Accountability + Asana

Asana is a tool used to track tasks and associated projects across a company, as well as to clearly define owners of initiatives and expected due dates.

Utilizing Asana works best with a standardized set of guidelines for how tasks should be created and managed across the company to ensure that: 1) things are getting done at agreed upon dates and 2) people aren’t getting overloaded with tasks that are not the best use of their time.

Guidelines provide a shared set of expectations on how tasks are tracked and completed to accomplish complex, multi-disciplinary initiatives without getting caught in a web of dependencies.

Accountability

Principles

  1. Clear ownership – Whether it’s a small task or a large initiative, there needs to be one directly responsible individual. This person is responsible for making sure all associated work with the task or initiative gets done, even if they are not personally doing the work. Leverage Asana Project ownership and parent tasks and subtasks for larger initiatives.
  2. Visibility of priorities – All teams, but especially those who are highly cross-functional, should have a mechanism for other dependent teams to view and track their priorities. This can all be in Asana or in a separate tool as appropriate but the most important thing is that it’s kept up-to-date. This allows other teams to consider current priorities when making requests and to potentially push back on those priorities when appropriate.
  3. Escalation – When something isn’t getting done on the expected timeline, your first step should always be to communicate directly to the owner (this is why clear ownership is important). If there are systemic issues that don’t seem to get resolved even with frequent discussion then you can escalate to the owner’s manager.
  4. Incentive alignment – If two teams or people are regularly in conflict about priorities then the usual answer is there is a misalignment of incentives. It is on those people or the leadership of those teams to work together to re-examine their base assumptions, priorities, areas of responsibility, and goals to make sure there’s not a fundamental misalignment.

As a creator of tasks

As a creator of a task, your main responsibility is to ensure that the task is an impeccable agreement. As a part of this, the task should be explicit about the time sensitivity involved and be mutually agreed upon by the assigner and the assignee. You can optionally add a due date with the knowledge that the recipient can update the date as needed.

Second, you need to also follow notifications on that task in case the task recipient has questions or needs to update the timeline. If you create the task, Asana automatically makes you a follower.

Creating a plan via subtasks for larger tasks

Larger efforts should be treated like an initiative / mini project where subtasks are built out to break down the goal into steps/tasks and milestones:

  1. Quick snapshot of a plan and progress:
    • The framework of the subtasks should show the followers a high level plan to accomplish the overarching goal and allow for followers to easily see where we are at in achieving the overall goal.
    • Subtasks should ideally be sequential and indicate any dependencies to other tasks.
  2. One owner per task:
    • If there are multiple owners responsible for different pieces then this should be broken out into subtasks. Don’t use reassigning a task back and forth as the mechanism.
    • Subtasks can also have subtasks (e.g., create a playbook may have review tasks for stakeholders).
  3. Comments and using Asana as a vehicle to keep stakeholders informed:
    • Comments for specific subtasks should be in the subtask so followers of the subtask can follow.
    • If there is something important to call out in the parent task for all parties then please indicate the update in the parent task.

As a recipient of tasks

As a recipient of tasks you have two main responsibilities:

  1. Responding to newly assigned tasks within one business day.
  2. Ensuring no tasks end up as red (overdue) that are assigned to you.

It’s important that everyone strives to stay on top of these two responsibilities so that everyone can trust Asana as a source of truth for the current information about when we think things are going to get done.

Responding to newly-assigned tasks

Although task creators are expected to write impeccable agreements, it is up to the task recipient to enforce this as there is no other way to enforce it globally.

When you receive a task, if it is an impeccable agreement and you’ve separately already agreed to the task and timeline there is no need to do anything at this stage.

If the above is not true, within one business day you are expected to either:

  • Reassign the task to the creator and comment with an explanation – This is the right action if the task is not clearly defined, is not something you believe is your area of responsibility, or not something you believe is a priority. It is then on the task creator to decide what to do next based on your response. DO NOT automatically assign the task to someone else you think is responsible. You can mention that you think this task is under that person’s area of responsibility to the creator but it should be the creator’s responsibility to shepherd the task.
  • Update the date to when you believe you can accomplish the task and comment with an explanation – If the creator didn’t add a date or the date is too aggressive, update the date on the task to be reasonable given your other priorities and give the creator a heads up by commenting. If the creator has a hard timeline. they should discuss with you 1:1 or find someone else to help with the task who has more bandwidth.

Ensuring no tasks end up as red (overdue)

When a task is red in Asana, that means the due date has passed. Your second responsibility as a recipient of tasks is to ensure that tasks don’t end up as red that are assigned to you.

Being diligent about your first responsibility should help with this as you shouldn’t be assigned any tasks that you don’t believe are important for you to complete (those should be assigned back to the creator).

This also means, if at any point a date on a task you own is no longer accurate, you are responsible for updating the date and commenting so that the stakeholders on the task know that the date has shifted, why it shifted, and what you’ll do to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future (a habit).

Asana Hygiene

How you complete the above responsibilities is more or less up to you. However, it is recommended that you do a sweep of Asana once daily to:

  1. Respond to all new tasks assigned to you
  2. Review all upcoming tasks and update dates on any tasks assigned to you where the date is no longer accurate
  3. Clear your Asana inbox of notifications to stay on top of tasks you’re following
  4. For important tasks, as the creator/party interested in the task being done, you may want to create a sub-task to follow-up with the other party the day after the task is due
  5. As a recipient of a task, if it’s not feasible to do work on task with future due dates, you may want to create subtasks for yourself to do prep/intermediate work with intermediate due dates