Crafting Better Work Management with Asana’s Head of Product, Alex Hood

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 “It is the very things that individuals love that help them be in a flow state. Things like, I know how the thing that I am doing ladders to a higher goal, I am being rewarded in real-time for the things that I am doing, and the distractions are being cleared away. Those are the same things that are engagement drivers. There are benefits that play to the individual. Flow state and lack of nonsense, get your job done. Teams who are more efficient, have better handoffs, hit their goals, are the teams that want to work together again. And then the output is an efficient and engaged organization. Engaged organizations do their best work, are able to hire and retain the best people and hit their outcomes more often than not.

That’s Alex Hood, the head of product of Asana, who was explaining why he’s passionate about what he’s doing at Asana and the technology that the company is building. Tech was an early passion for Alex and after his father got him interested in computers, there was no turning back. 

On this episode of IT Visionaries, Alex tells his story and dives into how Asana is changing the way work is managed in companies around the world.

Best advice: “Folks with a growth mindset who are humble, open, curious, hardworking, you can tell the products that are built by people who are like that. Think very carefully about the composition of your team. What are the mindsets that that team has and what are the skill sets that they bring to the table?” 

Key Takeaways:

  • Asana’s changing work management
  • The future of A.I. and ML
  • Advice to a first-time head of product

Alex’s introduction to technology 

Alex’s father was a key player in how Alex got interested in technology. At an early age, he made sure Alex’s family had computers around. Alex took the bait and remembers his first computer being a Texas Instrument 994A. 

Just experimenting and spending free time with it, I found it to be a fun place to think logically, but also something where you could also be enormously creative. So it just always sort of stuck with me.”

Present-day Asana

As head of product at Asana, the scope of Alex’s role and his responsibilities put him in charge of the product management team, the design team, and the user research team. Asana is focused on reducing the work about work. Alex points out some examples, “…scrolling through a bunch of emails looking for the last Slack message where somebody might’ve had the game plan, but now it’s lost, or a bunch of status meetings that you have to sit through and maybe create a bunch of PowerPoints to get prepared for. And then it’s instantly stale by the time that’s done.” 

There is definitely a better, more productive way for craftspeople, designers, product marketers, and engineers to really focus on only doing their tasks. Everything else falls away and these people get to hone their energy on being more creative, productive, and inventing faster. This is Asana’s M.O.  

Project managers have become largely democratized. At some point in one’s career, the opportunity to be in charge will become a responsibility, but the same level of authority may not exist. However, things still need to get done and accountability will always remain constant. Alex explains that this is why Asana’s customers find Asana. He continues that smaller teams within companies are usually the ones to find Asana first. Once these smaller teams find success, word about Asana spreads throughout the company.  

When you look at productivity rates, it’s growing a few percent a year, but when you look at collaboration rates, the actual number of messages generated is rising exponentially. So it’s actually taking us more and more back and forth to get the same incremental unit of goodness made. We focus on making sure that there is a really clear plan of record, a project is clearly defined into tasks.

Best practices, integrations, and the work graph

Alex points out that the best teams have three sets of tools to collaborate:

1. Have a place where everyone is freely available to chat/communicate

2. Have a place where content lives

3. Work management — where purpose, plan, and responsibility live

Alex believes that cat GIFs and all the back forth messaging that acts as camaraderie-building is important, but the elements of work get interspersed and disappear very easily. 

For the third tool, work management is what Asana is continuing to try to refine. “[The third set of tools] is the thing where everybody has a clear sight of what they need to do and what’s next, what’s next for the team. And what is the current plan of record? What is the current status of things without having to have a status phone call or a status meeting? That is another way for technology to serve teams in a better way. The thing that has to happen though, is that work management has to be deeply integrated with where messages live and where content lives.”

Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein created Asana. They’re the co-founders. They’re also the folks who created the social graph over at Facebook and Dustin’s a co-founder of Facebook. There’s a corollary. We think that we’re creating the work graph at Asana. And the work graph is a relational database of activities, tasks, projects, people, teams, decisions, milestones, events, where no matter where you are in the hierarchy, you can see the things that you need to see in real-time. And that only happens when the plan in Asana is deeply connected to the work, which is why we have a robust, open platform.”

The best status meetings aren’t status meetings at all. There where folks walk in and they know from glancing at something for a minute or two, exactly the status of everything. And then the leader, instead of just receiving information, everybody agreeing on the status and walking out the door, the leader can flex the Socratic Method. How can we work together in a different, more creative way? Are we really pushing this innovation as far as it possibly could go? The leader can be more of a content and thought leader who can push the team not just on speed, but on the greatness of the thing that they’re creating. Meetings need to be much more purposeful.”

Documents play a very important role in planning, but documents can’t be the place where all the action items live. Because docs become stale, they become un-findable and having a plan of record be in a comment in a doc fails teams.

A.I. and ML 

Alex also notes that Asana should be able to pattern-match and recognize when things are going well or when there are warning signs in a company. He continues, “The thing you hate about work, as being a person who’s in charge of things, is when surprises happen. There should be some ways to create some heuristics around project success that actually leads companies to hit their goals more often.”

Alex also believes that A.I. and ML are going to be really interesting for SMBs. A lot of these A.I. and ML capabilities are readily available for free. An example he provides, “ It used to be the case that maybe you had to have a laboratory of people who are doing experiments and it was only available to IBM and some others. But now the democratization of A.I. and ML capabilities or APIs out there where any new startup can just grab translation capabilities from Google and then they could have a mobile application that is worldwide out of the box. That’s such a big leap forward and removes a big barrier to entry to having some of these like smarter capabilities that are just offered, from some of the biggest providers.

If Asana knows maybe what your boss’s priorities are, what the company priorities are and how the company is progressing toward a priority, it should be able to help you with your own priorities.”

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Asana’s Head of Product, Alex Hood explains all things Asana, best practices for teams, the future of A.I. and ML, and advice on any first-time head of products.

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