of stuff. Pretty much the only way to look at anything is via a board, full of lists, full of cards.

This is extremely annoying if you are trying to figure out, for instance, "what is Chris working on right now?", or even "What did Chris do last week?". Because things are spread across boards1, and because Trello cards don't have any status, there's just no real way to do any kind of reporting.

On the other hand, one of our most used Trello boards is called "Jordan can you please..." and just contains a ton of projects and tasks (list and cards) Jordan is working on. This works extremely well, and it has a funny name, which is always a bonus. If you want Jordan's help with something, guess where you put the card? And if you want to see the status of your card, guess where you look?

In Conclusion

I've had very few meetings to discuss across teams how we might organize our Trello boards. There aren't a ton of options, and who cares anyway, since there's no benefit to standardization since there's no reporting.

I've had a lot of "How should we all use Asana?" meetings.

Trello makes it easy to manage my own work, and that of my immediate colleagues. Asana makes it easy to manage other people's work. No surprise that managers like Asana, but every time they look at the screens around the office, everyone is using Trello.


1: Not to mention I still cannot for the life of me figure out how organizations or teams really work in Trello.

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