30% increase in Technology Team headcount at stable cost by building a distributed team
35% increase in vendor scope of work by hiring remote consultants to work asynchronously
Added 3 technology partners by enabling collaboration across organizational boundaries
Established in 1985, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is the world’s most comprehensive wildlife conservation organization, with more than 500 programs in nearly 60 countries to help manage protected places and slow climate change. But WCS doesn’t do it alone. It collaborates with hundreds of partner organizations, vendors, and local governments that share its science-based conservation mission.
WCS initiatives are complex and challenging to execute, especially with so many collaborators and finite nonprofit resources. Before Asana, project contributors used different tools to manage their work—email, spreadsheets, and a mix of apps. There was no united way to plan or communicate, which caused visibility issues and slowed everyone down:
Growing Conservation Technology project complexity was increasing risks for deadlines and budgets.
Technological boundaries between teams limited the flow of information, making it difficult to spot risks and prevent issues before they happened—which stretched resources.
Email served too many purposes: in addition to communication, WCS used it to manage work, process community requests, and store documents. Team members had to wade through hundreds of incoming emails, making it impossible to act on tasks quickly.
Jonathan Palmer, Executive Director of WCS’s Conservation Technology team, says, “Our processes for managing projects and tasks didn’t facilitate a positive way of looking at your workload - there was an overdependence on managing tasks through email, leaving team members feeling they were drinking from the firehose.”
In his previous role as the lead of Global Technology in the IT department, Jonathan led the search for a new work management platform that would break down barriers between teams as well as external collaborators. With a more productive working environment, WCS would be empowered to deliver on their projects and maximize the impact of their donors’ contributions.
Jonathan looked for a single platform that would let all teams, partners, and consultants work across organizational boundaries, even if they used different technologies and processes.
“Asana is the perfect solution,” Jonathan says. “It’s about helping people get better at executing on the tasks they care about, rather than boxing them into a specific methodology.”
With Asana, WCS teams can now access the same shared timelines, documents, and action items, updated in real time. It’s integrated with over 10 tools they use, including Google Drive, Office 365, Slack, and WCS’s internal systems.
“We can work across multiple organizations without having to lean on IT teams to integrate systems,” Jonathan adds.
Today, Asana is the official work management system for several groups within WCS, helping them deliver initiatives on time and on budget in partnership with a growing number of external collaborators.
The organization has saved an estimated eight workweeks per year through new efficiencies and the use of Asana features, such as automation, forms, and comments within a project instead of sending an email. On average, contributors initiate collaboration with another user via Asana more than 2,700 times per month. These time savings free up WCS resources so teams can expand the scope and impact of their projects—without increasing costs.
“Asana has created a huge level of transparency, where everyone shares their plans for the week ahead,” says Jonathan. This helps cross-pollinate ideas across teams and time zones, whether they’re at headquarters in New York City or in the field at conservation sites.
Half of WCS’s Asana users are internal employees and the other half are external contributors. “Managing everything in one place gives us the ability to run virtual organizations that include my team, other WCS employees, other organizations, and vendors,” Jonathan says. “We push tasks from one part of the virtual organization to another, and we have mutual accountability and responsibility across our projects.”
Jonathan’s Conservation Technology team delivers scalable technology solutions to enable field programs and address critical conservation issues—and these solutions are often built in partnership with other organizations. “By supporting a boundaryless structure, Asana has enabled us to scale to more partnerships,” Jonathan says. His team has added three new partners to their roster of close collaborators, growing from two to five.
New York had been the epicenter of the Conservation Technology team, it seems the only way to manage a complex workload needed employees and vendors to be on the same time zone. But Jonathan can now hire staff and engage vendors around the world without worrying about projects slowing down, because Asana lets them work asynchronously. Operations are run around the clock, with project work starting at 7am Monday morning in Jakarta and continuing until the end of the day Friday in the U.S. His distributed team includes the right people with the right skillsets, using location to maximize budget and boost output.
For example, Jonathan has increased his team’s headcount by 30% by hiring full-time staff based in the field at conservation sites—which helps him better support organizational needs at a local level, all while keeping costs stable.
The Conservation Technology team also works with consultants who support design work, web development, DevOps, and cloud hosting. Before Asana, core vendors were located in the US, but they are now in South America, Europe, and Asia—and thanks to the cost savings and improved operating efficiency, vendor scope of work has increased by 35%.
With more employees, consultants, and partner organizations contributing to Conservation Technology initiatives, they’re able to tackle more ambitious projects. For example, they used Asana to orchestrate a major project central to WCS strategy: Nature’s Stronghold Impact Platform, a global data reporting initiative to surface and showcase detailed metrics from hundreds of WCS conservation sites and partner organizations in one place. This united front quantifies the impact of their work for donors and the conservation community at large.
“This project is core to our fundraising strategy,” says Jonathan, “and drives integrity across our organization by showing that every dollar given to WCS has a conservation impact.”
Another team that manages its work in Asana is the SMART Partnership, a collaboration between nine conservation groups. This software and services operation supports over 1,000 protected sites in 90 countries. Monica Harris, SMART Program Manager, says, “Our users are governments and conservation organizations around the world who have chosen our tools to manage parks and conservation areas in their country. That’s a big responsibility, and we want to respond to their needs efficiently and in a timely manner.”
Previously, SMART used spreadsheets and email to manage requests from software users worldwide—and those requests can be serious and urgent. “A ranger in Namibia will contact us saying they’re stuck in the field and need to download data,” says Monica. “We don’t want to let people down.” But it was difficult to respond to requests quickly because Monica’s small team was trying to handle a huge volume without the right tools.
Today, SMART uses Asana Forms to collect and manage requests for support, software access, and bug fixes. The required fields in the form collect all the information Monica’s team needs to route and solve the issue upfront—such as error screenshots—eliminating the need for back-and-forth emails.
Providing free SMART software to users comes at a cost, so Monica uses Reporting in Asana to monitor demand and preemptively adjust budget and resources to match. “I can update the steering committee about whether we’re within budget, or whether our demand is high and we need more funds for a particular activity,” Monica says.
Another WCS team, the Okapi Wildlife Reserve (OWR) team in Ituri, with support from the EU-funded Sustainable Wildlife Management Programme (SWM), uses Asana as a grievance processing system. Jonathan says, “Any multinational organization needs a way to manage grievances. One grievance, if it's not managed correctly, can create huge organizational risk.”
Caroline Abid, EU SWM Program Manager, says, “We are improving our responsiveness at local sites with Asana to make sure grievances are all addressed quickly.” Using Asana for grievances as well as end-to-end project management helps the WCS team get things done efficiently, so they can better serve their communities and build trust among locals and partner organizations.
By centralizing work in Asana, WCS harnesses the power of their staff, vendors, and external collaborators to deliver more projects in a cost effective way.
And thanks to transparency across groups and projects, junior team members around the world can step up for opportunities that were historically more accessible to employees near WCS headquarters. This visibility helps WCS lift up its employees and transition to a new way of working as a global team.
As Jonathan and WCS set bold conservation projects in motion, they will continue to manage them in Asana — because better workflows lead to better execution, and great execution creates trust between partners, donors, and communities as they work to protect nature’s precious places.
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